Royal Hawaiian Featherwork: Nā Hulu Ali‘i

'Ahu 'ula (cape)

‘Ahu ‘ula (cape), pre-1861. Yellow and black ‘ō‘ō (Moho nobilis) feathers, red ‘i‘iwi (Vestiaria coccinea) feathers, and olonā (Touchardia latifolia) fiber, 16 3/4 x 36 in. (42.5 x 91.4 cm). Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Ethnology Collection

August 29, 2015 – February 28, 2016 | de Young

SAN FRANCISCO —The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco are pleased to present Royal Hawaiian Featherwork: Nā Hulu Ali‘i, an exhibition featuring more than 75 examples of featherwork including long cloaks and short capes (‘ahu ‘ula), royal staffs of feathers (kāhili), feathered lei (lei hulu manu) and helmets (mahiole), alongside related 18th- and 19th-century paintings and works on paper. Developed in partnership with the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum in Honolulu, this is the first major exhibition of Hawaiian featherwork to be mounted in the continental United States.

“We are thrilled to present these works in San Francisco, which is often considered the gateway to the Pacific,” said Christina Hellmich, curator in charge of the Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas. “It is the first exhibition of Hawaiian art at the de Young and will provide an overdue opportunity for the public to see and learn about the distinctive art, culture and history of the islands through appreciation of one of their highest forms of art.”

For centuries, feathers from vibrantly colored birds were valuable cultural resources on the Hawaiian Islands. Painstakingly constructed by hand, these garments symbolized the divinity and power of the ali‘i—ruling men and women who wore them for spiritual protection and to proclaim their identity and social status. These valuables were also conveyed as objects of diplomacy to secure political alliances and agreements. Today, the fewer than 300 extant examples of these works shape our knowledge of nā hulu ali‘i (royal feathers).

Although featherwork dates back many centuries, this presentation focuses on pieces made for Hawaiian royals beginning in the late 18th century and ending in the early 20th century. This period saw the arrival of European explorers, unification of the islands in 1810, the prolongation of the Kamehameha dynasty through 1874, wide-scale conversion to Christianity after the arrival of missionaries in 1820, the overthrow of the Hawaiian government in 1893, annexation by the United States in 1898 and subsequent sovereignty protests by Hawaiians.
This presentation highlights the featherwork collection of the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Honolulu, including many works that are rarely exhibited outside Hawai‘i. After the close of this exhibition at the de Young, many of the loans from other institutions in the United States and Europe will be displayed in Hawai‘i, returning such works of art to the islands for the first time in more than 200 years. 

Media image gallery available here.
deyoungmuseum.org/featherwork | @deYoungMuseum

Related Exhibition
Featherwork: A Conservator’s Approach (August 29, 2015–March 27, 2016)
This related exhibition explores the unique challenges that arise in the study and care of feathered objects and textiles. The diverse works on view are drawn from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s permanent collections and include European hats, African headdresses, an Inuit parka and a Peruvian feathered wall panel. An interactive touch screen allows visitors to learn more about each feathered object, the damaged sustained by these delicate pieces and the scientific testing and conservation techniques used to help preserve them. The exhibition is a result of collaboration between the Textile Arts and Objects conservation departments at the de Young.

Visiting | de Young
Golden Gate Park, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco, CA 94118
Open 9:30 a.m.–5:15 p.m. Tuesdays–Sundays; open select holidays; closed most Mondays
Open Late Fridays 9:30 a.m.–8:45 p.m. (Through November 27, 2015)

Tickets start at $15.
Information on purchasing tickets, groups of 15 or more & membership

Catalogue
The accompanying exhibition catalogue with more than 200 color illustrations is published in association with the University of Hawai‘i Press. Through scholarly essays and poetic interludes, this lavishly illustrated volume explores the central role that these sacred works of art played in the culture and history of the Hawaiian Islands, their unparalleled technical craftsmanship, and an aesthetic tradition unique to the Hawaiian archipelago.

Hardcover and softcover, 284 pages | Available for purchase

Exhibition Organization
This exhibition is organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum. Presenting Sponsors: The Michael Taylor Trust and Diane B. Wilsey. Director’s Circle: Akiko Yamazaki, Chair, and Anthony Sun, Chairman Emeritus, Asian Art Museum. Curator’s Circle: The Selz Foundation, Inc. Conservator’s Circle: Bank of the West, Mrs. Dwight (Blossom) Strong, and the Thomas W. Weisel Family. Benefactor’s Circle: Mark and Carolyn Blackburn, Paula and Bandel Carano. The Donald and Maureen Green Foundation, and Mr. and Mrs. Edward M. Smith. Support for education and public programs is provided by the Walter and Elise Haas Fund.

About the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, comprising the de Young in Golden Gate Park and the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park, are the largest public arts institution in San Francisco.

The de Young originated from the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition and was established as the Memorial Museum. Thirty years later, it was renamed in honor of Michael H. de Young, a longtime champion of the museum. The present copper-clad landmark building, designed by Herzog and de Meuron, opened in October 2005. It showcases the institution’s significant collections of American painting, sculpture and decorative arts from the seventeenth to the twenty-first centuries; art from Africa, Oceania and the Americas; costume and textile arts; and international modern and contemporary art.

The Legion of Honor was inspired by the French pavilion, a replica of the Palais de la Légion d’Honneur in Paris, at San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915. The museum opened in 1924 in the Beaux Arts–style building designed by George Applegarth on a bluff overlooking the Golden Gate. Its holdings span 4,000 years and include European painting, sculpture and decorative arts; ancient art from the Mediterranean basin; and the largest collection of works on paper in the American West.

Media Contacts
Erin Garcia | egarcia@famsf.org | 415.750.8904
Miriam Newcomer | mnewcomer@famsf.org | 415.750.3554