Last Wednesday evening, the Honolulu Museum of Art Friends group—which is comprised of almost 400 museum volunteers, including docents—held an appreciation reception for its members. The event gave volunteers a chance to mingle, and offered special programming tied to the newly reinstalled Arts of Hawai‘i Gallery.

“We’re so excited to have this opportunity to meet with everyone,” says Ranelle Ho, president of the Friends group. “This night is in appreciation for all their hard work.” Ho noted that, new this year, the group will host four events at the museum for its members, each with different themes.

Attendees began the evening with pūpū—from mozzarella caprese skewers and kalua pig to Okinawan sweet potato-haupia squares.

Before adjourning to the second-floor gallery, three Hawaiian cultural specialists—Kamana‘o Mills, Ku‘uwehi Hiraishi and Kana‘i Kapeliela—performed an oli kahea, a chant asking permission to enter the gallery, which is answered with an oli komo, a chant that welcomes and allows entrance.

Ku‘uwehi Hiraishi explains how kapa, a fabric made from fibers of trees and shrubs, was made and used by native Hawaiians.

Ku‘uwehi Hiraishi explains how kapa, a fabric made from fibers of trees and shrubs, was made and used by native Hawaiians.

Vice president of the Friends education committee Sandy Pfund, who works with the trio at the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, arranged for them to give in-depth talks on the Hawaiian artifacts in the gallery—including 18th-century pohaki ku‘i poi (poi pounders), feather lei and kapa—along with historical context for some of the Volcano School paintings.

“Much of traditional native Hawaiian artwork was utilitarian. It served practical purposes such as tools, not so much art for art’s sake,” says Mills. “That’s why we’re so lucky to have contemporary native Hawaiian artists such as Kapulani Landgraf who continue to produce important work.”

Kapulani Landgraf talks about her installation "Ponoiwi."

Kapulani Landgraf talks about her installation “Ponoiwi.”

Landgraf was on hand to speak about her deeply moving installation, Ponoiwi. Her work addresses the issue of removing sand from Maui dunes—where Native Hawaiians buried their ancestors for centuries—for the making of concrete for the construction industry on O‘ahu.

One interesting story Mills told the crowd related to Anders Elias Jorgensen’s oil on canvas View of Honolulu from Punchbowl. The painting depicts a sacrificial stone where human sacrifices took place during the time of King Kamehameha III and Kamehameha IV. The stone was removed when the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific was built because of its bad history. However, the government rethought its removal and returned a chunk of the stone that can be seen today. Mills also talked about the cannons in the painting and why they were cursed—or blessed as the case may be.

For the guests, the evening proved to be a fascinating look at Hawaiian history and artwork, and a wonderful way for the museum’s volunteers to be honored by the Friends group.

Museum director Stephan Jost emphasized just how important all of our volunteers are to the museum: “We can’t do it without volunteers in any way, shape or form. For them, I’m extraordinarily grateful.”

Get involved!: Want to help out at the museum and attend insider events like this? Join the Honolulu Museum of Art Friends. Here’s all the info you need.