He Makana: The Gertrude Mary Joan Damon Haig Collection is a 42-piece collection of traditional Hawaiian crafts, paintings and prints that opened at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center’s Schaefer Gallery on Oct. 15. The exhibit runs through Dec. 23.
The exceptional collection of works was gifted to the State of Hawaii through the Hawaii State Art Museum by Haig’s son Michael, in honor of his late mother’s life. “He Makana,” meaning “a gift,” could not have a more fitting title.
Gallery Director Neida Bangerter recently walked me through the exhibit and helped shed light on the incredible stories behind the art.
“The idea behind seeing this work is that we are unwinding our clock,” she said. “We can go back in time through the artists’ eyes.”
Arranged by Bangerter, the exhibit has a tranquil aura that consumes you as you walk through the doors. Immediately you’re met with a wall, displaying a brief write-up about how the collection was acquired. Just behind this is the central piece of the exhibit, “Moonlight over Diamondhead” by Lionel Walden.
It’s a breathtaking painting with a powerful gravity that pulls you in. Set up in front are two antique chairs that encourage you to come and sit and sink into the painting for a while.
“We live in a tense time right now, and I feel that art is a real healer,” said Bangerter. “It is an oasis.”
The collection focuses on the three giants of 20th century island painting: Lionel Walden, D. Howard Hitchcock and Madge Tennent. Academically trained in Paris, the three have become staples of island art.
These artists are important not only because of their skill but also because of what Bangerter calls their “documentation of the history of our places and our people.” As we stared into the “Moonlight over Diamondhead,” it wasn’t hard to picture a whimsical Waikiki shore in the 1920s without the high-rise hotels and resorts we see today. The whole exhibit really portrays a Hawaii of a different time, lost but thankfully not forgotten.
Also included is a selection of traditional–and rare–Hawaiian art forms. Ancient ko`u calabashes, native Hawaiian feather work, and ahu ‘ula cape and Ni`ihau shell leis. These garments were strictly reserved for the ali`i (chiefly class) and even seeing them behind glass has a royal charm. There are also four ‘umeke bowls, hand carved from ko`u wood.
Craftmanship like this really makes you think about our technology today and the ephemeral, digital world we live in. Bangereter and I chatted for some time about the lack of hands-on experience our children are receiving today, and the importance of keeping art alive.
One etching, John Kelly’s “Old Hawaii,” features a Hawaiian man with his back turned to the artist, sending his canoe out to sea. “The subjects aren’t posing like we do today for Facebook or Instagram,” said Bangerter. “It’s very real.”
Bangerter stressed the importance of “supporting artists in documenting our places and people today.” She asked, “What is Hawaii like today? I would like to see more of that and less of a commercial approach to what we can sell, rather than what’s important.”
“I want this exhibition to inspire people to reflect on the beauty of Hawaii, to share experiences in the arts with others and to take time away from our technology and rely on our presence more,” she said. “He Makana allows us to admire the hard work of artists from another era who were communicating important ideas of their time. There is a calming effect in reminiscing.”
The gallery is free to the public and is open Tuesday through Sunday, from 10am to 5pm. More information can be found on the MACC website. The gallery will be closed Thanksgiving (Nov. 23) and Saturday, Dec. 2.
Gallery photos courtesy Luminous Maui Photography. “Hawaiian Boy in Canoe” image courtesy the MACC