“Oh, I’ve never seen this one before!” said Walden Morton, as Lionel Walden’s Hawaiian Fisherman (1924) appeared between the sliding racks in the museum’s painting vault. Morton is a grandniece of the Connecticut-born painter known for seascapes and volcano scenes he produced during repeated trips to the islands in the first quarter of the 19th century. She stopped at the museum for a tour while she was on her first trip to Hawai‘i last month.
“I’ve seen reproductions of this in the books and cards, and various people have come here and every time they send me a new batch of posters or something,” said the New Hampshire resident. “So I couldn’t resist [visiting the museum] when I knew I was going to Maui, because I’m 75, and I thought I don’t know if I’m going to be able to make it again.”
Collections manager Brady Evans turned a crank at the end of the rack to open up the gap and give Morton a better view. He explained that the work—the largest of 15 Walden paintings in the museum’s collection—was on display for six years in the Arts of Hawai‘i gallery, but went into the vault in March to make way for the exhibition Hawai‘i in Design. Several of the Walden paintings were among the first 100 works the museum accessioned, as gifts from founder Anna Rice Cooke.
With Morton were her husband, David, family friends Ian Cooke and his son Lachlan (descendants of Anna Rice Cooke), Lachlan’s girlfriend Laurie, and museum trustee and art collector Michael Horikawa (he owns seven Waldens).
Morton pointed to lighter patches on the waves splashing before the fisherman, and explained Walden’s expert use of backlighting to the others. “As you can see, Walden’s palette considerably lightened when he came to Hawai‘i,” she said.
Evans slid open another rack, revealing a work that speaks to this palette shift, an Italian coastal scene titled Fisherman at Capri. Morton’s eyes lit up—she wasn’t aware of this work and relishes moments of discovery like this. Back home, she recently started going through a big wicker suitcase in her attic filled with approximately 5,000 miscellaneous items related to the Walden family. She also owns two small Walden seascapes and a rare portrait of the artist.
Morton shared a scan of a portrait currently in the possession of her “odd cousin that popped up in Grangeville, Idaho.” Apparently the cousin at one point owned The Path of the Sun, which now hangs in the Bank of Hawaii executive conference room, she said. “She also has the medal that [Walden] won, because this is the painting that won the medal which made him a knight of the French Legion of Honor…I might call her up and tell her, ‘Why don’t you go to Hawai‘i and give it to the museum. It’s just been sitting in your cupboard.’”
The group headed to the second-floor galleries, where two of Walden’s radiant orange renditions of Big Island eruptions are on view. In the Volcano School section of the Arts of Hawai‘i Gallery, Morton made a beeline to her ancestor’s work Volcano (1920). Her face glowed—not from the painted lava but from her iPhone. She said it was her turn to document works for the folks back home.
“It was a big competition,” said Ian Cooke, gesturing to the works by Walden’s contemporaries Jules Tavernier, Ambrose Patterson, and D. Howard Hitchcock. Stepping back, Walden Morton scanned the room to see, for the first time, how well her ancestor stacks up against the best of them.