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Aloha: Hawaiian Art and Artifacts from the Sullivan Collection

November 30, 2013 - March 2, 2014


(above: Gallery View for Aloha: Hawaiian Art and Artifacts from the Sullivan Collection. Photo courtesy of New Britain Museum of American Art)


Traveling nearly 5,000 miles from Hawaii to the New Britain Museum of American Art, Aloha: Hawaiian Art and Artifacts from the Sullivan Collection, on display at the New Britain Museum of American Art November 30, 2013 through March 2, 2014, presents a cross section of the culture, beauty, and history of the Islands of Aloha. Despite the geographical distance between Connecticut and Hawaii, the two states' histories intertwined beginning in the 1820s, when many Connecticut missionary families such as the Lymans, Coans, Cookes, Wilcoxes, and Baldwins came to the Islands. (right: Joseph Nawahi, View of Hilo Bay, Hawaii, ca 1868-70, Oil on canvas, 20 x 36 inches. Collection of Melinda and Paul Sullivan.)

Longtime Museum benefactors Melinda and Paul Sullivan have carefully collected works from a wide range of artists, mediums, and contexts over the years. Selections from their extensive holdings of historical and contemporary works include paintings, works on paper, furniture, and crafts spanning over two centuries of Hawaii's vibrant history.

Eighteenth-century engravings by John Webber (1751-1793) depict the islands as they appeared when English explorer Captain James Cook reached Hawaii in 1778. Other pieces also capture the Western impression of the Islands, but most celebrate the state's natural beauty through the eyes of native artists.

One of the highlights of the Collection is a nineteenth-century oil painting by artist, politician, scholar and activist Joseph Nawahi (1842-1896). Although he received no formal art training, Nawahi became the first Hawaiian-born artist to paint in a naturalistic "Western" style.

Other treasures such as quilts made in the traditional Hawaiian style, furniture crafted of native Koa wood and shell necklaces from the remote island of Niihau will also be on display. Visitors will have the opportunity to travel through more than 200 years of history, as well as become acquainted with artists living and working in the Aloha State today.

Selections from the Sullivan Collection offer a rare glimpse into the art and history of the Islands of Aloha


Collectors' Statement

Our appreciation for Hawaii and its rich culture grew over the nine years that we lived on the beautiful island of Maui. We have studied Hawaiian history and the diverse artists that have interpreted aspects of Hawaiian culture in a wide variety of ways. It is a pleasure for us to share with the visitors to the New Britain Museum of American Art the paintings, prints, furniture and decorative arts objects on view.

We have acquired more than 200 Hawaiian ornaments, and these will be hung from our tree in the lobby over the holidays.

We became intrigued by the origin of the Hawaiian people who settled the Hawaiian Islands over 1,500 years ago. They migrated from Samoa and Tahiti. Much later, with the arrival of the first Europeans in the 18th century, a gradual blending of cultures began which continues to this day. In particular, in the 19th century American Christian missionaries, many from Connecticut and elsewhere in New England, began to exert an enormous influence on the destiny of the Hawaiian Islands. Additionally, waves of Chinese and Japanese workers were brought to the Islands to work in the sugar cane industry and in the pineapple fields. The result was a rich blending of world cultures that has produced wonderful fine and decorative arts objects based on the folklore and mythology of all of these peoples.

We wanted this collection to represent the varied communities that came to Hawaii over time. Because our primary interest was decorative arts and paintings, we assembled artworks representative of the Islands, including seascapes and "up country" landscapes by contemporary artists. Most of these individuals are not native Hawaiians, but then again, everyone on the Hawaiian Islands came from somewhere else at one time or another. While contemporary, the furniture and artifacts were made in the style of earlier periods.

Margaret Leach's storyboards give a rendering of how the early settlers (Samoan and Tahitian) explained the origin of their land. The Webber prints and others reveal the period of European discovery in the last quarter of the 18th century by explorers such as Captain James Cook and the Comte de Lapérouse.

