Hawaiian Art

Pre-European Hawaiian Art

Hawaiian art can be divided into pre-European art, non-native art, and art produced by Hawaiians incorporating western ideas.

Learning Objectives

Evaluate indiginous Hawaiian art

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Hawaiian art can be divided into pre-European art, non-native art, and art produced by Hawaiians incorporating western ideas.
  • Polynesians arrived in Hawaii 1,000–2,000 years ago, and in 1778 Captain James Cook and his crew became the first Europeans to visit Hawaii, calling it the Sandwich Islands.
  • Traditional Hawaiian art includes wood carvings, feather work, petroglyphs, bark cloth (called kapa in Hawaiian), and tattoos.
  • Kapa is a fabric made by Native Hawaiians from the bast fibers of certain species of trees and shrubs; it is based primarily on linear elements and used primarily for clothing, bed covers, robes, and banners.

Key Terms

  • hula: A form of chant and dance which was developed in the Hawaiian Islands by the Polynesians who originally settled there.
  • Captain James Cook: A British explorer, navigator, cartographer, and captain in the Royal Navy who made detailed maps of Newfoundland prior to making three voyages to the Pacific Ocean, during which he achieved the first recorded European contact with the eastern coastline of Australia and the Hawaiian Islands, and the first recorded circumnavigation of New Zealand.

Overview: Hawaii

Hawaii represents the northernmost extension of the vast Polynesian triangle of the south and central Pacific Ocean. While traditional Hawaiian culture remains only as vestiges in modern Hawaiian society, there are reenactments of the ceremonies and traditions throughout the islands. Some of these cultural influences are strong enough to affect the United States at large, including the popularity (in greatly modified form ) of luaus and hula.

The Hawaiian archipelago consists of 137 islands in the Pacific Ocean that are far from any other land. Polynesians arrived there 1,000–2,000 years ago, and in 1778 Captain James Cook and his crew became the first Europeans to visit Hawaii (which they called the Sandwich Islands). The art created in these islands may be divided into art existing prior to Cook’s arrival; art produced by recently arrived westerners; and art produced by Hawaiians incorporating western materials and ideas.

Traditional Hawaiian Art

Art existing prior to the invasion of Europeans is very similar to the art of other Pacific Islanders. This art includes wood carvings, feather work, petroglyphs, bark cloth (called kapa in Hawaiian and tapa elsewhere in the Pacific), and tattoos. Native Hawaiians had neither metal nor woven cloth. Production of these styles of art continued after Cook’s arrival, and a few craftsmen still produce traditional Hawaiian arts, either to sell to tourists or to preserve native culture.

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Hawaiian kapa, 18th century: Kapa is a kind of bark cloth, or fabric, made by Native Hawaiians from the bast fibers of certain species of trees and shrubs.

Kapa

Kapa is a fabric made by Native Hawaiians from the bast fibers of certain species of trees and shrubs. It is similar to tapa found elsewhere in Polynesia, but it differs in the methods used in its creation. Kapa is based primarily on the creative combination of linear elements that cross and converge to form squares, triangles, chevrons, and diagonal forms, giving a feeling of boldness and directness. The fabric was used primarily for clothing, such as the malo worn by men as a loincloth, the pāʻū worn by women as a wraparound, and the kīhei worn over the shoulders. Kapa moe (bed covers) were reserved for the aliʻi or chiefly caste, while kapa robes were used by kāhuna or priestly caste. Kapa was also used as banners to hang leis and images of gods.

Cultural anthropologists over the course of the 20th century identified techniques in the creation of kapa that are unique to the Hawaiian Islands, involving soaking the bark in water, laying it out on a stone tablet, and beating it with a rounded beater. In the 18th century, pieces of kapa were often made of grooving or ribbing, done by pushing a dampened cloth into the grooves of a special board. The process of making kapa was done primarily by women; young girls would learn by helping their mothers, over time doing more of the work until they could make kapa themselves.

Non-Native Hawaiian Art

Non-native Hawaiian art began with the arrival of the first westerners to the island and was characterized by the work of the Volcano School.

Learning Objectives

Discuss how non-native produced Hawaiian art differs from indigenous Hawaiian art

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • While Polynesians arrived on the island of Hawaii 1,000–2,000 years ago, the first westerners did not arrive until Captain James Cook and his crew became the first Europeans to visit the island in 1778.
  • Some of the first westerners to visit Hawaii were artists, who sketched and painted Hawaii’s people and landscapes using imported materials and concepts.
  • The Volcano School was a group of non-native Hawaiian artists who painted dramatic nocturnal scenes of Hawaii’s erupting volcanoes.
  • Some of the artists of the Volcano School also produced watercolors, which, by the nature of the medium, tended to be diurnal.
  • Two volcanoes on the Island of Hawaii, Kilauea and Mauna Loa, were intermittently active during the 1880s and 1890s, when interest in Volcano School paintings peaked.

Key Terms

  • diurnal: Happening or occurring during daylight, or primarily active during that time.

Overview of Hawaiian Art

The Hawaiian archipelago consists of 137 islands in the Pacific Ocean that are far from any other land. Polynesians arrived there 1,000–2,000 years ago, and in 1778 Captain James Cook and his crew became the first Europeans to visit Hawaii. The art created in these islands can be divided into traditional Hawaiian art; art produced by recently arrived westerners; and art produced by Hawaiians incorporating western materials and ideas.

