FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Renowned designer Ralph Appelbaum stood yesterday inside Bishop Museum's Hawaii Hall, which he is helping to renovate. The "Hale Pili" exhibit behind him will be a permanent fixture when finished.
Hawaiian culture at center
Bishop Museum: Hawaii Hall gets back to its roots
Halfway through an extensive renovation, Bishop Museum's Hawaii Hall is beginning to look like its old self again, something that hasn't been the case for nearly a century.
One of the most famous historical buildings in Hawaii will soon have new world-class exhibits.
Museum designer Ralph Appelbaum showed off progress within the three-story exhibit facility yesterday.
And yes, the whale is still there.
"It's not only being brought back to its original condition, but brought back as a unique interpretation of Hawaiian history," explained Appelbaum, a soft-spoken celebrity in the world of museum architecture, whose work with the Holocaust Museum won numerous awards. "Hawaii Hall is an extraordinary device to tell stories."
The decision of the museum's board was to focus solely on Hawaiian culture, scrapping the various "immigrant" exhibits that once dominated the second floor. Instead, the first floor will concentrate on pre-contact Hawaii, the second floor on Hawaiian views of land and nature, and the third floor on continuations of Hawaiian culture though the present day.
All of these exhibits are in planning stages. The majority of work completed on Hawaii Hall over the last year consisted mainly of stabilizing the existing structure, modernizing the exhibit cases with electronics and fiber-optic micro-lighting, restoring the skylight, establishing modern climate controls and replacing miles of electrical services and conduits.
"Museums are like hospitals: They never turn off, because they have to keep objects safe," Appelbaum said.
Research revealed that the walls were originally a warm honey color, and so they have returned to that shade. The windows that originally let in light and air have been shuttered but can be opened to let in natural light if needed, albeit through tinted, UV-resistant glass.
A major visual change is the restoration of the koa framings and woodwork. "No one really knew what it looked like under all that varnish," Appelbaum said. When the dark brown varnish was removed, the revealed wood proved to be golden and iridescent curly koa.
Another major change was the addition of a modern-design atrium connecting Hawaii Hall with nearby galleries and Polynesian Hall, and incorporating an elevator for disability access.
Renderings shown off by Appelbaum show the dangling whale joined by several "friends," including seabirds, sharks and fish.