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The Painted King

The Painted King: Art, Activism, and Authenticity in Hawai`i

Copyright Date: 2012
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    The Painted King
    Book Description:

    The famous statue of Kamehameha I in downtown Honolulu is one of the state's most popular landmarks. Many tourists-and residents-however, are unaware that the statue is a replica; the original, cast in Paris in the 1880s and the first statue in the Islands, stands before the old courthouse in rural Kapa'au, North Kohala, the legendary birthplace of Kamehameha I. In 1996 conservator Glenn Wharton was sent by public arts administrators to assess the statue's condition, and what he found startled him: A larger-than-life brass figure painted over in brown, black, and yellow with "white toenails and fingernails and penetrating black eyes with small white brush strokes for highlights. . . . It looked more like a piece of folk art than a nineteenth-century heroic monument."The Painted Kingis Wharton's account of his efforts to conserve the Kohala Kamehameha statue, but it is also the story of his journey to understand the statue's meaning for the residents of Kapa'au. He learns that the townspeople prefer the "more human" (painted) Kamehameha, regaling him with a parade, chants, and leis every Kamehameha Day (June 11). He meets a North Kohala volunteer who decides to paint the statue's sash after respectfully consulting with kahuna (Hawaiian spiritual leaders) and the statue itself. A veteran of public art conservation, Wharton had never before encountered a community that had developed such a lengthy, personal relationship with a civic monument. Going against the advice of some of his peers and ignoring warnings about "going native," Wharton decides to involve the people of Kapa'au in the conservation of their statue and soon finds himself immersed in complex political, social, and cultural considerations, including questions about representations of the Native Hawaiian past: Who should decide what is represented and how? And once a painting or sculpture exists, how should it be conserved?The Painted Kingexamines professional authority and community involvement while providing a highly engaging and accessible look at "activist conservation" at work, wherever it may be found.77 color illus.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6108-7
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. IX-X)
  4. 1 A Painted King
    (pp. 1-15)

    I FIRST SAW THE SCULPTURE in the spring of 1996. Fearful I would drive right by it, I proceeded carefully through the small town of Kapa‘au, scanning the land around each of the historic buildings. I knew it stood in front of an 1893 courthouse from the sugar plantation days. When the dramatic image appeared on a grassy mound in the distance, curiously gesturing out to the sleepy highway, I realized I could not have missed it.

    I parked my small rental car across the street and stared at the figure. Here was the first in a series of monuments...

  5. 2 Creating a “Pacific Hero”
    (pp. 16-32)

    MOST OF THE ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS about the sculpture’s commission reside in several well-guarded boxes in the Hawai‘i State Archives in Honolulu.¹ I often research old correspondence to prepare my recommendations for conservation, but this was a rare treasure trove. The handwritten letters between the artist and the commissioning body are mixed in with photographs, newspaper articles, and other papers that have accumulated since the late nineteenth century. They are stored in an underground vault on the grounds of ‘Iolani Palace. This extravagant gilt structure was built between the time the sculpture was commissioned in 1878 and its final installation five...

  6. 3 Shipwreck
    (pp. 33-49)

    ON AUGUST 21, 1880, the sculpture left Bremen, Germany, en route to Honolulu aboard the shipGeorge F. Haendel.Although details in the accounts I found vary, the ship encountered a storm in the south Atlantic off the coast of Argentina. A fire broke out, then the ship struck a reef and sank to the bottom of the sea near the Falkland Islands. All the cargo went down, including the nine-and-a-half ton crate on the deck containing the sculpture.

    The news traveled quickly to Honolulu. Fortunately the Hawaiian legislature had insured the sculpture for 50,000 marks (approximately $12,000), and with...

  7. 4 Return to Kohala
    (pp. 50-66)

    I RETURNED TO NORTH KOHALA once again on September 3, 1999. The local project committee suggested that we announce our plans at the annual ukulele and hula festival. This annual event with its celebration of musicians and hula artists attracts local residents whom I was told would not attend a public meeting about the sculpture. We hoped to get the whole region talking about the sculpture, its conservation, and its meaning for the next eighteen months.

