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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, December 26, 2001

The model of decorum in art world

By Bob Krauss

An art bonanza discovered in a forgotten trunk in a Black Point attic has resulted in some fascinating information about artists' models in Our Honolulu 60 years ago.

Marion Kelly, daughter-in-law of the famed, late John Kelly, said the family found a trunk in the attic full of his drawings and etchings, highly sought after today. Termites had gotten to some of them, so the family decided to put them up for sale to avoid more destruction.

About 40 John Kellys will hang at Hawaiian Antiques/ Tahitian Imports on Waimanu Street until Jan. 15, in the first major sale of original John Kelly work in 60 years.

His daughter-in-law modeled for him and is full of information about the people who appear in the drawings and etchings. One of them is probably a former lieutenant governor. Another worked as housekeeper for Doris Duke.

Marion Kelly worked for 24 years at the Bishop Museum as an ethnologist. That overlapped with 34 years at the University of Hawai'i, where she was a professor of ethnic studies. She said she posed for the artist before going off to college at Columbia in New York.

Some of Kelly's models, including herself, posed nude. I asked her how that happened in missionary-oriented Hawai'i of the 1930s and 1940s.

"I guess most of the people who purchased prints were from America (the Mainland)," she explained. "As far as I was concerned, that's what an artist did. I took art at the university. We drew nude models. I thought nothing of it."

She said the artist and his wife, Kate, didn't have much money. They traded etchings for furniture. But they usually had Sunday brunch in Waikiki. Women who waited on them sometimes became his models.

"They got to be good friends and part of the family," said Marion Kelly. "I remember after Pop (her father-in-law) died, a woman visiting from Samoa knocked on the door. She said she was one of his models."

Don Severson, owner of the gallery, said a woman saw the show and said, "My mother-in-law modeled for John Kelly." But the woman never came back. "There are probably quite a few people still alive who modeled for him," said Severson.

Jean King, former lieutenant governor, who Severson claims was the model for a madonna-like portrait, doesn't remember modeling for the artist, he said.

He thinks Kelly worked from a photograph.

"We have several photographs of Jean King at home," Marion Kelly said.

John Kelly also drew an old Hawaiian fisherman who lived nearby on Black Point. The old man taught Kelly's 12-year-old son, John, to throw net and catch moi. One day they got three.

"The old man built a fire right on the beach," said Marion Kelly, wife of John Jr. "He gave one to John and ate one himself. He put the other moi back in the ocean and told John that's how there will always be moi on Kahala Beach."