“This is one of the capes that is going to de Young,” says textile curator Sara Oka as she hovers over a feather cape that was originally commissioned by Alice Kamokila Campbell sometime between the 1930s and 1940s. With tweezers in both hands, Oka gingerly tucks tiny tufts of protruding feathers back into the cape’s pattern.
The cape—along with a handful of other works that include two more feather capes and the museum’s iconic portraits by Robert Dampier of King Kamehameha III and his sister Nahi‘ena‘ena—will be sent to the de Young museum in San Francisco for the upcoming exhibition Royal Hawaiian Featherwork: Nā Hulu Ali‘i, on view August 29 to February 28, 2016. The exhibition, which the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco organized in partnership with the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, brings together Hawaiian featherwork from museum collections around the world. (You can get a sneak peek at the gorgeous catalog that also comes out in August from University of Hawai‘i Press, in collaboration with Bishop and Fine Arts Museums.)
Then Nā Hulu Ali‘i comes to Hawai‘i where it will be on view at the Bishop museum March 19 to May 23, 2016. The exhibition at the Bishop will mark the first time that many of the treasures on view have been home in more than 200 years.
Nā Hulu Ali‘i is made up primarily of works from the Bishop, which holds the largest collection of Native Hawaiian featherwork in the world.
As Oka prepares the three capes for travel, she also prepares her heart. “Feathers are just so special, sometimes they’re too precious let out of your sight,” says Oka. “But there’s so much history and it’s such an awesome medium that it’s great to share it and encourage a broader appreciation for this type of work.”
“As a collective, to see all of these works come together is really going to be an experience,” says Oka. “I can’t wait to see it when it comes to the Bishop.”