by David Thompson
Meetings in the conference room at the Hawaii Preparatory Academy used to take place between the Battle of Clontarf, an eight-by-ten-foot epic scene by Irish painter Hugh Frazer, and the Girl in Red, Hawai‘i painter Madge Tennent’s dazzling six-by-ten-foot study of a young Hawaiian woman. Today the paintings anchor opposite ends of the academy’s newly opened Isaacs Art Center. The move leaves the conference room devoid of some of its former grandeur and color, but it gives the hoi polloi access to an art collection that has never before been open to the public.
photo by Peter French
And what a collection. Anyone passing through the heart of Waimea town can now stop for a look at one of Hawaii’s most extensive art amassments this side of the Honolulu Academy of Arts. Herb Kane’s The Arrival of Captain Cook at Kealakekua Bay in January 1779 greets you as you enter the center. Move along and you’ll encounter engravings by sixteenth century German artist Albrecht Durer, as well as pieces by such notable Hawai‘i artists as Jean Charlot, Martha Greenwell, Shirley Russell, Huc Luquiens, Horatio Nelson Poole and Ben Norris.
Staff at the private Big Island school had been planning to construct a new building for the art center when they learned of an effort to save a dilapidated 1915 schoolhouse at Waimea Elementary School. The historic structure was rescued, moved to its current location at 65-1268 Kawaihae Road and painstakingly restored. It now serves partly as a museum and partly as a gallery, where artwork sales raise scholarship money. The plantation-style building’s elongated layout, with six former classrooms separated by sliding pocket doors, works perfectly. "It’s hard to imagine a better use for this building," says Bernard Nogues, the center’s director. "It was a metamorphosis that was perfect."
Isaacs Art Center