Surrounded by more than 6,000 textiles and costumes from around the world, textiles curator Sara Oka was faced with a dilemma—choosing her favorite work for a “Staff Pick” on the museum’s blog. Should she stay loyal to the textiles collection, or go with the work that inspired her artistic mind as a child?
“One of my earliest recollections of the museum is standing in front of Water Lilies by Claude Monet with my father,” says Oka. “I was too young to understand what I was really looking at, but watching my father admire the painting made me realize it must have been really important. He didn’t even say much, but that silence is what impressed me. So, when asked to choose my favorite, Water Lilies would be a personal first choice.”
Having confessed this, Oka then proved her loyalty to the textiles collection by making a kapa fragment her staff pick.
“The lesson in art appreciation I learned from my father had a significant impact on my life,” reveals Oka. “But now that I’ve been working with the textile collection for over 20 years, I also want to honor a piece from the field of fibers. Most of the textiles in the collection are created by anonymous makers and unknown craftsmen; the fact that the museum recognizes and reveres those traditions is quite admirable. While there are textiles that are glamorous and spectacular, and so many take my breath away, my gaze turns to a kapa fragment, small in size but monumental in presence. The beaten fibers are visible under the rich patina of a cinnamon brown base, patterned with an elegant array of simple dashes, chevrons and delicate dots. The entire field is stamped in black with a few dots of red ochre, adding just a subtle accent of color. These geometric designs may have had symbolic meanings that have been lost in time. Nevertheless, the quiet esthetic remains timeless, offering inspiration for establishing new interpretations. Listen to your heart, for it speaks louder than words.”
Hawai’i, Late 18th-early 19th century
Inner bark of wauke (paper mulberry, Broussonetia papyrifera), natural dyes
‘Water Lilies,’ (1917/19)
Oil on canvas
Purchased in memory of Robert Allerton, 1966