Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Medieval Aloha

The TAG’s welcomed Mary L. back to art group Thursday (5/17/12). We all thought missing a Thursday meeting for this destination was acceptable!                                   

Diamond Head from the deck of the Mai Tai catamaran. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Mary L., her husband and grown children returned from a week vacationing in Hawaii.  Mary met her husband there 42 years ago and they hadn’t been back since.  It was enjoyable to hear her stories of fun, adventure, discovery and reminiscence they shared together as a family. You see, Mary is a great story teller and when she gets going she can have us roaring with laughter.

While in Hawaii, one of the places Mary visited the BishopMuseum on Oahu.

Photo of Bishop Museum — Hawaii, Attribution: Stan Shebs, Domain via Wikimedia Commons

She couldn't help herself and purchased a book on Hawaiian quilts in the museum’s gift shop titled The Hawaiian Quilt: A Unique American ArtForm by Linda Boynton Arthur, PhD. Since quilting is the genre under which the TAG-5 met, we were all interested in hearing her book reviewshe read/consumed it cover-to-cover before arriving back home on the mainland.  This book is not a typical “how to” quilting book, but is about the history of Hawaiian textiles, Hawaiian quilt origins and authentic Hawaiian history. The book has amazing image plates.
Mary read a passage from the book regarding the first people arriving in Hawaii from the Marquesas Islands ca. 300-700 CE. This is the same Early Medieval timeframe we have been studying in Europe—it is now etched in our brains.  As a side note, these two sets of islands are ~2,400 miles from each other. In her book, Dr. Arthur states:

“For the next 1,300 years, the Hawaiian Islands were unknown to both the Western and Asian Worlds.”
Even though contact with others was limited, if not nonexistent, there are so many similarities to other cultures such as: political hierarchy, spiritual beliefs, taboos, and myths used to explain life, creation and the world which is historically important to the majority of people. Fresh in our minds are the ancient Celts with their pagan beliefs and who shared similar worship practices. As with the ancient Celts, tattoos/body art held great spiritual and social significance for ancient Hawaiians. This is before Christianity entered into both cultures and things changed.

It is another reminder to not just look, but really observe what’s happening elsewhere in the world. Mary L. says:  
“Our studies are enhancing everything!  Boomclickeverything is more interesting and exciting, tying things together no matter where you go.”
Regarding a motif Mary L. observed at the museum, she says:

“I also must point out the 'Ohio Star' quilt motif on the ancient Kapa mat and the use of block printing not found elsewhere fits my constant harping that nothing is really new in design. “
Kapa mat,

In her book, Dr. Arthur states:
“Textiles of all kinds were considered items of personal wealth . . . Textiles were used in gift exchanges between chiefs and kings, for trading and as payment of taxes from commoners to chiefs.” “Textiles proclaimed social status.”  “The most valuable items for trade were the feather garments of royalty, followed by sleeping mats made of soft flax (maka loa mats), . . . and fabric made from barkcloth (kapa) used for clothing and bed covers."

Feather capes

“Kapa,” a cloth made by felting fibers from the inner bark of the paper mulberry tree, was used extensively before western textiles arrived in the islands.  Hawaiian kapa designs were more refined than Polynesia tapa. 

Hawaiian women used wooden mallets to pound strips of bark together to form sheets of various size, texture, and thickness, and finally, kapa was colored with dyes (red, charcoal, brown, yellow, black, pale blue, and pale green) made from native materials. Designs included block printing, a technique not found elsewhere in Polynesia before the arrival of Westerners.

Hawaiian quilting was introduced to the islands by the wives of missionaries in 1820.  The design was most likely influenced by the Baltimore Album Quilts popular circa 1840.  No, quilting as we know it is not ancient in Hawaii, but nonetheless significant and unique. We have always looked at these quilts in awe because of the amazing amount of handwork and design involved. Dr. Arthur’s book presents significant information and insight into this historical art form and it is particularly worth reading. 

Hawaiian quilt, Lei Mamo, unidentified maker, late 19th century, cotton, plain weave, appliquéd, quilted with running and overcastting stitches, Honolulu Museum of Art Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Who would have thought a simple vacation to Hawaii would reap this much information!

Mary B.

Additional information:

No comments:

Post a Comment