The 19th-century painting by Joseph Nawahi is the work of a native Hawaiian, educated by New England missionaries. It is one of only twelve known works by this artist, who was also active in the Hawaiian law, politics and social issues during the second half of the 19th century. We also have included an example by the "Volcano School" artist, D. Howard Hitchcock, who was born in Hilo in 1861, the grandson of missionaries from Massachusetts.

The rise of tourism has played a major role in the lives and economy of the Hawaiians beginning in the 20th century. The six menus on display were presented to first class passengers aboard the luxury liner S.S. Lurline of the Matson Line. Carrying passengers from the West Coast to Honolulu, the line operated from 1933 to 1963 when the jet plane made it obsolete.

To us Hawaii is a magical place and we hope this exhibition imparts some of the wonder that has inspired us to form this collection.

- Melinda and Paul Sullivan


Wall panels from the exhibition


Sanford B.D. Low (1905-1964), New Britain Museum of American Art's charismatic first director, was born in Hawaii. His ancestors included Hawaiian royalty and Connecticut missionaries. Sent to Connecticut's Loomis Chaffee School from Hawaii, he evidenced artistic talent at a young age. He pursued his education at the Art Students League, where he met Virginia Hart, his future wife, who was also a painter/illustrator. Ginny Low was the granddaughter of William H. Hart, who built the Landers House and was the CEO of the Stanley Works for more than fifty years.
In 1937 Low was asked to serve as curator by the New Britain Institute, the parent organization of the New Britain Museum. In the 1940s he was appointed the Museum's first director. Between then and his untimely death in 1964, he organized hundreds of exhibitions and programs. He also bought astutely so that many of the Museum's most significant works of art, including Thomas Hart Benton's murals, The Arts of Life in America, were purchased by him.
Low was a bon vivant. He sang, played the ukulele and was the life of the party at many social gatherings. He continued to pursue his career as an artist and both taught and mentored hundreds of aspiring younger artists at the New Britain Art League, which he helped found. Among his many devoted friends were the leading illustrators of his day. Upon his death, it was decided that the Low Illustration Committee would perpetuate his legacy by acquiring the finest American illustrations in his name. Since his death, the Committee has met twice a year, and annually donations come to the Museum so that today the NBMAA is home to one of the most comprehensive illustration collections in the country.
On Sunday, January 19th at 2 p.m., Low's son, Sam Low is coming to the Museum to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his father's death. His program, entitled Aloha in the Hardware Capital of the World: Sanford B. D. Low the Museums' First Director, will be a tribute both to his father and his family's Hawaiian heritage. In large part, Sandy Low was responsible for assembling one of the country's leading collections of American art, and thus we owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude.
Douglas Hyland,

