Restored treasures a show to savor
By David C. Farmer
Special to The Advertiser
Although the prophetic fire next time may yet prove to be the world's ultimate end, the wide swath of death and destruction by water in the past year — locally, nationally and internationally — has certainly been the most recent agent of heartbreaking catastrophe.
Water, like Mother Nature, wears two faces: violent destruction and the life force itself, cleansing, rebirth.
Like the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Mexico communities emerging from debris of their respective natural calamities, the University of Hawai'i's Hamilton Library in Manoa has recovered substantially from the heavy damage and destruction caused by last year's severe October floods.
It might appear that the floods may have made possible for the first time a comprehensive public exhibition of the library's substantial treasures, nearly 400 objects from its fabulous rare and special collections.
Except in this case, the show was planned well before the flood, which only delayed its original opening date.
In the spirit of "Making Connections," the exhibition is distributing bookmarks that include information and Web sites that cover the Gulf states' cultural institutions and treasures damaged or lost in Hurricane Katrina, and what can be done to help.
The exhibition offers a mind-boggling mental tour through time and space, from exquisite medieval illuminated manuscripts and the first books with prints of flora and fauna, to historical photos of the birth and growth of the university itself, the physical campus environment and its changing student body.
Thematically organized to highlight the various collections and works, the exhibition reflects the interests of our community and the areas of excellence within the university, especially relating to Hawai'i, the Pacific and Asia.
There are five restored historical maps, including a highly imaginative view of the Pacific, first printed in Antwerp in 1589. Although some priceless maps were damaged or lost, many escaped the tragedy unscathed or have been lovingly restored to almost pristine condition.
This is an experience one can savor for many hours over many days, whether you are a history buff or the lover of the many art forms on view.
Mean-spirited and bigoted political cartoons from 1870-1890 from such prestigious publications as Puck and Harper's Weekly remind us of the dark side of the American experience and, often sadly, its character.
Hawai'i's plantation history is recalled in vintage labor contracts, time cards, payroll books and picture-bride photographs.
World War II in Hawai'i comes alive with things like a blackout light, posters promoting sexual safety and free condoms, and a Japanese officer's diary with two bullet holes in it, moving testimony of his death in New Guinea in 1944.
Although certainly an example of home-front patriotism, the local eighth-grade girl's poster entreating "Think American" carries a bittersweet undertone today.
Other objects on display include letters written by and photographs of Hawai'i's monarchs; journals, prints, drawings, posters, and fine examples of book design; and materials from the university archives, Hawai'i's War Records Depository, the Sakamaki/Hawley Collection, and the Hawaiian Sugar Planters' Association Plantation archives.
And then there are tantalizing pieces from the Jean Charlot Collection: John Kelly prints; classic photographs by the masters Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and Tina Modotti; woodcuts and ink and pencil drawings by Charlot himself, all reminders of the powerful influence this distinguished artist, scholar, author, art historian, playwright and theologian had not only internationally, but on the Hawai'i he adopted as home, his memory enshrined, as the state Legislature eulogized, in the hearts and minds of the people of Hawai'i.
Indeed, as a contributor to this newspaper's art pages for many years — he wrote some 160 articles of art criticism from 1952 to '71 — his loving spirit and legacy still inspire and lead.
In short, this must-see exhibition also marks the renaissance of Hawai'i's primary research library, a fitting tribute to an institution of tremendous cultural value and importance to our community and to the world.
This exhibition — which features approximately 170 accomplished works in ceramics, wood, weaving, stitchery, jewelry, basketry, metal, glass, fiber and textiles — holds the central place in Hawai'i Craftsmen programs, the vehicle for craft artists statewide to show their work.
The show culminates a year of workshops and activities and allows the organization to assess its accomplishments during the year and highlight its excellence.
Although there are several juried art exhibits in Honolulu, no other features contemporary or traditional fine crafts. Craft fairs provide a limited market, and the quality of craftsmanship is always an issue.
This year's guest juror was Mary Philpotts McGrath, an accomplished design professional, printmaker and arts community leader.
The process began with McGrath visiting the Neighbor Islands, interacting with the local artists and jurying their work.
Then last Sunday she began her review of O'ahu submissions for final selection and awards.
"I was struck by the diversity in materials and expressions ranging from simple to complex, light and crisp to soft and rich, color intensive to monochromatic, and bold to passive," she writes.
"Every piece seemed to have a voice and to speak out with commanding directness. The gallery was charged with the energy of exploration and discovery."
Winners this year include Kathy Tosh for "Quiet Walk, Foggy Day," Lorenzo Kekina Nefulda for "24kt: Krackle," Hugh Jenkins and Stephanie Ross for "New Flow," Joseph Wilson for "Poodle Good Boy" and Steve Martin for "Big Bowl of Red."
Also on view are the accomplished works of invited artists, including powerful ceramics by the masterful Kauka deSilva, unusual and creative jewelry by Cynthia Wiig, and playful and loving fiber pieces by Kaua'i's Carol Kouchi Yotsuda.
New this year is a display of the juror's work. Besides individual pieces, on display is "Ahupua'a," an collaborative piece exploring new areas in public art process and product.
McGrath recently joined with nine Honolulu printmakers to create an artist's collaborative dubbed Pepe 'a Palaholo, A Printmakers Collaborative in a Garden Studio.
The collaborative's name refers to a rolled-up frond-paste of the 'ama'u fern which furnishes the sap for glue used in kapa-making.
Its hidden subtext is the equivalent of the saying, "From little acorns, mighty oaks grow."
The talented artists in the collaborative include Mark Ammen, John Dinsmore, Gina Bacon Kerr, Georg James, Arthur Johnsen, Jinja Kim, Barbara Okamoto, George Woollard and Debbie Young.
"Developing a working knowledge within the group that they can count on one another to complement the overall effectiveness of the finished artwork is a powerful place from which large visions can be achieved," says McGrath.
Forged within a fascinating process that invokes the communal art forms of performance and especially film, the modular piece possesses almost infinite installation possibilities and viewer experiences.
In a world of disintegrating community, such candles in the wind are to be cherished and nurtured, truly the glue that holds the kapa together.
David C. Farmer holds a bachelor of fine arts degree in painting and drawing and a master's in Asian and Pacific art history from the University of Hawai'i at Manoa.