Art defines culture. And what better way to learn about Hawaii than a trip to Honolulu with the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.
Art was the museum travelers’ primary focus but we also visited historical sites, interesting architectural buildings and tasted the finest of cuisine. From my experience, most of our friends usually bypass Honolulu when visiting Hawaii. That is a mistake, as we found out during our five-day tour of this impressive island. There’s a lot more to Hawaii than beaches!
The ‘Iolani Palace was a good place to begin our tour. It was here where King Kalakaua, Queen Kapi‘olani and Queen Lili‘uokalani made their home. The Palace was built by the king and completed in 1882. It is a four-story Italian Renaissance building. This was also the centerpoint during the annexation of Hawaii by the United States in 1893. Besides a gallery of photographs on the monarchy period, the paintings in the state dining room, Grand Hall and Throne Room were superb. Most of the art work we viewed contained elements of history of the Hawaiian people and added to the relevance of the trip.
The Bishop Museum was also both an art and history lesson on Hawaii. Mrs Charles Bishop founded this museum in 1927 and transferred her art and artifact collection to it. The museum contains the world’s greatest collection of cultural and natural artifacts from Hawaii and the Pacific and unique exhibits on volcanology, oceanography and biodiversity. The Bishop family as well as the Bishop Trust could be considered the most important influence on the development of the Hawaiian islands. With a principal of $9 billion, the trust is able to fund one of the largest private schools in the country: the Kamehameha School. And, again, the art in the museum told the story.
The Hawaii State Art Museum is another must-stop when traveling to Honolulu. This museum was built in 1872 during the reign of King Kamehameha V. All of the 360 works currently displayed were created by artists who live in Hawaii. The state was able to purchase the pieces because of a 1967 law that requires 1 percent of the cost of state buildings to be used to acquire works of art. The state has now acquired more than 5,000 pieces.
We would move on to other historical and cultural buildings. Washington Place, once the residence of the governor, is worth visiting. And Spalding House, once the Contemporary Art Museum, was interesting for both its collection and unusual park setting overlooking Honolulu.
Perhaps our most interesting private tour was the Shangri La. This was an estate built by tobacco heiress Doris Duke, whose father died when she was 12. She would later become one of the richest women in the country. The estate reminds you of Hearst Castle or Mar-a-Lago, built by another very wealthy woman, Marjorie Merriweather Post. Duke loved Hawaii and was a student of Islamic art. Over a 60-year period, she would meld an elaborate Islamic collection of artifacts from India, Iran and Turkey into her picturesque mansion on the shores of the Pacific.
We were fortunate to arrange a tour of Mary and Sam Cooke’s Tudor revival-style home in Manoa Valley. Besides an important collection of paintings, Hawaiian artifacts and historical library, we were able to examine an ancient Hawaiian temple, or heiau, presumed to be 1,000 years old. The estate also had a native Hawaiian garden, with rare and endangered species of plants.
Besides the Cooke’s, the Art Museum arranged for several other private art collection tours. This was all made possible through the expert direction of Lisa Hill, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art’s tour organizer, and her mother, Victoria Hill. Victoria Hill was also helpful in arranging a private tour of the Garden Club of Honolulu’s Flower Show, which is only held every three years at the Honolulu Museum of Art.
Art and history occupied most of our time. But we also had time to indulge in many fine restaurants. Alan Wong’s, 1857 S. King St., was particularly good. It was mentioned as one of the 50 best restaurants in America. Sarento’s Waikiki, located on the 36th floor of the Ilikai Hotel, 1777 Ala Moana Blvd., had delicious food to match the view of Waikiki.
So ride the wave — to Honolulu and experience the fine art, architecture and cuisine.
— Frank McGinity is a Santa Barbara resident.