Many of the furniture and decorative art objects shown in the exhibition (the pie safe, benches, glass front case, jewelry boxes, and a number of the bowls and frames) are made from Hawaiian koa, a tree that is native only to Hawaii. Because of its durability, attractive and varying grains, and wide range of colors, koa offers the craftsperson a strong and beautiful medium with which to work.
While koa is now the preferred wood for Hawaiian-made objects, this was not always the case. Prior to the 1870s, kou wood was widely used. It had similar qualities to koa but was softer and thus easier to carve with early stone and coral tools. Overuse and an imported insect pest led to the near extinction of the kou tree by the late 19th century, a cautionary tale for us all.
Colocasia esculenta
Brought to Hawaii by the first Polynesian settlers, the root of the taro plant is used to make "poi." In addition to being a food staple, poi holds important symbolic value in Hawaiian culture. The taro plant itself is understood as "the older brother" of man; as "siblings" originating from the same source, they are responsible for taking care of each other. Thus, eating poi represents more than simple sustenance. It celebrates Hawaiian heritage and supports the ties of "o'hana" (family). Thus, the taro plant is a frequent motif in Hawaiian art such as the ceramic leaves and paintings shown here.
English artist John Webber accompanied Captain James Cook on his third voyage in search of the Northwest Passage from Europe to Asia. It was during this expedition that Cook made the first documented European contact with Hawaii and its people in 1778.
A predecessor of documentary photographers and filmmakers, Webber sought to accurately capture the religion, dress, habits, architecture and people that Cook and his company encountered. Copperplate engravings of his drawings were made for the 1784 first English edition of A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean and other subsequent editions in numerous languages.
Webber's works culminate in his depiction of the death of Captain Cook in February of 1779 at Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii. As dramatic as was Cook's demise, the long-term impact of Western contact was even more tragic. The native Hawaiian population declined from an estimated 300,000 in 1778 to only 45,000 by 1879 due to diseases to which they had little immunity.
Having no written language, the indigenous people of the Hawaiian Islands passed their history and life lessons down from generation to generation in the form of oral legends and myths. Because they sought to live one with nature, many of the symbolic representations used in these stories are related to the natural world.
The storytellers of these legends were accorded a position of honor. Their craft served as a principal source of entertainment while simultaneously teaching how the ancestors lived in their world and how future generations should live in theirs. Although the ancient Hawaiian culture is very different from our own, within this folklore we find themes and emotions familiar to us in our modern world.
Look to the left to discover three Hawaiian myths as depicted by artist Margaret Leach.

