What the Heck?
HONOLULU ACADEMY OF ARTS
"The Great Wave of Kanagawa" by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) from the series "Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji" Japan, Edo period, 1830-34. This color woodblock print was given to the Honolulu Academy of Arts by the writer James A. Michener, who donated nearly 5,000 prints to the museum. CLICK FOR LARGE
Michener's woodblock prints are Academy treasure
In the Vault:
It takes a fully charged electronic key to get into the print vault at the Academy of Arts. It's not the kind of place where you'd want to be carrying a can of Coke or even breathe hard on anything.
Arrayed in labeled metal drawers are Japanese woodblock prints. Dating back to the 18th century, many are worth the price of a nice car or even a full-size condo. Some are so delicate they can't be displayed because they'd fade in the sunlight.
"This is the way to see these," says Shawn Eichman, the Academy's new newly appointed curator of Asian art. "When they're under glass, you lose the texture, the fine detail. Of course, hardly anyone ever sees them like this."
This viewing is not for me -- I was just in the right place at the right time. It's for Stephen May, biographer of James Michener.
Michener donated the core of the Academy's collection, nearly 5,000 prints. The best-selling novelist had begun collecting traditional Japanese woodblock prints after the war.
COURTESY OF SHUZO UEMOTO
Shawn Eichman, curator of Asian art at the Honolulu Academy of Arts, explains the fine points of an 18th century Japanese print to Stephen May, biographer of James Michener, who delivered an Academy lecture last Sunday. CLICK FOR LARGE
"It's ironic," says May. "Michener wrote five books about them, and made them so famous he got priced out of the market."
Michener's collection of what he called "the world's loveliest art" still resides in Honolulu. You can see some of the best examples on display at the Academy until Oct. 2.
The exhibition includes the most famous Japanese print of all, Hokusai's "The Great Wave," of which, thanks to Michener, the Academy owns the finest copy in the country.
Out of Here: I've always wondered why Michener's collection ended up at the Academy. Michener could hold a grudge. "Once you crossed him, that was it, forever," says May.
Michener left the islands in 1959 because Bishop Estate wouldn't let him buy a beach house on Kahala Avenue. In those days no Asians were allowed, and Michener's wife, Mari, was Japanese. Why would an angry Michener, who hardly ever returned, donate a priceless collection to Honolulu?
At May's lecture, I ran into 75-year-old community activist Chris Christensen. As a 25-year-old hanging around the Manoa campus, Christensen actually got to know Jim and Mari, as he calls them. "The house in Kahala story was true, but that wasn't the real reason they left," says Christensen.
The real reason: The book Michener wrote here, "Hawaii," was the first of his huge multigenerational blockbuster novels. "He had the whole rest of the world to report on and write about. Much as he liked it here -- it was fabulous in those days -- he would have been crazy not to go."
Sex and the Single Apron: Speaking of writers, look for a media blitz this fall for Melissa Gibson. Gibson, who now lives in San Francisco, counts as kamaaina because she's a seventh-generation islander.
The media blitz will be for "The Little Black Apron," a cookbook designed for young single woman on the go. Gibson wrote it with help from Jodi Citron, nutrition correspondent for "Good Morning America" and a Dannon Yogurt spokeswoman (and coincidentally, Gibson's college roommate) and California chef Katie Nuanes, whom Gibson met in a San Francisco bar.
"Don't put the part about meeting Katie in a bar," says Gibson. "My mother gives me enough grief as it is."
Gibson's writing may take the book on the bestseller list. Some samples: "Unfortunately, the four basic food groups do not consist of wine, cheese, chocolate and coffee."
"The thought of plunging deeply in the red to buy yet another pair of blue jeans is enough to make you understand portion control."
And: "Having sex eight times a day is good for your self-esteem." No doubt, but does it leave much time for cooking?
In the Cards: Last Thursday night, there was a long line of folks standing in the Nuuanu drizzle outside a large but decaying single-wall house that once was a priests' residence.
It was opening night for the Iona Dance Theatre's "The Living Tarot." You may once have owned a deck of Tarot cards, perhaps back when you also had a black light and strawberry rolling papers. Evolved from simple playing cards, Tarot decks are most often used these days for fortune telling.
In Iona's case, they provide an ingenious way to mount a dance theater without a conventional performance space. The house is for sale, for about $2 million, and since it sits along the Pali on embassy row, it's no doubt doomed to be torn down. In the interim, Iona redecorated 10 rooms and put a dancer inspired by a Tarot card in each.
Obviously the 200-odd people who paid $35 to attend could not fit into one room at once. So everyone got a "Tarot reading" that told them which room they were allowed in and when. Performances were repeated 10 times in 10 rooms, with the audience scrambling up and down stairs, here and there, to catch them all.
The performances themselves were full of wit and surprises. Audience members found themselves holding up a dancer called Strength while wearing animal masks. A dancer called the Magician disappeared one hapless soul into a closet. A dancer called the High Priestess transformed into Betty Crocker, dancing along the kitchen countertops and offering the audience brownies.
It was hot and crowded and started an hour late, so I ignored my "reading" and just caught the next convenient performance. I got no insights into my future. Perhaps you will do better. "The Living Tarot" continues tonight and next Thursday and Friday.