Saturday, April 26, 2014

Hawaiian Quilts - Part I[1]
Art Review

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

The following link leads to Part II of this series: Hawaiian Quilts - Part II

Hawaiian quilts were a recent phenomenon, dating a century after the island’s discovery in late 1778 by the British. They were derived from a fusion between European, American and Polynesian cultures.

It is clear that quilts in Hawaii have no functional purpose due the islands’ climatic conditions. Rather, Hawaiian quilts serve a more abstract functionality: while the medium and the process maybe European and American in creation, the concepts embedded in Hawaiian quilts evoke a mixture of their culture and belief systems, their legends and story telling as well as emblems for their continuous evolving struggle to maintain their integrity and identity amidst a colonial tidal wave demanding homogenization. (The latter occurred due to political dependence, European immigration and internationalization caused by tourism.) Hence, Hawaiian quilts stand as a testimony, a forum for free expression, a diary of a present struggle and a remembrance of past cultural identities.

Situated squarely in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean, over 2,400 miles away from the nearest continental land mass, the Hawaiian archipelago consists of a chain of 132 islands, atolls and shoals, spread over some 1,600 miles of ocean. The islands are volcanic in origin, created by a mixture of continental drift, and hot zones - where lava is released over millions of years because of intermittent but intense activity, creating mountain tops lifted out of the sea. Only six of the islands, all located within 300 miles of each other, are large enough to contain sufficient fresh water in order to support human habitation. The largest is Hawaii followed by Maui, Oaho (contains Honolulu), Kauai, Molokai, and Niihau.

A slice of the Hawaiian Archelago.

The Hawaiian archipelago was first discovered and settled around 400 AD by Polynesian sailors from the Marquesas Islands - a trek of some 2,400 miles of open-ocean. Wherever they landed (e.g. Tonga, Samoa, New Zealand etc.) the Polynesians bought with them their polytheistic religion and social structures (e.g. monarchy) as well as their fruit (e.g. coconuts, pineapples, bananas, breadfruit etc.), vegetables (e.g. sweet potatoes, yams etc.) and animals (e.g. dogs, pigs, chickens etc.)

Kahuan is the ancient spiritual tradition of the polynesians of Hawaii.

New England missionaries landed in Hawaii in 1829 and maintained schools in the island for much of the nineteenth century. The missionaries were attributed with bringing the first quilts to the islands, teaching the Hawaiian women and children how to sew etc. It should be noted that Hawaiians knew how to sew before the missionaries made their appearance, since they made their own cloth called tapa from the bark of the paper mulberry tree. Moreover, tapa was sown using bird bones or native hardwood needles and threads twisted from bits of natural bark fiber. It could be dyed using natural dyes and decorated with designs drawn freehand with a pen-like instrument. Clothes and bed coverings were made from tapa. When the Europeans arrived with cloths such as cotton, linen and with woven fabrics, these formed the basis for a new media, which the Polynesians needed to learn how to manipulate.

Hawaiian Tapa Design.

The tome – Hawaiian Quilt Masterpieces[1] - presents 116 stunning Hawaiian quilt designs. The overview below gives you just a glimpse of some of the great quilt designs in the book[1]. Each quilt that was presented comes with technical information and with a story behind it. This is a must buy!

Hawaiian Quilt Designs[1]

Artists Unknown: Lei O Ka’ahumanu Quilt (1874).
Background: Quilt was made to celebrate the sixth birthday of Clive Davis, a prominent English businessman in the islands.
Motifs: Centre – British coat of arms, flanked by a crowned British lion and a chained unicorn and topped by a substantial crown. The four panels of a coat of arms include: Irish harp, Scottish lion, and two panels of three horses. A large Maltese cross is appliqued on either side of the central crown. A symmetrical motif of four leaves around a circle is repeated in each corner of the quilt, and a wreath of crossed laurel branches at top centre balances the lettering below coat of arms. The two floral motifs add a distinctly Hawaiian flavour to the overwhelming British emphasis of the design elements.
Technique: Cottons, hand appliquéd and quilted.
Size: 93.5 x 66 inches.