Object labels from the exhibition


Conga II, Variation on a Theme, 2005
Mixed media
The trees and flowers of Hawaii have been a leading source of inspiration for artists since people began to settle on the Islands over 1,500 years ago. Following the footsteps of famous painters like Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986), Margaret Bedell continues this tradition. Her triptych is a jungle of bold lines and shapes representing native plant leaves. We find the giant bird of paradise tree, taro and palm accentuated by flashes of bright color from caribaea, heliconia and anthurium flowers.
Embroidered Narratives, 2001-2002
Bone, leather, hand-dyed cotton fabric, cotton thread, beadwork, koa wood frame
In the 1800s, whaling was a major industry and played an important role in the history of Hawaii. Whale oil was a source of fuel and lubricant for the lamps and machines driving the industrialization of the Western world. Whaling began in the North Atlantic Ocean, but when whale populations began to drastically decline due to overhunting, whalers sought their prey elsewhere. The Pacific Ocean and South Atlantic Ocean were ideal for whaling, and ships began arriving at the ports of Honolulu and Lahaina around 1819. By 1846, over 600 ships from all over the world docked there annually.
Susan Boardman's embroidered narratives tell stories of 19th-century Nantucket women who accompanied their husbands aboard whaling ships. Notice the quotes from their journals along the sides of the embroideries. Although the six embroideries primarily depict voyages to the southernmost Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, they capture themes that were common throughout the global whaling trade.
Ship Essex as She Appeared at the Moment of Attack on November 20, 1820, 2001
Bone, leather, hand-dyed cotton fabric, cotton thread, beadwork, koa wood frame
The sinking of the ship Essex was one of the most prominent maritime tragedies of the early 1800s. A relatively small vessel, Essex was attacked by a large sperm whale 2,000 miles off the coast of South America. The ship capsized, and the crew retreated to smaller boats. Of the 20 men, only 8 survived the treacherous journey home. Essex's demise would later become the inspiration for Herman Melville's Moby Dick.
Gyotaku Fish Print, 21st century
Acrylic and colored pencil on rice paper
Fish rubbing (Gyotaku) is an art form that originated in Japan in the 1800s to record a fisherman's catch before it was taken to market. The non-gutted fish is inked with water-based paints, and then a flexible paper or fabric is pressed over the fish to capture the intricacies of its scales. Details like eyes and fins are added with colored pencil to closely represent the natural colors of the fish. In this print, the reflection in the fish's eyes takes on a near human quality and becomes the focal point of the work. Why might the artist have done that?
Carrie Lee Brady started her formal art education when she moved to Maui in 1980. She lives a very active outdoor lifestyle which inspires the textures and colors in her works.
Le Isole Di Sandwich, 1990 (based on 1798 original)
Limited edition, hand-colored copperplate etching
This map was originally published (uncolored) in Rome in 1798 for Giovanni Cassini's three volume atlas. In 1990, it was reproduced as a limited edition print. The Hawaiian Islands were originally named the Sandwich Islands by Captain Cook in honor of his patron, John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich. Notice that the names of the individual islands reflect the 18th-century phonetic spelling of native Hawaiian pronunciations. Their modern equivalents are:
Owhyhee - Hawaii (The Big Island)
Mowee - Maui
Tahoorowa - Kahoolawe
Ranai - Lanai
Morotoi - Molokai
Woahoo - Oahu
Atooi - Kauai
Oneehow - Niihau
Note another version of the Death of Captain Cook in the bottom left of the map. Compare this to other iterations in the exhibition. How does it differ from the original by John Webber?
Palm Tree Surfboard, 21st century
Fiberglass, polystyrene core
Collection of Heather Vance
Look in the Davis Gallery to find A View of Karakakooa (Kealakekua), in Owyhee by John Webber, the first known Western depiction of surfing. Originally symbols of social status, surfboards constructed of koa wood ranged from 9 to 18 feet in length. At the height of surf culture in the 1950s and 1960s, surfboards evolved to be more lightweight and maneuverable. In the 1970s, surf culture was often negatively associated with illicit substances and the display of prominent sexuality. However, this correlation did not last for long and global surf culture continues to proliferate today.
Kula Cabbage Field Workers (Harvest), ca. 2010
Pastel on paper
Michael Clements uses primarily pastels to capture both the pristine natural landscape and agricultural activities of his home island Maui. Here, Clements finds beauty in the light and colors of a cabbage harvest in the Kula district. Located along the western slope of the volcano Haleakala, the area is known for its rich soil and has supported agriculture for decades. Today, Kula is home to numerous botanic gardens and produce farms.
Kula Cabbage Field Workers (Harvest) is one of the artist's largest, most ambitious figurative works. Long horizontal strips of cool greens, browns and blues create a calm background which is interrupted by the bold yellow jackets of the workers. Considering the title, it is not surprising that Clements focuses us on the workers more so than the landscape through his use of contrasting color.
D. P. DODD (Active 1768-1784)
The Death of Captain James Cook, F.R.S. at Owhayhee in MDCCLXXIX, 1784
Hand-colored copperplate engraving printed by Thomas Cook
This image of the death of Cook was engraved from the original said to have been done not by John Webber but by "D. P. Dodd and others who were on the spot." Unlike the Webber version, this scene shows Cook already dead or dying and being dragged from the beach. Note that it appears that some of the Hawaiians may be attempting to restrain others from violence. Clearly different artists chose to emphasize different aspects of Cook's demise.
RIK FITCH (b. 1947)
"Wahine" (Lady on a Beach), 21st century
"Kane" (Man on a Beach), 21st century
Oil on canvas
In these two paintings, Rik Fitch illustrates his deep love for Maui's people, fauna and flora. He considers himself a "modern impressionist artist." Would you agree?
Symbolism has long been a common aspect of Hawaiian culture. Perhaps the colorful fish above the reclining woman might represent the Hawaiian State Fish, Humuhumunukunukuapua'a, also symbolic of life, fertility, prosperity and riches. The turtle, or Hanu, may represent long life and the "living bridge that brings two lovers together."
Hilo, 1921
Oil on board
Hitchcock, the grandson of missionaries, was the first Hawaiian-born painter to receive formal art training in Paris. He later became a leading member of the Volcano School. Though the painters in the Volcano School were best known for their dramatic, nocturnal scenes of Hawaii's erupting volcanoes, Hitchcock was equally interested in Hawaii's lush and varied flora.
This painting is a joyous depiction of Hitchcock's birthplace -- Hilo Bay. Here, the artist uses a bright palette and loose, impressionistic brushstrokes to capture an idyllic glimpse of natural paradise, uncluttered by people or buildings.
Compare Hitchcock's vision of Hilo Bay to Joseph Nawahi's View of Hilo Bay, Hawaii. Hitchcock focuses on a small section of beach, a pandamas tree and the ocean, while Nawahi gives us a much broader vista. How do the artists' choices about what to include in the composition affect your perception of what Hilo Bay was like?
Eight Illustrations for A Residence of Twenty-One Years in the Sandwich Islands, 1848
Hand-colored woodblock engravings
These eight prints appeared in Hiram Bingham's A Residence of Twenty-One Years in the Sandwich Islands. Bingham was one of the early missionaries to visit Hawaii and in the 21 years he stayed there, he contributed greatly to the success of the Lahainaluna High School (the first high school west of the Rockies). He helped translate the Bible into Hawaiian (a previously unwritten language) and develop Hawaii's first printing press.
Mataatua, ca. 2010
Pencil on paper
Michael James taught herself to draw during her recovery from several surgeries. Drawing has proved to be an adventure which has freed her to "express what I feel in my heart."
Mataatua is a hula dance "specific to the Makena area of Maui. It represents a road from hardships on the way to a Promised Land in life." The figure here, Kolani Au, is a dancer specializing in "Ulanena," which references a wind-driven reddish-hued rain experienced in some regions on the island of Maui.
AVI KIRIATY (b. 1957)
Papa Tonga, 2010
Oil on canvas
Born in Israel but now a resident of Maui, Avi Kiriaty has immersed himself in the life and culture of Polynesia. He painted Papa Tonga in a bold style reminiscent of the cubist work of Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) combined with the color and subject matter of Paul Gauguin (1848-1903). The subject, a fisherman resting with his catch, is representative of Kiriaty's depictions of ordinary people engaged in their everyday work and activities. Other Kiriaty examples, such as Shell Fisherman and Feeding the Chickens, also demonstrate his focus on what his daughter has called a "nostalgic search for a simple, loving lifestyle working with the land and ocean."
Did you notice the two dark bands reaching down from the cloud just behind the fisherman's head? These are intense sheets of rain typical of the South Pacific called a "Dark Summer Squall."
Former residents of Hawaii, this husband/wife team now shares their studio in Durango, Colorado. Both are trained in traditional Korean pottery making techniques. Adam Field's Celadon Vase (center) is reminiscent of the simplicity of antique Far Eastern pottery. The carving on his work is informed by the patterns found in indigenous fiber art, such as the Hawaiian tapa cloth. Heesoo Lee's vessels illustrate plants commonly found in Hawaii. Plumeria flowers (as seen in the vase on the left) are a garden favorite. Because they are sweet-smelling and easy to string, they are also used widely in the lei trade. Shell Ginger (as seen in the vase on the right) is commonly found in wet areas and is one of nine species of aromatic ginger used in the lei. It is also grown for medicinal purposes, spices, dyes and perfumes.
BETH MARCIL (b.1958)
Lo'i Kapahulu (Wetland Taro Field of Kapahulu)
Acrylic on canvas
Beth Marcil was born in South Carolina and graduated from Ringling College of Art and Design with a degree in illustration. In 1984 she visited Maui and never returned to the mainland. She refers to herself as a "creative midwife" because of the prevalence of vivid colors, textures and energies in her work. This painting of a taro field is no exception.
The taro plant was the mainstay of the Hawaiian diet and considered to be most important to their survival and prosperity.

