In Honor of Grandmother

  • Exhib_slideshow_gramma

October 22, 2009 - April 04, 2010
The Textile Gallery (22)

Exhibition Overview

The Honolulu Academy of Arts often receives gifts from people who donate cherished items in honor of their grandmothers. The loving act spurred Sara Oka, Textiles Collections Manager, to curate the upcoming exhibition In Honor of Grandmother.

“The inspiration behind the exhibition came from a Hawaiian quilt that was donated to the Academy in 2007, by Thane Pratt,” says Oka. “This quilt belonged to his mother, Brenda Cooke Pratt, who inherited it from her grandmother—Anna Rice Cooke, the founder of the Academy.”

The beautiful quilt, Ka’ohu o Halemano (The Mists of Halemano), made by Mrs. Ella Victor, is just one of 40 works that has a rich island family history behind it. Also on view will be a crazy quilt that belonged to two-time Republican senator for Hawai‘i’s Territorial Legislature Joseph Farrington—his grandmother made it during the Civil War while awaiting her husband’s return.

It is fascinating to trace the histories of the objects. Also on view will be two feather lei that the British naturalist, R.C. Perkins gave the Academy in 1951. They belonged to King Lunalilo’s grandmother, Princess Miriam Kalakua Kaheiheimaile. They then came into the possession of H.G. Crabbe, who was postmaster of Hawai‘i and was later appointed court chamberlain to Lunalilo. Crabbe gave the lei to Perkins’ wife, Zoe.

“Many of the gifts in the exhibition were inherited from a grandmother, or were made or collected by a grandmother,” says Oka. “Grandmothers are voices of the past, role models of the present and they open the doors to the future. Her words are the golden threads that bind families.”

Oka conducted hours of research in preparation for the show, finding out the artistic and personal details of each piece. For example, Academy Film Curator Gina Caruso is lending as a promised gift, a quilt her great grandmother made in Arkansas. Oka’s research revealed that the pattern Caruso’s grandmother used is called the Fly Foot, which is an adaption of the architectural design element known as Greek fret or fylfot, which was commonly used in early America as trim for porticoes, eaves, mantelpieces and staircases.

Through items as diverse as an ‘ahu‘ula (Hawaiian feather cape), an intricately embroidered Korean satin case, christening gowns, and a lace wedding gown, the exhibition illustrates how the making of cloth is often a result of the division of labor, marking relationships within a family, honoring reciprocal ties and forming familial alliances. Textiles are also offerings from loans and exchanges across bloodlines resulting in ancestral gifts handed down through generations.

The garments, accessories and furnishing items in In Honor of Grandmother are testimony to how we use them to celebrate life cycles and how they are an intimate connection to the lives of people and integrated family traditions.