Curator's era at Queen's winds down
By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Assistant Features Editor
After 25 years as the volunteer curator of the Queen Emma Gallery at The Queen's Medical Center, Masa Taira says, "I've reached the point in my life when I need to go home and clean up my own house."
When Taira's tenure as gallery coordinator ends March 31, the gallery will close temporarily while renovations take place in the lobby and gallery area. A new space will be designated later, according to Lynn Kenton, Queen's Medical Center spokeswoman. "We are committed to that."
Taira more or less fell into the gallery director position after she helped put on a successful art and craft fair in 1975, with other members of the Queen's Auxiliary. She was drafted into that job when a piece of her art was accepted into a show; a friend who was then president of the auxiliary suggested that Taira, whose husband is a physician, might like to combine an interest in art and her connection to the medical field by helping the hospital raise money.
The Medical Center, founded as The Queen's Hospital by Queen Emma, has a long history of employing art as a way to gentle the hospital experience, Taira said. In the 1920s, Queen's benefactor Mrs. Montague Cooke used to bring art from her own collection to display for patients and visitors.
Talk of a gallery began to circulate in 1976 and, before she knew it, Taira had agreed to become chairwoman of the Auxiliary gallery committee. A retiring person with little interest in the limelight, Taira recalls that she felt completely overwhelmed. "I was an absolute greenhorn. I didn't have any idea what I was doing," she recalled. "I used to cry every night."
Her cries for help were answered by artist Han Chu Hee. Hee put her in touch with David Asherman, then one of the Hawai'i art world's most respected figures, and an artist, teacher and Contemporary Arts Center founder.
Asherman became her mentor, answering her questions patiently. Other prominent artists, among them Julia May Fraser, Joseph Turnbull and Jean Charlot also helped the auxiliary committee get the effort off the ground.
The Queen's Art Gallery formally opened in 1977 with a collection of etchings by artist Lorenzo Agngarayngay and a large turnout that was a triumph for the "greenhorn" exhibit director.
From time to time, Taira's husband would grumble, "Haven't you done this long enough?" Along about the seventh year, she almost quit, but then the gallery landed a Hawaii Committee for the Humanities grant for $14,500 to mount a human form exhibit that traveled the Islands. "After that, he ceased to say very much," she said.
Ask Taira what she remembers about 25 years of mounting art shows and she recalls a challenge Asherman set her: "What we're doing now is passive viewing of artworks in a venue. At some point, we really should move on to the participatory phase." The advice never left her, and she tried to involve people in the gallery's work whenever possible. A popular feature in the '90s, for example, was "Getting Plastered," a series of shows in which hospital employees made plaster casts of their faces.
On March 26, the Auxiliary and Medical Center plan an event to honor Taira.
But true to form, she isn't giving up her work entirely when the gallery's current show, "Scratching the Surface," closes on March 31. She first has to log all the gallery's papers, forming a history that will be lodged in the Mamiya Medical Archives.