    I arrived a day early to explore the area as a tourist. Like countless others before me, I flew to Kona and rented a...

  8. 5 Local Style
    (pp. 67-75)

    I WANTED TO LEARN HOW people in North Kohala conceive of their community, including how individuals define groups and how they think about participation privileges. This was directly relevant to the questions of how to conserve the sculpture and whose opinions should count in determining its conservation. The historic migrations, economic developments, and cultural shifts that have occurred over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries provide for a rich array of potential identities and cultural affiliations that could well be in play. People do indeed struggle to define what it means to be “authentic” in today’s North Kohala. I found that...

  9. 6 How People Think about Their Sculpture
    (pp. 76-102)

    AS I CAME TO KNOW people in North Kohala and understand the history that brought so many different people together from distant places, I also learned of the sculpture’s place in their lives. Listening to old-timers and newcomers talk about the sculpture gave me a picture of how people think about themselves in relation to the past, and to Native Hawaiian culture. I learned that the powerful figure of Kamehameha not only carries meaning but also performs an active role in the spiritual, political, and economic life of the region. Having some sense of the relationships between the sculpture and...

  10. 7 The Community Takes Sides
    (pp. 103-123)

    OUR FIRST TASK WAS TO get people thinking about the sculpture in a new way—not just as a spiritual, educational, political, and economic object, but as a “conservation object.” By now, I knew the difficulties of getting older folks, including respectedkūpuna,involved in public activities. We had to spark interest in thekeikias a first step, since their participation would lead to family discussion, parent involvement, and grandparent approval. Nani agreed. “It’s the kids at a young age that can steer their parents. That’s where you can get people to participate—through kids.” John Keola Lake added,...

  11. 8 Decision
    (pp. 124-141)

    WHO DECIDES AND HOW TO decide were in the hands of the local project team. They met and debated these questions behind the scenes during the months of community discussion. The question of “who decides” paralleled other concerns in the community over the status and rights of Native Hawaiians and respectedkūpuna.A new category appeared in the discussions: “the expert,” including myself as sculpture conservator and the professional administrators in Honolulu. Other local categories such as old-timers versus newcomers did not appear in discussions, although the local versus nonlocal dichotomy did.

    The question of “how to decide” stirred issues...

  12. 9 On the Scaffolding
    (pp. 142-163)

    I RETURNED TO NORTH KOHALA in February 2001 to finally perform the hands-on conservation work on the scaffolding. Michael Jones flew in from Honolulu and picked up his truck full of supplies at the shipping dock. We checked into Nani’s guesthouse and met with Nalani to strategize our first steps. Mark Bowden’s painting crew erected three sturdy scaffolding towers with adjustable planks around the sculpture, and Tuti Baker’s team began videotaping our preliminary work. I also held a series of meetings with the local project team to make final arrangements for community participation.

    I hadn’t heard from Raylene whether she...

  13. 10 Looking to the Future
    (pp. 164-174)

    AFTER CELEBRATIONS ON KAMEHAMEHA DAY 2001, I returned to my life as an art conservator on the mainland. Yet much had changed for me. I had a new sense of how community participation could influence my practice, but I wondered what effect the project had on the community itself. I also wanted to place what we did in the larger context of heritage preservation. Fortunately I had the opportunity to return to North Kohala one year later on remaining funds from our grants. I was to provide additional training and oversee the first annual maintenance of the sculpture in preparation...

  14. Appendix 1 HAWAIIAN GLOSSARY
    (pp. 175-176)
  15. Appendix 2 Significant Dates in the Early History of the Kamehameha Sculpture
    (pp. 177-178)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 179-184)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 185-192)
  18. Index
    (pp. 193-204)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 205-207)