HoMA Select

The Torchlight Fishermen, Waikiki by Lionel Walden

It was my first time torching (night spearfishing).

“Walk carefully so you don’t disturb the sand. It’ll make the water cloudy, and you won’t be able to see the fish,” whispered Uncle Sal.

Three-prong spear in one hand and a flashlight in the other, I made my way gingerly across the reef, to avoid waking my prey. The knee-deep water was warmer than the air. The only sounds were the lapping of water on our legs and the waves crashing in the distance, the ever-present din of the ocean. My flashlight cast a shimmering ellipse on the water, beyond that was a scary darkness. The lights from streets and houses seemed as far away as the moon and stars.

I felt small.

After walking in silence for what felt like hours, a silvery reflection swam into view.

“Aim low, or you’ll miss.”

I loaded the spear. Aimed low. Fired.

The splashing from the struggling ‘ama ‘ama (mullet) and my screams of excitement shattered the quiet. I stood in the murky water with slimy fish in hand and a smile on my face.

* * *

Lionel Walden first came to Hawai‘i in 1911—by way of Paris—and developed a passion for painting seascapes and local scenes of fishing and surfing. He is one of several twentieth-century artists from around the world who visited to capture life in Hawai‘i on their canvases. Some, such as Jules Tavernier, took romantic approaches, exoticizing the landscape to portray a sense of otherworldliness. While that can also be said of Walden, his work differs due to his inclusion of key details largely missed by other artists—such as the stance of the surfers on their boards and the trails of foam behind them, or the way the ‘upena (throw net) is held in a fisherman’s hands.

In The Torchlight Fisherman, Waikiki, it is possible to identify Walden’s vantage point by using the curve of the shoreline and profile of the Wai‘anae Mountain range. While his paintings were executed in his studio, either here in Hawai‘i or in Minnesota, where he also lived, Walden managed to record scenes that are both accurate and nostalgic. As Walden once said, “I have watched the moon rise over that mountain [Diamond Head] and seen the silvery sheen on the swell as it rolls over the beach.”

And it was this very mix of elements that brought me back to my childhood, learning and playing in Hawai‘i’s waters.

– Aaron Padilla, Director of Learning & Engagement


Lionel Walden (1861-1933)
The Torchlight Fisherman, Waikiki, 1930
Oil on canvas board
Bequest of Patches Damon Holt, 2003 (12702.1)