‘He Makana’ opens at Schaefer International Gallery

‘The Gertrude Mary Joan Damon Haig Collection of Hawaiian Art, Paintings and Prints’ visits from Hawaii State Art Museum

Land- and seascape artist D. Howard Hitchcock’s  “Hawaiian Boy in Canoe” (left), is one of his few pieces which included a human figure. Photo courtesy Maui Arts & Cultural Center

Land- and seascape artist D. Howard Hitchcock’s “Hawaiian Boy in Canoe” (left), is one of his few pieces which included a human figure. Photo courtesy Maui Arts & Cultural Center

It is often said, without the presence of art there would be no society, no civilization.

Throughout time, people have produced art (be it paintings, drawings, sculpture, music, poetry, prose, drama or various other forms) as a way of creative expression and social commentary.

The newest exhibition to visit the Schaefer International Gallery at Maui Arts & Cultural Center in Kahului, “He Makana: The Gertrude Mary Joan Damon Haig Collection of Hawaiian Art, Paintings and Prints,” on display until Dec. 23, presents Hawaiian art that was meticulously collected by Michael Haig over a 30-year span and donated to the Hawaii State Art Museum in Honolulu in honor of his mother.

“He Makana” contains a featherwork cape (displayed on Kahili stands rather than worn) last used publicly at Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole’s funeral; three featherwork lei, an assortment of kou wood calabashes, two Niihau shell lei, oil paintings, watercolors and etchings of Hawaiian land- and seascapes, and people.

The exhibit comes to Maui from its home base on Oahu due to the efforts of Gallery Director Neida Bangerter.

“Moonlight Over Diamond Head” by Lionel Walden is considered to be one of the greatest seascape artists to work in Hawaii. Photo courtesy Maui Arts & Cultural Center

“Moonlight Over Diamond Head” by Lionel Walden is considered to be one of the greatest seascape artists to work in Hawaii. Photo courtesy Maui Arts & Cultural Center

“I’ve wanted to get this exhibit here for a number of years,” said Bangerter. “I’m so excited to see it actually installed in our gallery.”

With the help of her Exhibits Assistant Shannon Cuadro, Adam Carbajol and the masterful lighting by Ditmar Hoerl, this display showcases 40-plus works of Hawaiian art created during the late 1800s to mid 1900s.

“When we receive an exhibit, I like to think we elevate what we get,” explained Bangerter. “The living artists who see their work installed are astounded by what proper lighting and professional installation can do.”

“When I am planning and working the lighting, I am creating a mood,” added Hoerl.

Damon Haig was the granddaughter of Honolulu banker and landowner Samuel Mills Damon, who established First Hawaiian Bank and acted as executor of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop’s will. At one time, the Damon Estate was Hawaii’s fourth largest private landowner.

Distinguished Hawaiian art from the late 1800s to mid 1900s is represented in the He Makana exhibit now on view at the Schaefer International Gallery at the MACC. Photo courtesy Photo Luminous Maui

Distinguished Hawaiian art from the late 1800s to mid 1900s is represented in the He Makana exhibit now on view at the Schaefer International Gallery at the MACC. Photo courtesy Photo Luminous Maui

While Damon Haig was very artistic in her own right, it is interesting to note that she personally owned only two of the pieces in the exhibit — “Holoku” and “Old Hawaii” both by John Kelly, known for his etchings and aqua-tints depicting Polynesian people.

The artists assembled here had an affinity for Hawaii. Some were born here, such as D. Howard Hitchcock (a member of the Volcano School, a group of non-native Hawaiian artists who painted dramatic nocturnal scenes of Hawaii’s erupting volcanoes and a founding member of the Kilohana Art League, Honolulu’s first art association); and Lloyd Sexton Jr. (known for Hawaiian landscapes and depictions of Hawaii’s flora and fauna); most arrived as tourists. Many decided to stay after discovering the beauty of the islands and the Hawaiian people.

Surprisingly, most of the artists represented were able to make a living as an artist. The exception, Madge Tennent, whose oil paintings displayed a “sculptural” quality to them, seemed to bewilder her early viewers. Her art was impressionistic and bold during a time when the preferred style veered toward realism. That lack of appreciation has changed in recent years.

The three main artists in the collection, Lionel Walden, Hitchcock and Tennent, all received formal academic training in Paris; Hitchcock and Tennent, interestingly, even studied at the same atelier.

Many of the seascape depictions are recognizable to modern audiences. Two paintings by Hitchcock, “Lanai From Lahaina, Maui” circa 1930 and “Lahaina Beach — West Maui,” circa 1932, would be easily identified by anyone on Maui.

Granted, the landscapes have been drastically altered due to development, but looking at those depictions gives one a sense of history and imbues a hint of nostalgia for the scene that greeted early visitors to these islands as they arrived by Matson ships.

“I especially want to thank the Hawai’i State Foundation on Culture and the Arts and its ‘Art in Public Places Collection,’ “ added Bangerter. “Without their help, bringing these exhibits to Maui would be impossible.

“Exhibits like these share a healing power with all who visit,” concluded Bangerter. “There is something about the nostalgia from this art that is very nourishing.”

* Schaefer International Gallery at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center in Kahului is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays, as well as before select Castle Theater shows. Admission is free. For more information, call 242-7469 or visit www.mauiarts.org.