Palace moves
to restore
Kalakaua’s table

The gold-leaf Victorian artifact
once resided in the king's bedroom


Friday, February 21, 2003

» Iolani Palace received a $1.5 million one-time allowance from the state last year. A story on refurbishing that ran on Page D1 Monday said incorrectly that the funds are awarded annually.

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin strives to make its news report fair and accurate. If you have a question or comment about news coverage, call Editor Frank Bridgewater at 529-4791 or email him at

By Tim Ryan

Repair of a valuable Victorian table from King Kalakaua's bedroom at Iolani Place will begin next month, thanks to a $4,000 donation by a palace docent.

With only about $500 available this year to repair dozens of palace artifacts, the 32-inch-high, 19-inch-diameter table -- which sat at the foot of Kalakaua's coffin as he lay in state in 1891 -- had been stored out of public view.

"We're ecstatic that we can finally do this conservation," said Iolani Palace Executive Director Deborah Dunn.

Thor Minnick works on the gold leaf on a Victorian table that once belonged to King Kalakaua. The table was donated to Iolani Palace. Minnick also repaired six of the 10 gold-leaf portrait frames hanging in the palace's Grand Hall.

The three-leg, gold leaf wood table with a circular onyx top was owned by James Armstrong, a Hawaii cabinetmaker who arrived here in 1894, three years after Kalakaua's death.

Palace staffers do not know how Armstrong obtained the table, which was donated by Armstrong's granddaughter, Dunn said. The piece was discovered when a former curator spotted it while looking at other artifacts the family was considering donating.

The conservation of the Kalakaua table is the first of a palace-owned piece -- not a piece on loan -- since 1995, when a small piece of statuary called "Lady on an Elephant" was cleaned and partially repainted for $2,500, said palace Curator Janet Ness. A year earlier, the priceless Liliuokalani quilt was restored at the Textile Conservation Center in Massachusetts for $11,111 funded by GTE, Ness said.

The 300-year-old Kamehameha I feather cape on loan from Bishop Museum represented the palace's last major conservation expense, costing about $25,000 over three weeks of repair in 2000. The work needed to be done before it could be displayed, Ness said.

Some wood attachments on the Kalakaua table leg must be reset, supports reglued, and pieces containing minor termite damage must be replaced, said conservator Thor Minnick. A major problem is damage to the table's original gold leaf.

Minnick believes the gold leaf was damaged long ago when palace employees rubbed the table with cloth to clean and polish it. Bare spots left behind were painted gold to give the piece a uniform color, but when the contrast between the paint and the remaining gold leaf became too evident, the entire table, with the exception of the top, was painted gold. That paint has tarnished in places and turned a dirty brown.

Minnick will attempt to remove the surface paint using a special gel. Cracks in the wood, however, will not be repaired because these represent "the history and life story of the piece," Dunn said.

"In current aesthetics, no attempt is made to completely repair a historical piece to an 'as new' condition," Minnick said. "Today's style is minimal."

Whatever the conservator does is reversible.

"We treat the object knowing we're not going to be the last one to work on it," Minnick said, "so we thoroughly document everything that's done so people farther down the line can work from that information."

The table repair is expected to take a month, so the table should be on display in May or no later than June, Dunn said.

The palace's annual $1.4 million state budget is strictly to be used for restoration on the building's physical structure and does not cover interior items, staff salaries or operating expenses, including a $13,000-a-month electrical bill. These funds come from grants, tour revenues -- about 8,000 visitors walk through the palace each month -- and shop sales.

There is no conservation budget, Dunn said. "The Kalakaua table may be the only restoration project in 2003."

Do It Electric
Click for online
calendars and events.

E-mail to Features Editor


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Calendars]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2003 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --