The museum’s curatorial departments often collaborate with each other, as well as the wider island community. The Arts of Hawaiʻi department works particularly closely with curator of textiles Sara Oka because the textile collection is home to the museum’s kapa, feather work, woven pieces, and quilts.
On Sept. 10, 20 Hawaiian flag quilts from the museum’s collection go on view at the Chigasaki City Museum of Art in Japan, to celebrate the city’s 70th anniversary and its third anniversary as a sister city to Honolulu. Connections like these give the museum access to an international audience that can share in the stories, histories, and issues of Hawai‘i.
In preparation for the loan, I recently assisted Sara in photographing the quilts. As curatorial assistant for the arts of Hawai‘i, my work often involves research and administrative duties, so it is exciting when I get the chance to interact with the important works that the department writes and thinks about daily. I transported the quilts from the textiles vault to the museum’s photo studio where I hung each quilt to be shot. Hawaiian music played while staff photographer Shuzo Uemoto photographed each quilt (that’s him at work, pictured above). We talked story about the beauty of the quilts, Oceanic films, and different types of cameras. What was projected to be a week’s worth of work was finished within two days not only because Shuzo and I developed an efficient system, but because we shared a passion for gaining a better understanding these treasures.
While working with Sara, it was inspirational to witness her deep knowledge of the textile collection and the level of care she invests in it. As we carefully unrolled the quilts to hang for their shot, she pointed out intricate details that that many might not notice or understand, and that reflect the immense skills needed to create quilts like this. For example, one of the quilts, adorned with the Hawaiian Kingdom’s coat of arms and national flag, had a distinctive stitching around each flag. Sara explained that this is a uniquely Hawaiian stitch that is made to look like the feet of a moa, or chicken. The few days I spent with Sara and the Hawaiian flag quilts taught me that they are a rich resource of historic information—so much knowledge is embedded within the stitches and fabric of a handmade quilt. These works come from a time of profound change within the islands and communicate stories of the quilt makers’ relationship to and love for Hawaiʻi. Working with Sara and Shuzo helped to deepen my appreciation for the collection and my colleagues’s skills.
Chigasaki City Museum of Art quilt exhibition: Sept. 10-Nov. 5, 2017.
Pictured at top: Shuzo Uemoto photographing a Hawaiian quilt from the museum’s collection before its journey.