Page 20

“Plaiter of Mats” demonstrates the art of lauhala weaving in native Hawaiian life. Each step is shown in this painting.


❁Continued from page 19 Along the way, Herb Kāne amassed a prolific life’s body of work including paintings, murals, U.S. Postal stamps and published illustrations that blend realism, romanticism and mythology to tell a visual story. When Kāne attended Chicago’s School of the Art Institute, after serving in the U.S. Navy, artistic trends were turning away from photographic realism reminiscent of painters such as Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood, two painters admired by Kāne. Abstract expressionism was all the rage, but the young student worked to hone his skills in rendering the human figure, settings and landscapes realistically, although enhanced by a romanticized ideal. These skills suited him to jobs illustrating commercial art, which he practiced for a short time, with little satisfaction. “The end came when I won a Jolly Green Giant campaign, and for a year, did drawings and paintings of that big green fairy until I could no longer suffer it,” Kāne said.

Change of Course

Kāne had been nurturing a passion for sailing his catamaran on Lake Michigan, and had begun researching Hawaiian canoes in the library of the University of Chicago and the Field Museum of Natural History, where an extensive collection of Pacific island cultural artifacts had been installed. Herb started drawing sailing canoes and created a series of paintings of Polynesian canoes, which were purchased in 1969 by the Hawai’i State Foundation of Culture and the Arts. This purchase made it possible for him to move back to Hawai’i, where he lived in Honolulu and continued his passion and study of Polynesian voyaging canoes. As he said, the canoe brought him back home. Being in Hawai‘i once again brought back images from his childhood. Herb’s father had come from a family of taro farmers in Waipi‘o Valley, where the Kāne family sometimes stayed. Legends and ghost stories abounded by the lantern light as his father shared tales of the ancestors with his son. Images started forming

in the young boy’s mind, images that would one day appear on gigantic murals and paintings for all to see—Hawaiians, malihini, kama‘aina and visitors to Hawai‘i some decades into the future. Kāne brought the history and culture alive for the public and the Hawaiian people who had at one time been stripped of their cultural identity. He not only recalled legends, but extensively researched historical accounts and 18th century illustrations to create historically accurate art that is characterized by an emphasis on realistic and precise draftsmanship when depicting historical scenes. His series of voyaging canoe paintings and many other paintings of battles, everyday domestic life, and ceremonial occasions contain exquisite detail and color harmonies that bring each scene to life. U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka said of Kāne: “Herb Kāne was a Titan and a giant amongst Hawaiian historians who has left his legacy in his artwork and his words of wisdom as a gift of Aloha to Hawai’i nei and to the rest of the world.” Over the years, the public embraced the artist and, as if starved for life and breath, breathed in and lapped up every new painting as it was unveiled. Herb Kāne paintings are on display at Bishop Museum, major resorts, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park and in the Hawai’i State Capitol. His paintings of Polynesian sailing, in particular, have been widely reproduced, appearing as illustrations in books and articles. A major commission was a series of seven paintings for National Geographic magazine and published in the December 1974 issue. A good writer himself, Herb published several books of Hawaiian history and personal accounts, illustrated with his paintings. They include Voyage, the Discovery of Hawai‘i (1976), Pele, Goddess of Volcanoes (1967), Voyagers (1991) and Ancient Hawai‘i (1997). Kāne’s dedication to accuracy and lifelike detail was important to depicting historical accounts, but when he turned his imagination to the legends of old Hawai’i and the spiritual and mythological side of the Hawaiian culture, his work is more expressionistic. In his painting Pele, Goddess of the Volcano for the Jaggar Museum at Kīlauea, the supernatural figure is depicted with literal fire in her eyes and flowing lava as her hair. In an intriguing blend of realism and supernatural, Kāne himself reported several instances of “chicken-skin” accounts of people seeing figures stepping out of his paintings, and voices coming from scenes in the paintings. He created several oversized canvasses and murals for hotel lobbies, public and commercial spaces. His 1973 mural, made of wool, titled “Opening of the Pacific to Man,” was designed for the entrance to the Pacific Trade Center in Honolulu. It measures 43 feet long and11 feet high and offers views of several voyaging canoes and a central monumental male figure holding a paddle. In the corner of the mural is a representation of the wayfarer’s chart, traditionally made of shells and sticks, in which islands and ocean swell patterns are encoded to assist the training of a navigator. Kāne was commissioned by the National Park Service in 1976 to paint “Keoua’s Arrival,” which is on permanent display in the Visitor Center at Pu’ukoholā Heiau National Historic Site. One 1973, site-specific mural, painted on a custom-designed wall as part of a history center under construction (and never completed) at Punalu‘u Black Sand Beach, became an object of crime and mystery. The 24-foot-wide historical mural, titled “Ancient Punalu‘u, Hawai’i Island,” depicting a scene at Punalu‘u, survived the 1975 tsunami that destroyed the interior of the building. According to

❁Continued on page 22

September-October 2011  
September-October 2011