JIM BARTELS / 1945-2003

Former curator
of Iolani Palace dies

More obituaries

By Leila Fujimori

Jim Bartels, 57, Washington Place director and former longtime curator and managing director of Iolani Palace, died Sunday in Newport Beach, Calif.

"I was playing the queen's (Liliuokalani's) music for him when he died, and 'Aloha 'Oe' came on," said ex-wife Regina Kawananakoa, who was at his bedside at Hoag Presbyterian Hospital.

Bartels died of infections after successful treatment for multiple myeloma, tumors of the bone marrow, with which he was diagnosed on Dec. 23, she said.

Bartels oversaw completion of the restoration of Iolani Palace, where he was curator for 21 years and well loved by the volunteer docents who served as palace guides he trained.

"The state of Hawaii has lost one of its greatest treasures, because he can't share all that knowledge he had," said Iolani Palace docent Dorothy Kendall, who met Bartels in 1975 after he became curator. "Any docent he trained came away with absolute devotion to the palace that he loved, and then it became the palace you loved."

Bartels, who was part-Hawaiian and had ties to royal Hawaiian lineage, was well respected for his depth of knowledge of the Hawaiian monarchy.

He resigned as curator in 1998 after a controversy stemming from a dispute with Abigail Kawananakoa, then-president of Friends of Iolani Palace. Kawananakoa, a descendent of royalty, posed for Life magazine seated on the palace throne, a move Bartels criticized.

Born in Honolulu on July 25, 1945, Henry James Bartels attended Punahou School and received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Hawaii. He earned a UH graduate degree in Asian and Pacific art.

After serving in the Navy during the Vietnam War, Bartels started with Iolani Palace as a volunteer in 1970, becoming curator in 1975 and management director in 1997.

Kendall recalled the first time she saw Bartels nearly 30 years ago carrying "almost with reverence" a calabash that once belonged to the king.

Bartels was named Washington Place director in 1998 to restore the mansion, once home to Queen Liliuokalani.

"I think that's going to be his greatest legacy," said former first lady Vicky Cayetano. "Though Jim's love and passion was Hawaiiana, he made that so meaningful to everyone in our community regardless of our background or ethnic diversity. He was just so special. It's really a loss."

Bartels is survived by sisters Paula Grupido and Helene Kerster.


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