Mu'u Mu'u (Muumuu) Miniatures, 21st century
Polymer clay
During the "golden age" of the Aloha shirt in the 50s, celebrities like Elvis Presley and Bing Crosby popularized the garment, increasing the demand for traditional and innovative designs. This gave way to the adaptation of the Aloha shirt patterns in other articles of clothing, such as bathrobes, bathing suits and the long Hawaiian dress called the mu'u mu'u (muumuu), which you see recreated here as a miniature.
Pie Safe, 21st century
Walnut with copper panels
Prior to refrigeration, the pie safe provided cooks a place to cool and store pies (and other foods), away from flies and vermin. Notice the holes in the copper door panels for ventilation. The pie safe was introduced to Hawaii by American missionaries and settlers, many of whom came from New England.
This pie safe is made in a late 19th-century Craftsman style but has copper door panels instead of the traditional tin. The copper sheets are punched in stylized patterns similar to Hawaiian quilt designs, a nod to the flora of the Islands. The top panel is similar to the "Kukui Grove of Lanikaula" pattern; the middle is similar to the "Maile Lei" design; and the bottom resembles the "Awapuhi" (Hawaiian Red Ginger) pattern.
Peter Naramore is a furniture designer and craftsman working on the island of Maui.
JOSEPH NAWAHI (1842-1896)
View of Hilo Bay, Hawaii, ca. 1868-1870
Oil on canvas
Are we looking at a small New England town in the mid-19th centrury or Hilo Bay, Hawaii? Hawaiian- born artist Joseph Nawahi, also a noted politician, scholar and activist, was the first native Hawaiian to paint in a distinctive Western style. Notice the clothing, the flags, the buildings, the ships and the open green fields. Even the water seems gray and smooth like a river or bay in New England.
By the 1860s, missionaries, many from Connecticut, had settled in the Islands and created settlements with white clapboard churches and buildings that resembled their previous homes in New England. Only the palm trees, the distant volcanoes, the small outrigger canoes in the bay and the Hawaiian flag give Hilo away. When Nawahi painted View of Hilo Bay, Hawaii was an independent kingdom; its flag was a combination consisting of an American flag and with a British Union Jack in the upper left corner.
JOËLLE C. PERZ (b. 1951)
Traditions and New Visions, 2013
Mixed media on carved wood
here are numerous myths and legends that explain the creation of the hula, a complex and graceful ritual dance form accompanied by music or chant, but essentially it is used as tribute to the sister goddesses Laka (goddess of the forest and hula) and Pele (goddess of volcanoes). Today, it is also considered a celebration of the Aloha spirit (traits of character that express the charm, warmth and sincerity of Hawaii's people.)
Joëlle C. Perz's Traditions and New Visions depicts the five sacred plans associated with the hula.
EUGENE SAVAGE (1883-1978)
Dinner Menus from the S. S. Lurline, 1954-1956
Offset prints
In 1938, Matson Lines commissioned Eugene Savage to create six murals depicting Hawaiian life. On display are the adaptations of those murals into menu covers for the cruise ship S. S. Lurline. In 1908, seafarer William Matson built a ship named Lurline which would become the first commercial passenger ship in the Hawaiian trade. The subsequent S. S. Lurline, a luxury cruise ship, began shuttling passengers from California to Hawaii in 1932, helping popularize Hawaii as a favorite travel destination.
Unknown Artist
View of the French Frigates Anchorage off of the Island of Maui, 1797
Copperplate engraving published in Atlas Du Voyage De Lapérouse
England was not the only participant in the exploration of the Pacific. The Comte de Lapérouse, noted French explorer, navigator and hydrographer, was sent by King Louis XVI on an expedition in rivalry with Captain Cook and the English. Lapérouse was the first official visitor to Maui ("Mowee" on this print). The view shown here was recorded in 1786, a few years before the volcano in the background, Haleakala, erupted and wiped out the village shown in the image. The lava fingers of the volcano created what is known today as La Perouse Bay.
Village Life, 1993
Line etching on zinc plate printed on burnt umber ink, hand colored
Arriving as early as 1,500 years ago, the earliest settlers of the Hawaiian Islands are believed to have been Polynesians from the Marquesas Islands. They arrived in double-hulled canoes bringing with them coconut and banana trees, dogs, pigs, and chickens. They governed themselves by a kapu system of chiefs and ali'I (royalty). Their religion was deeply associated with nature and recognized thousands of gods. By the time Europeans made contact in 1778, there may have been as many as one million inhabitants.
Considering this information, can you find evidence in this etching to support the possibility that it depicts an early settlement?
JOHN WEBBER (1751-1793)
A Man of the Sandwich Islands with His Helmet, 1790
A Young Woman of the Sandwich Islands, 1790
Hand-colored copper plate engraving printed by Alex Hogg
The portrait on the left is believed to be chief Keneena. He is dressed in a feathered cloak and helmet ("mahiole"), likely for a ceremonial occasion. Cook's notes indicate "Keneena....was one of the finest men I ever saw. He was about six feet high, had regular and expressive features, with lively dark eyes; his carriage was easy, firm, and graceful." Unfortunately, Keneena was killed in the same battle as Cook shortly after Webber made his portrait.
The woman on the right may be Poeta, daughter of an island chief. Rare and beautiful bird feathers were reserved for high ranking individuals, so based on the feather head lei, she too is clearly a person of importance. Cook's notes state "...besides which they wear another ornament called eraie (lei).....it is a ruff of the thickness of a finger made.....of exceedingly small feathers, woven so close together as to form a surface as smooth as that of the thickest velvet."
JOHN WEBBER (1751-1793)
A Canoe of the Sandwich Islands, the Rowers Masked, 1784
Copperplate engraving printed by C. Grignion
This scene shows a group of men, believed to be priests of the god Lono, traveling in their two hulled canoe. One of the priests holds a feathered representation of the god Lono called an Akua Hulu Manu, while the man behind him blows on a conch shell trumpet. All of the men wear masks that are associated with ceremonies honoring Lono. Cook's notes of the voyage indicate that "the masks were made of large gourds with holes cut out for eyes and nose. The top was stuck full of small green twigs, which at a distance, had the appearance of an elegant waving plum; and from the lower part hung strips of cloth resembling a beard..."
JOHN WEBBER (1751-1793)
The Death of Captain Cook, 1784
Copperplate engraving printed by William Byrne and Francesco Bartolozzi
Captain Cook's relations with the native population were initially friendly but deteriorated quickly due to cultural misunderstandings. To reclaim a stolen boat, Cook's crew attempted to take hostage the King of Hawaii, Kalani`pu`u. The natives retaliated by attacking and killing Cook and four marines. Nineteen Hawaiians died in the altercation and many more in subsequent reprisals.
Webber was not present at the actual battle and based his depiction of Cook's death on eyewitness accounts. Here, Cook tries to act as a peacemaker moments before he is struck from behind. Note how other versions of this event show Cook in the thick of the fighting or already dead.
JOHN WEBBER (1751-1793)
Mort de Cook, 1785 (hand-colored at later date)
Copperplate engraving for first French edition of A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean
This version was done for the French edition of A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean and is very similar to the original work engraved by Bartolozzi and Byrne from the watercolor by John Webber. The hand coloring was done at a later date and reflects the artist's best guess regarding the colors that the participants actually wore.
CHARLES WILKES (Publisher)(1798-1877)
Crater of Maku-A-Weo-Weo, 1856
Hand-colored engraving
Lieutenant Charles Wilkes led the first U.S. expedition to survey the South Pacific, including Hawaii. One of the major accomplishments of the expedition was the mapping of Hawaiian volcanos, such as Mauna Loa, which you see here. The crater in this image is located on the top of the mountain.

