This Saturday, on April 8, the Honolulu Museum of Art turns 90. One of the ways we are celebrating is sharing museum stories here on the blog and on Facebook and Instagram. We kick off with this flashback to the museum’s opening day (when it debuted as the Honolulu Academy of Arts) by archivist Dawn Sueoka. The museum has two archives—our general repository that Dawn oversees, and a photo archive overseen by staff photographer Shuzo Uemoto. Surprisingly, Dawn or Shuzo didn’t find a single photo from the momentous day, and the Star Advertiser didn’t turn up any either. So Dawn dove into documentation to verbally re-create the festivities. • Pictured above is Bina Mossman’s Glee Club, which performed “Ha‘aheo Ika La‘i” on opening day. The lovely ladies are (back row, from left) Helen Fuller, Ku‘ualoha Treadway, Flora Hayes, Gaelic Fitzgerald, Emma Morreira, (front row from left) Nora Markham, Jenny Gilliland, Bina Mossman, Elizabeth Bayless, Mary Saffery.—Lesa Griffith, director of communications
By almost all accounts, the opening of the Honolulu Academy of Arts on the afternoon of April 8, 1927, was a joyful and momentous occasion. The Reverend Stephen Desha, Sr., opened the celebration at 3pm with a blessing in Hawaiian; in Central Courtyard, Henry Berger led the Royal Hawaiian Band. So many people came through the doors that the doorman could not click his counter fast enough to keep up.
There were, however, one or two detractors. “This is a lovely garden,” one woman is reported to have said to her companion, “but of course, my dear, it’s not like Versailles!”
One of the afternoon’s highlights was Bina Mossman’s Glee Club performing “Ha‘aheo Kilohana Ika La‘i,” a song written in honor of the museum’s opening by Mary Jane Kekulani Fayerweather Montano and set to music by Bina Mossman—whose music was the theme of this year’s Kamehameha Schools Song Contest.
Mossman, one of the first female representatives in the Territorial Legislature and formerly the High Sheriff of the Territory of Hawai‘i, is known for the songs “Hele au i Kaliponi,” “Niu Haohao,” and “Ka Pua U‘i,” among others.
The first verse of “Ha‘aheo Kilohana Ika La‘i,” in English translation, reads:
Resplendent Kilohana dwells in the fair clime,
Most fair a pearl for the race,
Permeated with the sweetness and the fragrance
O Hawai‘i and the eight seas
Reflecting on the song and opening festivities more than 50 years later, Mossman emphasized what “Kilohana” refers to: “‘Ha‘aheo Kilohana’ means to stand calmly….The museum stands out, you see—it stood out so prominently…it’s like a pearl to the people of the islands.”
Mossman’s presence can be felt in a very real way at the museum today—her great granddaughter Kaili Chun’s installation Net_work, done in collaboration with Hongtao Zhou, is on view in Artists of Hawai‘i 2017.