Grand treasures


POSTED: Thursday, October 22, 2009

A grandmother's love and affection rarely factor into the academic realm of an art museum, one in which works are valued for historical and cultural importance rather than sentimentality.

At the Honolulu Academy of Arts, a quilt donated by Thane Pratt, the grandson of its founder Anna Rice Cooke, became the basis of a new exhibition, “;In Grandmother's Honor,”; opening today.

“;It's like a homecoming for the quilt,”; said Sara Oka, the museum's textiles collection manager. Cooke's pieces already form the core of the academy's textile collection, giving the institution a base of about 400 pieces that include several quilts.

The gift quilt, entitled “;Ka'ohu o Halemano (The Mists of Halemano),”; is of a Hawaiian floral pattern, and was made by Ella Victor. Pratt believed it would be better shared and preserved by the academy, like the other treasures Cooke collected.

The quilt is one of 40 works in the exhibition backed by a rich island family history. Also on view will be a quilt that belonged to two-time Republican senator for Hawaii's Territorial Legislature, Joseph Farrington. According to family history, his grandmother made it during the Civil War while awaiting her husband's return.

“;I realized that lots of the textiles in our collection are linked to grandmothers,”; said Oka. “;I was able to pull together pieces that were either made by grandmothers or passed on by a grandmother. The affinity to grandmothers gave a face to the artwork.”;

Also on view will be two feather lei that the British naturalist, R.C. Perkins gave the academy in 1951. They belonged to King Lunalilo's grandmother, Princess Miriam Kalakua Kaheiheimaile. They came into the possession of H.G. Crabbe, likely during the time he was court chamberlain to Lunalilo. Crabbe, in turn, gave the lei to Perkins' wife, Zoe.





        Place: Honolulu Academy of Arts, Gallery 22, 900 S. Beretania St.

Open: 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays, and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays through Jan. 31


Admission: $10 general; $5 for 62-plus, students 13 and older, and military; free to members and ages 12 and younger.


Call: 532-8700


Special events in conjunction with the exhibition:
        » Community project: E-mail a digital image of your grandmother to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). The photographs will be incorporated in a work of art that will be shown at Bank of Hawaii Family Sunday on Jan. 17. Submission deadline: Dec. 14.
        » November museum special: When you pay full-price ticket at the academy, bring your admission sticker to Mission Houses Museum to receive half-price admission there to see “;Hawaiian Flag Quilts: Legacy of Patriotism.”; If you see the flag exhibition first, bring in your Mission Houses sticker to receive half-price admission at the academy.
        » December is for grandmothers: Bring a grandmother to see the exhibit in December and get in free. Applies to the grandmother and a grandchild only.
        » Bank of Hawaii Family Sunday: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Jan. 17, honors grandmothers with activities geared toward multigenerational fun.
        » Tour and Tea: Tour of the gallery followed by an art discussion over a glass of tea in the Pavilion Cafe will focus on “;In Honor of Grandmother,”; offered at 2:30 p.m. Nov. 10 and 12. The tour will be led by quilter Charlene Hughes. Free with museum admission. Reservations: 532-8700.
        » Spotlight Tour: “;In Honor of Grandmother”; will be the focus of half-hour tours at 1:30 p.m. tours Nov. 17 and 19. No reservation required. Free with museum admission.




More than pieces offered for protection and warmth, the textiles—a broad category that includes feather work, bark cloth, christening gowns and wedding gowns—were perceived as family heirlooms and treasures. Many families who donated pieces to the academy said they were unaware of how much they meant to their grandmothers until they were posthumously discovered, Oka said. Pieces that could have been discarded or given away decades earlier were found lovingly tucked away in cedar or tansu chests.

“;It's interesting to know what people like to save in their families,”; said Oka, who will be showing one of two shawls from England one man kept in a safe-deposit box.

“;It's printed on fine silk gauze from woodblock prints, which made it expensive,”; she said. She guesses that six blocks were used to complete the pattern, with different designs on both sides, “;that made it even more special.”;

OKA CONDUCTED hours of research in preparation for the show. One of the difficulties associated with such crafts is that, unlike works by professional fine artists, that are well documented by creator, collectors and curators, pieces made by grandmothers and passed down through generations are rarely accompanied by documentation, save for shreds of stories that may or may not be accurate. Some families had stories of quilts related to specific dates, but the styles of the quilts did not match the trends of the time.

“;Most (of the items) don't have any marks, they're not signed; it's a challenge,”; Oka said. “;Even in our own families, it's hard to know what our grandparents did at certain points in their lives.”;

Oka said some pieces can be dated by the age of textiles and techniques used in dyeing and weaving, but finished garments don't necessarily reflect the same time period because fabric can be stored away for years before being sewn into a garment or other piece.

Given that a generation of women grew up never having learned to sew, Oka said her biggest fear is “;that someday everyone will be bringing in pieces made in China.”;

But she isn't afraid that the source of textiles will dry up, though she admits that the idea of finding treasures in grandmother's plastic bin doesn't have the cachet of the tansu chest.

“;A lot of the quilts we see today are from a renaissance in quilt-making in the 1920s and '30s,”; she said. “;It was already another generation that rediscovered it, and the same thing happened in the 1970s, so maybe it's a cycle of creativity that happens with textiles.

“;I feel like it's happening again today because of the economy. There's been a trend of trying to go back to things that are handmade.”;