Art Produced by Non-Native Hawaiians

Early Exploration

Some of the first westerners to visit Hawaii were artists—both professional and amateur. Many of the European invaders’ ships had professional artists on board to record their discoveries and document the landscape, people, flora, and fauna of the region. These artists sketched and painted Hawaii’s people and landscapes using imported materials and concepts. Artists in this category include Alfred Thomas Agate (American 1812–1849), Jean Charlot (French 1898–1979), Robert Dampier (English 1800–1874), Joseph Henry Sharp (American 1859–1953), and many others. Night scenes of erupting volcanoes were especially popular, giving rise to the Volcano School.

The Volcano School

The Volcano School was a group of non-native Hawaiian artists who painted dramatic nocturnal scenes of Hawaii’s erupting volcanoes. Some of the artists also produced watercolors, which, by the nature of the medium, tended to be diurnal. Two volcanoes on the Island of Hawaii, Kilauea and Mauna Loa, were intermittently active during the 1880s and 1890s, when interest in Volcano School paintings peaked. Getting to Kilauea, the more frequently painted volcano, required an arduous two or three day roundtrip journey on horseback. Printmaker and art educator Huc-Mazelet Luquiens called this period “a little Hawaiian renaissance.”

Painting shows a full moon peeking out from the clouds above a red, erupting volcano.

Jules Tavernier’s painting Full Moon over Kilauea, 1887: Jules Tavernier was a member of the Volcano School, a group of non-native Hawaiian artists who painted dramatic nocturnal scenes of Hawaii’s erupting volcanoes.

Jules Tavernier (1844–1889), a French artist, was arguably the most important Volcano School painter. Other artists include Ernst William Christmas, Constance Fredericka Gordon Cumming, Charles Furneaux, D. Howard Hitchcock, Ogura Yonesuke Itoh, Ambrose McCarthy Patterson, Titian Ramsey Peale, William Pinkney Toler, William Twigg-Smith, and Lionel Walden, among others. A selection of Volcano School paintings is usually on display at the Honolulu Museum of Art.

Hawaiian Art with Western Influences

Hawaiian art today retains a great deal of traditional Hawaiian influence while also incorporating western styles and themes.

Learning Objectives

Explain how Western influences manifest in Hawaiian art

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The art created in these islands can be divided into traditional Hawaiian art; art produced by recently arrived westerners; and art produced by Hawaiians incorporating western materials and ideas.
  • A great deal of artwork produced by indigenous Hawaiians, as well as Hawaii’s native-born and long-term residents, now incorporates western materials and ideas, including paintings on canvas and quilts.
  • Many Hawaiian artists remain distinctly Hawaiian in subject matter, while others range among widely diverse styles.
  • In 1967, Hawaii became the first state in the nation to implement a “Percent for Art” law, in which 1% of the construction costs of new public schools and state buildings is designated for the acquisition of works of art, either by commission or by purchase.

Key Terms

  • Hula: A form of chant and dance that was developed in the Hawaiian Islands by the Polynesians who originally settled there.
  • Captain James Cook: A British explorer, navigator, cartographer, and captain in the Royal Navy who made detailed maps of Newfoundland prior to making three voyages to the Pacific Ocean, during which he achieved the first recorded European contact with the eastern coastline of Australia and the Hawaiian Islands, and the first recorded circumnavigation of New Zealand.

Overview of Hawaiian Art

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Stone bas-relief of fallen male nude by Marguerite Louis Blasingame: Sculptor Marguerite Louis Blasingame is one of the many 19th century artists who incorporates both Hawaiian and western themes in her art.

The Hawaiian archipelago consists of 137 islands in the Pacific Ocean that are far from any other land. Polynesians arrived there 1,000–2,000 years ago, and in 1778 Captain James Cook and his crew became the first Europeans to visit Hawaii. The art created in these islands can be divided into traditional Hawaiian art; art produced by recently arrived westerners; and art produced by Hawaiians incorporating western materials and ideas.

Western Influence on Hawaiian Art

The arrival of westerners to Hawaii and the subsequent formation of Hawaii into a state of the U.S. have greatly impacted the art of native Hawaiians. A great deal of artwork produced by indigenous Hawaiians, as well as Hawaii’s native-born and long-term residents, now incorporates western materials and ideas, including paintings on canvas and quilts. Many Hawaiian artists remain distinctly Hawaiian in subject matter, while others range among widely diverse styles. Most of the art currently produced in Hawaii integrates a melding of traditional Hawaiian and western influence. Notable artists include sculptor Satoru Abe (born Hawaii 1926–), sculptor Bumpei Akaji (born Hawaii 1921-2002), sculptor Marguerite Louis Blasingame (born Hawaii 1906–1947), ceramicist Sally Fletcher-Murchison (born Hawaii 1933–), Joseph Nawahi (born Hawaii 1842–1896), Reuben Tam (born Hawaii 1916–1991), Isami Doi (born Hawaii 1903–1965), and others.

Hawaiian Art Today

In 1967, Hawaii became the first state in the nation to implement a “Percent for Art” law. The Art in State Buildings Law established the Art in Public Places Program and designated one percent of the construction costs of new public schools and state buildings for the acquisition of works of art, either by commission or by purchase. Public collections of Hawaiian art may be found at the Honolulu Museum of Art, the Bishop Museum (also in Honolulu), the Hawaii State Art Museum, and the Georg-August University of Göttingen in Germany.

Hawaii is also home to numerous cultural events that illustrate the rich traditions of the island pre-European influence. The annual Merrie Monarch Festival is an international Hula competition, and the state is home to the Hawaii International Film Festival, the premier film festival for Pacific rim cinema. Honolulu is also home to the state’s long running LGBT film festival, the Rainbow Film Festival.