Tuesday, September 21, 1999

statue will be restored

The $100,000 restoration of the
Big Island statue is planned after
more than a century of weather exposure

By Pat Omandam


A $100,000 restoration is planned next year for the original King Kamehameha Statue in Hawi on the Big Island, badly damaged by more than a century of weather exposure as well as some time sitting at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

But what the Hawi community and the conservator in charge of the project must agree on is whether the statue should be restored to its original bronze or painted a lifelike color, as community residents have been doing for more than 40 years as part of the annual King Kamehameha festivities.

"This is the conservator's call right now," said Keahi Allen, executive director of the King Kamehameha Celebration Commission, which has oversight for the original statue on the Big Island and its replica in front of the Territorial Building in Honolulu.

"The conservator is just getting opinions and trying to research why it was painted originally, who decided that it needed to be painted," Allen said. "And right now, he is in a dilemma that he's never had to face before ... And that's when you have a community that is involved in its maintenance, do you go with their feelings, not knowing why it was painted, or do you return it back to intent of the artist?"

The Hawaiian Legislature in 1878 appropriated $10,000 to commission and erect a sculpture of Hawaii's first king. Thomas Ridgeway Gould, a renowned Boston sculptor who was living in Europe at the time, modeled it in Florence and cast it in Paris.

In 1880, the statue was headed to Honolulu when the ship carrying it sank off the coast of the Falkland Islands. Insurance money for the loss of the first statue was used to cast and ship a second one to Honolulu. While the replica was being made, the original statue was recovered intact, except for a broken hand and spear, and a hole in the cape. It was repaired and in 1883 ended up in Hawi, Kohala, near the birthplace of Kamehameha. The replica was placed at Aliiolani Hale, across from Iolani Palace.

The nonprofit group Hawaii Alliance for Arts Education, which represents all arts disciplines in the state, was chosen to spearhead the restoration of the original sculpture. Executive Director Marilyn Cristofori said yesterday that conservator Glenn Wharton of California will oversee the restoration and develop a maintenance program for the statue.

Wharton specializes in the conservation of sculpture, architectural elements and archaeological materials. In 1996, he assessed the condition of the original statue, which has been exposed for more than a century to strong Kohala winds, high humidity and airborne chlorides. He said it was extensively damaged, Cristofori said.

She said the statute has what is known as "bronze-disease" and that the layers of paint over the years must be chipped off so the corrosion can be fixed. Because the community is very attached to the statue, the alliance decided to make it a community-based education project, where residents will be involved in the work, from pre-treatment to stripping away paint and repairing the damaged areas.

Restoration work begins in June 2000. It is expected to be completed in June 2001. "The project's goals are to stabilize the sculpture and develop a maintenance program for its care," she said.

"More importantly, it will serve as a model of how conservators can work with the community to conserve monuments and sculpture while preserving cultural heritage," said Cristofori, who emphasized that the $100,000 cost also includes educational programs related to the restoration.

The alliance has received $25,000 for the work: $15,000 from a Save Outdoor Sculpture! Conservation Treatment Award, a national program to raise awareness of public sculpture, and $10,000 from the Hawaii Community Foundation.

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