Artists Unknown: Lei O Ka’ahumanu Quilt (ca. 1880).
Background: This quilt is probably typical of the first ventures at applique design attempted by Hawaiians.
Motifs: It consists of a central folded cut out pattern, without border embellishments. A single cut out floral form set at right angles and repeated four times makes up the central design. The quilt is for a design named after Lei O Ka’ahumanu (one of the 21 wives of King Kamehameha I, the founder of the Hawaiian Kingdom and monarchy). It is therefore named as such.
Technique: Cottons, hand appliquéd and quilted.
Size: 82.75 x 82.75 inches.

Artists Unknown: Central Plumed Star (ca 1880).
Background: Quilt design may have come to the Hawaiian islands via missionaries bringing with them Pennsylvania German traditional cut paper art called scherenschnitte, which contain the design elements.
Motifs: The central design bears a striking resemblance to the traditional Princess Feather pattern, a widely distributed American design that was popular among the mid-nineteenth century Pennsylvania German quilt makers.
Technique: Cottons, hand appliqued and quilted.
Size: 80 x 80 inches.

Artists Unknown: Na Kalaunu Me Ka Lei Maile [Crowns and Maile Lei] Quilt (ca. 1880).
Background: Quilt is owned by the Daughters of Hawaii, Honolulu.
Motifs: The quilt has an unusual structured pattern in that it combines applique elements one, two and three fold complexity, resulting in designs which appear once, twice, or four times, respectively. It should be noted that such design elements are not usually applied to a single quilt. The small design element at the center of the quilt is only symmetrical when divided half vertically, and was thus conceived as a single fold. The same design is repeated in a larger size to the left and right of the center of the quilt; these elements are mirror images set vertically at right angles to the central design and thus represent a two-fold symmetry. The rest of the quilts design, including the four crowns and leis in the central field and the lining border that surrounds them, is built on a more typical three-fold symmetry.
Technique: Cottons, hand appliqued and quilted.
Size: 72.5 x 68.5 inches.

Artist: Great-grandmother of Joseph Makini. Log Cabin (ca. 1880).
Background: The Log Cabin is probably the best known and most widely disseminated of all American pieced quilt designs. The Log Cabin's broad popularity explains its appearance in the late nineteenth-century Hawaiian quilt.
Motifs: Centre – The quilt maker has reworked Log Cabin elements to create a unique approach by building the top of only sixteen very large pieced blocks, and so has adjusted the scale of the quilt. Her choice of arrangement and colors are also distinctive with the close values of lighter yellow and orange create a soft and relative uniform background against which the strong contrasting stripes of red and blue (the latter now faded to grey-green) stand out.
Technique: Cottons, hand pieced and quilted.
Size: 80 x 79 inches.

Artists Unknown: Unnamed Floral Pattern Quilt (before 1918).
Background: Hawaiian’s often decorated their traditional tapa cloth bedcovers, called kappa moe with designs derived from native flora.
Motifs: In adapting the printed tapa pattern to appliqued cloth, the quilt designer reduced the size of the basic pattern and eliminated the single central design. In its place this artist created a far more complex design by closing the repeating forms of the tapa pattern into a circle; a border of closely related floral forms, set in a solid outer band, frames the central motif.
Technique: Cottons, hand appliquéd and quilted.
Size: 84.5 x 82.5 inches.

Artists Unknown: Kuli Pu’u [Bent Knee] Quilt (ca. 1880-1910).
Background: Although flag quilts combined piecing and applique in their designs, fully pieced Hawaiian quilts like this one are extremely rare. Only a handful of examples exist and apparently few were made in the nineteenth century.
Motifs: This quilt's powerful designs crackles with energy. The bold multi-colored zigzag design is visually reminiscent of the graphic “Lightning Bolt” pattern sometimes worked in bright colors by Mennonite quilt makers in the American midwest, but in reality is more closely related to the decorative traditional pattern of the bark cloth kappa moe bedcover.
Technique: Cottons, hand piece, hand appliquéd and quilted with machine stitched edging.
Size: 92 x 82 inches.

Artists Unknown: Roses Quilt (Late 19th/early 20th Century).
Background: There are two and four fold symmetry of roses and stems.
Technique: Cottons, hand and machine pieced, hand appliquéd and quilted.
Size: 77.5 x 77.5 inches.

[1] Hawaiian Quilt Masterpieces, Robert Shaw, Hugh Lauter Levin Associates, Inc., China, 1996, ISBN 0-88363-396-5.

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