Leiomano (Shark Toothed Club), 21st century
Wood, shark teeth
Meant for short-range fighting, this paddle-shaped club has sharks teeth inset into grooves on the edge of the club and sewn in place. There is a hole in the handle to hold a wrist wrap to prevent the user from losing it during battle.
Such clubs have been used for centuries within many Polynesian cultures for utilitarian and martial arts purposes. In Hawaiian, the word "leiomano" may be derived from "lei o mano," meaning "a shark's lei."

Monstera Leaf Appliqué Quilt, 21st century
Machine and hand-stitched cotton
This 21st century recreation of a traditional Hawaiian quilt represents the merging of two cultures. Prior to contact with the West, native Hawaiians wore simple garments made from "kappa" fibers which featured hand-painted decorations of local plants. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, travelers from the U.S. brought with them the tradition of the patchwork quilt. Native Hawaiians soon started creating primarily appliqué quilts which included representations of local foliage such as the Monstera leaf, as seen here.
Pohaku Ku'I Poi (Poi Pounder), 21st century
Lava rock
The poi pounder is considered one of the most valuable Hawaiian stone implements. After steaming or baking the taro root, once considered the Hawaiian "staff of life," the tool was used to crush and knead the cooked root into a paste called "poi." Later, poi would be mixed with water to produce a sweet, highly nutritious mixture that could be eaten all by itself.
Three Ni'ihau Shell Leis, ca. 2000
Assorted shells
The tradition of Ni'ihau shell leis, or pupu, comes from the small and remote island of Ni'ihau. Because of its arid climate, Ni'ihau contains little vegetation, and the pupu has been adopted as the island's "flower." For centuries, craftsmen have scoured the shores of Ni'ihau for tiny shells that have washed ashore. After sorting the shells by type, size and color, they would carefully pierce and string them into complex designs. Because this process is so painstaking, Ni'ihau leis have always been seen as precious, luxurious jewelry -- the Hawaiian equivalent of the pearl necklace.
On display are three contemporary examples of Ni'ihau leis. The longer lei is a three-strand Lei Kui Pikake, meaning "sewn like a flower lei of jasmine." The smaller leis are an example of Lei Kui Kipona or "lei sewn with a mixture of shells." Today, the Ni'ihau Island is privately owned and virtually inaccessible to outsiders, making the leis made there all the more coveted.

