Island Culture 2-4-2005

Amid Hawaii’s scenery is an active art scene

By: Karla Aronson

An elderly woman walks into the renovated arts center in Kamuela and exclaims, “Oh, I went to school 1921.”

Hawaii is replete with arts and cultural attractions that have strong ties to the community. The most prominent draw a large share of the visitor industry, but many lesser known or overlooked places have just as much to offer. Whether it is the architectural legacy of a famous Hawaii resident, an ancient Hawaiian temple, the alternative gallery scene or a revitalized arts town, there are as many ways to connect to the arts and culture of Hawaii as there are cultures and art forms to absorb.

Shangri La, Oahu
Certainly, many people have built their dream homes in Hawaii. Few, though, will ever exceed the lavishness of Shangri La, built by Doris Duke in 1937 on five oceanfront acres overlooking Diamond Head. One of the home’s more impressive features is a glass living room wall which can completely descend into the basement, powered by an old-fashioned elevator system.

“It was very avant-garde technology for back then,” said Shangri La’s executive director Deborah Pope.

Duke, a tobacco and energy heiress labeled the “richest girl in the world,” discovered Hawaii on her honeymoon after traveling through the Middle East and southern Asia. The 22-year-old fell in love with both Islamic art and Hawaii’s lifestyle. Her 14,000-square-foot residence, opened to the public for small group tours two years ago, reflects her lifelong passion for collecting Islamic art.

The most artistically significant piece, a 13th-century mihrab room, a niche that points Muslims toward Mecca, was acquired from Iran. A marble bathroom inlaid with semi-precious stones was modeled on the Taj Mahal. Entire rooms were imported from overseas, including a wealthy merchant’s home from Syria. The pool house, a scaled-down version of a mid-1600’s palace complex built in Iran, overlooks a 75-foot-long saltwater pool. The 16-foot deep end accommodates a hydraulic-lift diving platform; Duke having been an avid swimmer and athlete.

“I think what stands out most for visitors is the total mood and ambience as a whole,” said Pope. “You are not walking into a gallery with objects in cases and labels. It’s sort of an entry into seeing the Islamic world.”

Tours of the property start at the Honolulu Academy of Arts, Wednesday to Saturday, at 8:30 a.m., 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. A mini-van ferries groups, limited to 12 people, to the residential neighborhood. Cost is $25 for adults and children ages 12-17 and includes admission to the academy. Advance reservations required.

Kahanu Gardens, Maui
Given the number of people who drive the famous Road to Hana, it is surprising how few turn off the curving highway to visit one of Hawaii’s most sacred places. Just outside the town of Hana resides the state’s largest heiau, an ancient Hawaiian temple, on the grounds of Kahanu Gardens.

Built from all kinds of stones in the area, including round river stones and lava flows, the terraced walls of Piilanihale Heiau rise to a height of 50 feet and stretch across nearly four acres. The heiau is believed to have been the home of Piilani, the first Maui chief to unite the entire island back in the 16th century. Unlike heiaus on the western side of the island, which were destroyed by missionaries, this heiau is nearly intact.

Visitors to the garden can meander through 50 acres of the property on a self-guided tour, following signs and a booklet, which takes about one to 1½ hours to complete. In addition to the heiau, the garden features Hawaii’s “canoe” plants, those brought to Hawaii by its Polynesian ancestors, such as taro, breadfruit and sugar cane.

“It’s more like a step back in time than a showy flower garden,” said Kamaui Aioni, director of the gardens.

Operated by the National Tropical Botanical Gardens, Kahanu Gardens is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The entrance fee is $10 per person. Children 12 and under are free.

Historic Hanapepe, Kauai
“When you’re driving down Hanapepe Road, you have this feeling you’re going through an Old West town,” said Carol Bain of the Hanapepe Economic Alliance.

The town has gone through many evolutions since the first wave of Chinese immigrants came to work on the sugar and pineapple plantations in the early 1900s. Hanapepe became a sizable merchant and farmer town, with a distinctive plantation-style architecture. In the 1970s and 1980s, artists and craftspeople moved in and the town went through an arts renaissance.

This year the alliance introduced a 1½-mile historic walking tour of the town with a self-guided map. The map provides a history of Hanapepe’s commercial buildings, several of which are on the state and national historic registers. One building, currently a woodshop and gallery, has been a nightclub, a barbershop and even a bowling alley. A pinsetter at the bowling alley later became mayor of Kauai and the first mayor of Filipino descent in the United States.

