Hawai‘i's First Pictures: Prints from the Lahainaluna Seminary

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    Miss Persis Thurston (American, 1821-1906). Published by Lahainaluna Seminary. "View of the Bay of Ka‘awaloa," 1840. Etching. Gift of Frances Damon Holt in memory of John Dominis Holt, 1995 (25,776)

February 16, 2012 - May 20, 2012
Honolulu Museum of Art


Exhibition Overview

From 1834 to 1844, the Lahainaluna Seminary—a school in the hills above Lahaina for aspiring mission-school teachers—was the locale of an extraordinary experiment: the establishment of the first printing press in Hawai‘i and the pioneering production of engravings and illustrated books. The mastermind and energizing force behind the project was the Rev. Lorrin Andrews, an assistant cleric at Lahaina Mission and one of the seminary’s educators, who recognized the growing need for maps, atlases, and books in the Hawaiian language.

Although he had no artistic training, Andrews was tenacious and resourceful—armed only with how-to manuals on printmaking, he mastered the arts of woodcut illustration and engraving. Andrews in turn taught printmaking to the seminary’s students, who, following original sketches by Edward Bailey, Persis Thurston, and other members of the Lahaina Mission, published the first pictures in and of Hawai‘i.

The Lahainaluna Seminary press produced maps, atlases, charts, tracts, newspapers, scrip, and illustrations for textbooks and pamphlets. It also generated a body of extraordinary views of Hawai‘i—the first known documentation of the natural landmarks and early missionary settlements on O‘ahu, Maui, and Hawai‘i Island. Impartial, unromanticized, and entirely unschooled, these scenes not only illustrate the incursion of Western civilization in the islands, but they also lay bare the fragility of human existence in rugged, largely uncharted terrain.  

In this survey of prints published at the Lahainaluna Seminary, some of the finest examples are from the Academy’s collection. You can learn more about them in the new book Engraved at Lahainaluna by David Forbes. Published by Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site and Archives, it is the first comprehensive study of the press, and is available in The Academy Shop.