Since June 2017, the museum has been honored to count University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Japanese literature professor Robert Huey as a volunteer with the Asian Art Department, where he helps HoMA project manager Kiyoe Minami catalog books in the Lane Collection and translate titles for the museum’s online database of rare books.
He also organizes workshops and seminars at HoMA about the old and rare books in the Lane collection for his students at UH and from other schools such as University of California Berkeley and the University of British Columbia, says Minami.
To get an idea of what a distinguished volunteer he is, on July 10, Honolulu Consul General Koichi Ito presented Huey with the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon, which recognizes individuals for their “contribution to the development of Japanese studies in the United States of America and strengthening the friendly relationship and mutual understanding between Japan and the United States.”
When asked what motivates him to volunteer to work with the Richard Lane Collection, he replied, “The Lane Collection has attracted attention from scholars in Japan’s National Institute for Japanese Literature (NIJL). I knew one of those scholars, who asked if UH would be interested in a workshop for faculty and students, using the Lane Collection for material. Of course I said yes! Through that workshop, and two more since then, my students, colleagues and I learned more about the Lane Collection, and actually got training in how to catalog the books. So several of us started volunteering since there are some 11,000 books in the Lane Collection, and not very many can catalog them. I enjoy the quiet time in the vault, away from the cares of academic life at school. I also enjoy getting to handle old books that otherwise I would never have had access to.”
While the Lane Collection has yielded priceless treasures, Huey finds equal pleasure in more mundane publications. “The Lane Collection is pretty diverse. There are some very rare and valuable books in it, and it’s an honor to get to look at some of them with the Japanese scholars when they come. Among the less rare and valuable books there are still many things I did not expect to find—cookbooks from the 19th century, for example, or junior high school geography textbooks from the Meiji period, when Japan was beginning to think about its empire,” says Huey. “Of course, I have only seen a small portion of the total. Every once in a while, I take a break from the cataloging or translating, and just browse through one or two books related to classical Japanese literature, which is my field as a scholar.”
Widely recognized for his expertise in classical and medieval Japanese poetry, Japanese culture in the Ryukyu Kingdom and Okinawan studies, Huey has been with UH since 1985. In fact, he was the advisor for HoMA Asian Art Department manager Sati Chock when she was working on her MA and HoMA curator of Asian art Shawn Eichman did his exit interview with Huey when he finished his PhD.
Chock, calls Huey an innovative, inspirational teacher. “Long a champion of student rights, Bob firmly encourages others to challenge themselves, yet his approach remains good natured and gentle,” says Chock. “He possesses an excellent sense of humor which he deftly uses not only to put students at ease, but also to enliven complicated historical material. And yet, despite always putting students first, during his 35 years in the field, he has consistently maintained a stellar academic career. His generous and specialized research assistance with the Lane Collection of Japanese art and literature continues to be invaluable to the Honolulu Museum of Art.”
“Bob Huey has had a profound impact on everyone involved in promoting Japanese culture in Hawai‘i,” says Eichman. “He has been a mentor for me since I was a graduate student in the East Asian Languages and Literature program at the University of Hawai‘i, and many of the staff at the museum have the honor of benefitting from his teaching. We are fortunate that his sense of community extends to the museum as well as the university, and he has played a key role in developing many of our most important relationships with Japanese scholars and organizations, including the National Research Institute for Japanese Literature. I can think of no one more deserving of the Order of the Rising Sun.”