The town now boasts 11 galleries, and for more than 10 years the galleries have opened their doors and lit up the streets to host the festive “Art Night in Hanapepe,” every Friday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

“There is a lot of diversity in terms of the types of art,” said Joanna Carolan, owner of Banana Patch Studio, with works ranging from watercolors, oils, batik, marble, basket weaving, ceramics and koa wood sculptures and furniture.

“No two galleries really have artwork that are similar,” she said, unlike some other popular gallery towns in Hawaii.

Isaacs Art Center, Hawaii
Housed in a historic school building dating back to 1915, the Isaacs Art Center in Kamuela, outside Waimea, displays many Hawaiian art treasures and offers some works for sale. The renovated seven-room school house that once housed first- through seventh-grade classrooms, still has its original Douglas fir floors and sliding pocket doors, which doubled as blackboards.

Since the building’s relocation to the campus of the Hawaii Preparatory Academy, the art center’s mission has been twofold, said Director Bernard Nogues.

First, the center will display its permanent collection of 19th- and 20th-century Hawaiian artworks. The original works of art, represented by its collections, donations and consignments, include significant etchings, engravings, vintage furniture and koa woodwork. Its most famous painting is the “Lei Queen Fantasia,” a 10-foot by eight-foot oil painting by Madge Tennent created in 1934.

“She is one of the greatest artists on Hawaii,” said Nogues.

Its second objective is to raise money through its gallery offerings to fund scholarships to the academy, a boarding and day school for children kindergarten through grade 12. The center will also maintain a rotating exhibition space. Currently on display is Japanese art of the early 20th and late 19th century and classical Chinese furniture of the 19th century.

Galleries of Makawao, Maui
A drive to the sleepy town of Makawao, perched along the slopes of Haleakala Volcano, affords a perfect getaway from the coastal resorts of Maui, as well as a great opportunity to step into the local arts scene. Over the last decade or so, 10 galleries have established themselves in the former cowboy town. Among them is the artist-owned Viewpoints Gallery, cooperatively run by about 15 artists.

“The difference with Makawao is that you are more likely to see an artist,” compared to the galleries that line Lahaina and Wailea, said painter Kari McCarthy of Viewpoints Gallery.

Viewpoints regularly arranges artist demonstrations on site and hosts a new exhibition every month. A fun time to be in the gallery is on “hanging day,” usually the Thursday preceding their monthly opening reception.

“A lot of chaos is going on with the artists hanging their paintings. We all drift in and out,” McCarthy said.

The openings, which take place on Saturdays from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., attract a local arts crowd. McCarthy, who also publishes “Art Guide Maui,” a comprehensive guide to the galleries and artist studios across Maui, added that one of the surefire crowd pleasers in Makawao is the Hot Island Glass studio and gallery. Visitors can watch through a protective shield as glass artists blow large pieces and platters as large as a foot-and-a-half wide.

“It’s amazing to watch. It’s a spectator sport,” she said.

Tour Talk, Oahu
Visitors to Oahu often spend a day in a rental car checking out the sights beyond Waikiki. If they head to the Kailua side of the island, they are likely to drive along the Pali Highway and pass the stunning Nuuanu Pali Lookout. Denise Moreland, founder of Tour Talk Hawaii Nei, wants people to take in more than a pretty view from the spot. “Do they know what they are looking at? Do they know the significance of things?” she asked.

By the time listeners of Tour Talk’s guided audio tour pull into the vista parking lot they will have learned, through a dream sequence narration by a Native Hawaiian, that warriors once jumped or were pushed over the cliffs at this major battleground site for Hawaii’s unification. In another sequence on the audio tour, a local historian narrates a 12-minute reenactment of the Pearl Harbor bombing as drivers approach the USS Arizona Memorial. Tour Talk draws upon Hawaiian authorities and musical artists to provide a background to the famous and not-so-famous sites on a circle road tour of the island.

“It’s not just a site tour. It’s a culture-based tour,” Moreland stressed.

Drivers can go at their own pace, pausing at any time during the three hours of recordings. A minimum of four hours is needed to complete the full driving tour.

Launched in 2003, the tapes have caught on. Frequent travelers who had grown weary of the “same-old same-old” now find new interest in familiar sites.

Until listening to the audio tour, “they never connected to the destination,” Moreland said.

Other feedback to Moreland has come from locals who apologized for being skeptical at first, but found, in the words of one, “I learned so much about my homeland.” Tour Talk is available in CD or cassette and includes an information-packed booklet. It retails at $24.95. Travel agent commissions are available.


Shangri La, Oahu

Kahanu Gardens, Maui

Historic Hanapepe, Kauai

Isaacs Art Center, Hawaii

Galleries of Makawao, Maui

Art Guide Maui

Tour Talk, Oahu