I had an exquisite day at the Honolulu Academy of Arts on a recent trip to Honolulu. Call me old-fashioned, but I love the act of sending cards, beautiful, artistic cards.
Choosing the right one for the occasion, penning a few select words, sealing the creamy envelope, adding an address label, and yes, a pretty stamp, pleases me greatly in this age of swift, impersonal electronic communications.
(#oldwriterlady: Yo, datz rad, killin treez for hall mark. LOLOL)
I stopped by the academy - it will always be that to me - to make my annual card purchases, and stumbled onto a gold mine, incited by the institution's name change to the Honolulu Museum of Art. Card reproductions of works in the museum's collection were all severely reduced because of management's desire to get rid of every vestige of the old name.
Works such as D. Howard Hitchcock's view of Hanalei Valley, Jules Tavernier's famous rendition of the old Pali trail on Oahu, Ambrose Patterson's explosive Kilauea all tell me something about the Hawaii gone by.
Works from the Asian collection such as a pair of gold leaf Joseon dynasty Korean screens, Georgia O'Keefe's seductive views of 'Iao Valley, and the Hokusai wave are all going into the dustbin at the end of June.
(Word to the wise: One can order museum shop items at 30 to 80 percent off by phone until the end of the month. Call (808) 532-8700, Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Sunday 1 to 5 p.m.).
Afterward, I sat in a chair by the central courtyard watching a flock of white pigeons dance in the mango tree and breathed in the museum's unique atmosphere of beauty, order and peace.
How is this perennially so? I wandered over to the docents, who kindly showed me a condensation of a history written by "Sister Grace Marion," revealing that this was the wish of its founder, Anna Rice Cooke.
She was, of course, a missionary descendant from the old school who, like the Baldwins of Maui, believed that prosperity implies "an obligation to share and serve." Not unlike Emily Alexander Baldwin, it was said of Cooke that "Graciousness, thoughtfulness and consideration and respect for the individual marked her every contact."
She was the youngest daughter of William Harrison Rice and Mary Sophia Hyde of the Ninth Company, who sailed from Boston on the brig Gloucester in the mid-19th century and arrived 188 days later. They were stationed in Hana, then Lahaina and Honolulu. After the missionaries' governing board voted in 1837 to cease support for the Hawaiian mission, the Rices moved to Kauai, where he became manager of Lihue Plantation. The Rice family of Maui descends from them.
Anna Charlotte Rice was born in 1853 and married Charles Montague Cooke, a missionary "cousin" in 1874. Head of Castle & Cooke, and after retirement, Bank of Hawaii and C. Brewer, he was a gifted businessman. (Contrary to popular opinion, few of the missionary children possessed this trait, Henry Perrine Baldwin and Samuel T. Alexander of Maui being notable exceptions.)
In 1882 the Cookes built a house on Beretania Street opposite Thomas Square, with an unbroken view from the veranda of the ocean from Diamond Head to Honolulu Harbor. Anna began collecting art in earnest, with a particular interest in local artists and objects from Asia.
When her home could no longer house the collection, the territory issued a charter for the Honolulu Museum of Art in 1922 at the request of Cooke, her daughter Alice Spalding, son Clarence, and niece Mary Atherton Richards. It was to be the "foundation on which a new culture, enriched by the old strains, may be built on the islands," where Hawaii's multiracial children could "receive an intimation of their own cultural legacy." Hence the academy.
Unable to find a more suitable location, Cooke donated her own house (the mango tree in the courtyard is from there) and hired Bertram Goodhue, a well-known New York architect. He was told the building should "represent in stone the story of the islands," and the galleries were grouped around open courts, one Chinese in style, the other Spanish. The exterior had a peaked Hawaiian roof and informal lanai from the mission era, adapted from the New England veranda.
Cooke thought of the museum as a restful place. Overcrowded rooms were to be avoided, exhibitions simply arranged. "It must be a haven to which men and women would come for rest and inspiration."
I marvel at how her vision has been upheld.
* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose "Keiki o ka 'Aina" column appears each Tuesday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.