Issue 6.2: April/May 2003

Paradise Found

story by Pat Davis
photos by Michael D. Morikawa (courtesy Honolulu Academy of Arts)

On January 21, 1778, three days after his ship Resolution first came in sight of the Hawaiian Islands, Captain James Cook, his ship’s artist John Webber and ship’s surgeon William Anderson took a short walk along Kauai’s Waimea River. Along the way, Webber made some sketches while Anderson attempted to write down the Hawaiian names for plants, animals and other objects they passed along the way. In the process, Webber and Anderson arguably created the Western world’s first collections of "Hawaiiana."

In the ensuing 225 years, collectors have gathered everything from the most ancient implements to the cheesiest tiki kitsch—from stone bowls that once lit the night with burning kukui oil to beaded "hula hula girl" lamps. In their own way, each of these pieces recounts a portion of Hawaii’s history, and now many are available for viewing in Finding Paradise: Island Art in Private Collections .

A hefty, 396-page coffee-table book recently published under the auspices of the Honolulu Academy of Arts, Finding Paradise features objects and artworks culled from private collections and the Academy’s holdings, using some 500 images to document collections of stone, wood, bone, feather and fiber; paintings and drawings; books and photographs; jewelry; souvenirs; furniture; ukuleles; and much more. In addition, essays by some of Hawaii’s most prominent collectors, museum curators and historians examine the role these collections have played in popularizing—and sometimes distorting—Hawaii’s image beyond its shores.

All of this being the case, it’s no surprise that Finding Paradise has itself become a collector’s item: The first 2,000 copies sold out within days of its release last November, and the book is now in its second printing.