John Kelly created the color aquatint titled "Africa Tulip" using one of his favorite models, Kuulei Kalaeloa.

Romantic notions

John Melville Kelly’s idyllic
images typify the golden age
of Hawaii’s history

JOHN Melville Kelly played a large part in creating the idyllic image of Hawaii we've come to associate with the 1930s and '40s. Even those who don't know his name will recognize his print work, exhibited at the Honolulu Academy of Arts and the Hawaii State Museum, and often reproduced from old menu covers commissioned by the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in the early days of Hawaii tourism.

'Hawaiian Idyll'

The Prints of John Kelly

On view: Thursday through Oct. 23

Hours: 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays

Place: Honolulu Academy of Arts Henry R. Luce Gallery

Admission: $7; $4 for seniors, students and military; free for members and children. Also free from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 18 and Oct. 16.

Parking: $3 for four hours in the Academy Art Center lot

Call: 532-8700

Kelly featured in twin exhibit

Coinciding with the Honolulu Academy of Arts exhibition will be Robyn Buntin of Honolulu's exhibition "John Kelly," featuring more than 50 etchings, aquatints, drawings and paintings by the artist.

The Robyn Buntin exhibition will open with a reception from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. The show, also featuring the works of prewar Hawaii artists such as D. Howard Hitchcock, Lionel Walden and Charles Bartlett, will continue through Oct. 1, open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays.

Call 523-5913.

Using the people he knew as models, Kelly captured them in settings reflecting island pastimes and lifestyles that even then were romanticized but within his lifetime would all but disappear.

Some of his images go on view at the Honolulu Academy of Arts on Thursday in the exhibition "Hawaiian Idyll: The Prints of John Kelly." The exhibition will include his 5-foot-tall printing press; the copper plates used to create "Grass Skirt, Hawaii"; photographs of some of his models; family memorabilia such as a carved wood pendant worn in one of the portraits; and a bronze sculpture of Leilani Paulson created by his wife, Kate Kelly. Paulson and her sisters were among Kelly's favorite models.

The press has been stored at the family's home since 1943, and even after Kelly died in 1962, "it's been kept intact at the house, along with furniture and the little statues that may have influenced his work," said his granddaughter Kathleen Kelly. "They're just the way he left them."

After the exhibit, the family will give the press to Kamehameha Schools, where Kathleen hopes students will put it to good use.

"My grandfather had a lot of aloha for the Hawaiian people who were the subject of his art, his life's work.

"He was brought out here from San Francisco by a man (Charles Frazier) who wanted him to draw futurama pictures of Lanikai. They wanted to develop a golf course and homes. He just fell in love with Hawaii and stayed. Where he lived, there were fishermen and chicken farms and stuff like that. The people in the area were workers, and these were the people he was interested in, the makaainana.

"He knew wealthy people. They were his patrons, and there were a few portraits of them but not nearly as many as Hawaiians.

Leilehualani Kane displays photos of her mom, Leilani Paulson, one of the original models for John Kelly. With Kane is Jennifer Saville, Academy of Arts curator.

"He had a portrait of Walter Dillingham playing polo in Kapiolani Park, and Duke Kahanamoku, who would bring a lot of travelers out to the house in his car and drive them back to Waikiki. There were quite a few pictures of Duke Kahanamoku's whole body, his feet and legs. I think Kate was preparing to make a sculpture of him, but I don't know if she made it or, if she did, where it might be."

It was Kate who taught John printmaking after she took a class from Huc Lucquiens at the University of Hawaii, and John felt an immediate affinity for plate-making and the press, possibly due to his experience working for the San Francisco Examiner and Honolulu Star-Bulletin, where was an art director until 1932, when he decided to pursue art full time.

Jennifer Saville, curator of Western art for the academy, said Kelly is one of Hawaii's most beloved printmakers. "He certainly was instrumental in helping to develop a sense of the women of Hawaii and this exotic paradise, and people responded to it," she said.

"He was a great experimenter. The complete range of his work shows that there was a curious mind behind his print-making. He kept working on an image and exploring it with different plates, different inks and different styles."

For Kathleen, helping with the exhibition has given her the opportunity to get to know her grandparents' work, beyond having known them as simply Grandpa and Grandma.

"I knew my grandfather made these etchings, but I didn't know how significant he was in the art scene in Honolulu.

"He was a very loving, kind and happy individual. Both Kate and John were so in love. They never fought, they never raised their voices, they were always respectful of one another. I guess it was another era."

Even so, she said, Kelly was a practical joker. As a newspaper artist, he would pour ink from an inkwell on paper, cut out the blot when it dried and place it on another artist's illustration, making it appear as if the ink had spilled directly onto the work.

"In those days, when they had to draw something, it was a lot of work, and he'd do that knowing that the person spent a couple days working on a job."

John Kelly Sr. inks a copper plate in 1958. At top is a model for his "Hawaiian Night" menu cover.

KATHLEEN'S mother, Marion, was a favorite model of Kelly's, and remembers, "You'd have to sit until you got tired of sitting, but you'd have to stay in the same position for an hour or more, and that is terrible -- try it sometime. But I kept coming back because he had a son who was very attractive to me."

Marion was a violinist with the Honolulu Symphony. John Kelly Jr. was educated at Juilliard and had returned to teach music at Palama Settlement and work as choirmaster for the First Methodist Church. He was also an avid water enthusiast who's often depicted in his father's work at the water's edge, or most famously as a fisherman with a throw net, his back to the viewer.

Marion said Kelly Sr. worked from life but also took photos of his subjects, which he used when his models weren't around.

"He was a very cautious artist, but he did really good work. He really stuck with the model to be true to their image," she said. "He really captured the last of the old Hawaii lifestyle."

Kelly's work changed over time, and the exhibition will also show some of his later prints, dating to the 1950s, reflecting influences from China, India and Eastern philosophies. The soft, muted colors of his early work gave way to hues that were intense and jarring, and subjects became increasingly stylized, growing oversize, luminous eyes.

By then he was slowing down, but Marion said, "When he was working, he'd get up early in the morning, cook one or two eggs and toast for breakfast, and work until noon or 1 p.m. and stop," Marion said. "He'd spend the rest of the day at the art academy, seeing things, looking at pictures; he really liked going to the art academy."

"He was very close to the academy," Kathleen said, "so it'll be particularly meaningful to have the exhibition there."

"Two Finger Poi" by John Kelly is on view at Robyn Buntin of Honolulu through the end of the month.

| | |
E-mail to Features Desk


© Honolulu Star-Bulletin -- https://archives.starbulletin.com