Wooden Bowls (Calabashes), 21st century
Hawaiians were known to make some of the most beautiful bowls in all of Polynesia. Known as "calabashes," these bowls were made from coconuts, gourds, fiber, or wood. Historically, they are associated with serving poi, a food made from the taro plant which possesses important nutritional and cultural significance to Hawaiians. Wooden bowls were highly coveted because they were hardest to hand-carve; thus, they were reserved for Hawaiians of high rank.
Note the beautiful grain and color of the wood -- something the makers of these contemporary calabashes took great care to accentuate in the carving process.
Maile (Top Left): This plant represents the legend of the five Maile Sisters, minor goddesses of hula, who could take human or plant forms. Wearing maile was believed to provide dancers with inspiration and improve their skill.
Ie ie (Top Right): Legend has it that Ie ie was the supernatural form of Lono, the husband of Laka. It represents the determination and knowledge possessed by the students of the hula.
Ohi'a lehua (Center): This plant is placed on the hula altar and represents female and male elements, the wood being the male and the flower being the female.
Palapalai (Bottom Left): This plant can be placed on the hula altar and worn as leis by the dancers. It evokes the sister of Pele, Hi'iakaikapolio Pele, benefactor of the dancers.
Halapepe (Bottom Right): This plant represents the symbolic form of Kapo'ulakina, the goddess of sorcery.


(above: Susan Boardman, Embroidered Narrative, 2001-02, Leather, hand-dyed cotton fabric, cotton thread, beadwork, koa wood frame, 14.5 x 11.5 inches. Collection of Melinda and Paul Sullivan)


(above: Howard Hitchcock, Hilo, 1921, Oil on canvas, 11 x 16 inches. Collection of Melinda and Paul Sullivan)


Additional images of artworks in the exhibition

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