"Ulu," from 1963, was made by Meali'i Namahoe Kalama, one of Hawaii's foremost quilting teachers. The piece is among the works on display in "Ho'oulu i Ka Nani: Breadfruit Quilts of Hawaii" at the Mission Houses Museum.
Fruit of life
"Ho‘oulu i Ka Nani: Breadfruit Quilts of Hawaii" is a cultural lesson as well as an exhibit of quiltings from past and present
The display of glorious quilts in the quiet space at the Mission Houses Museum are calming and breathtaking all at once. Entire walls are filled with huge singular pieces that reveal what undoubtedly entailed hundreds of hours of handwork. A close inspection of the tiny, even stitches fills visitors with reverence even as it conveys the quiet focus and introspection of the quilters as they worked.
Indeed, the exhibit states, the quiltings are "labors of love" that "embody the quilters' thoughts and memories." And considering the relevance of the breadfruit, or ulu, in Hawaiian culture -- ulu is mentioned in Hawaiian spiritual proverbs and has been used for everything from food and medicines to dye and sandpaper -- the artistry of the quilts were surely meant to reflect respect for this source of spiritual and physical sustenance.
In that it enlightens its audience to this deep relationship, "Ho'oulu i Ka Nani" is much more than an art exhibition. Historical and cultural information, as well as artwork dating as far back as the late 19th century, fill the exhibit space alongside the quilting, giving visitors a sense of how intrinsic ulu has been to Hawaiian life through the ages.
"Ho'oulu i Ka Nani" runs through Feb. 4 at the Mission Houses Museum, 553 South King St. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays. Admission is $5. Call 531-0481.
Closeups of two panels, which show the different stitching patterns Okita employed for his original design.
Lincoln Okita created "Ulu," the set of three panels at right, for a contest for Liberty House in 2000.
"Breadfruit 2005" is a watercolor by Kelly Krusnoski.
Deitrich Varez's "Poi Ulu," right, is a linocut print.