Friday, January 31, 2014

Georgia O'Keeffe and Hana, Maui - Koki Beach

O'Keeffe in Hana, 1939.  Source: Georgia O'Keeffe Museum

I recently spent some time in Hana, Maui, and learned that American artist Georgia O'Keeffe visited the area in the 1930s.  Although she is closely identified with the desert of New Mexico, O'Keeffe painted several canvases of the striking tropical scenery of Hawaii.

“Black Lava Bridge, Hana Coast No. 1,” 1939, by Georgia O'Keeffe. Source: NYT

O'Keeffe was commissioned by the Hawaiian Pineapple Company (later Dole) to create images to be used in their advertisements.  In early 1939, she traveled by steamer to Honolulu and spent two months in the islands.  In Hana, she stayed with the Jennings family, who owned the local sugar plantation, and their young daughter, Patricia, showed O'Keeffe the sights.   Patricia Jennings later wrote a book describing her adventures with the artist (you can find it here).
Lava bridge from Koki beach.
One of the sites they visited was the lava arch visible from Koki beach.  Judging from the photograph, O'Keeffe and Jennings were on the bluff a bit closer than Koki beach, but there is currently no public access there (I hear Oprah Winfrey owns that land?).
Ka Iwi O Pele to the right--you can just see tiny people at the base of the hill.  The lava arch is out in the distance.
Koki is a noted spot in Hawaiian mythology.  Pele, the goddess of fire, was killed by her sister and Pele's bones are said to form the red cinder hill at the north end of the beach (called Ka Iwi O Pele).  Her spirit then fled to the Big Island and took up residence in the Kilauea volcano.

O'Keeffe visited other sites in Hana that I recognized--part of the Jennings' home has been incorporated into the Travaasa Hana Hotel and she went to see a movie in the building that now houses the Hasegawa General Store.

Also on O'Keeffe's tour of Hana was Wai'anapanapa, with its black sand beach and jagged black cliffs. 
Black sand beach at Wai'anapanapa State Park
Cliffs and blowhole at Wai'anapanapa State Park
After she returned from the islands, O'Keeffe exhibited at least 20 paintings with Hawaiian subjects.  Hana yielded the starkest of the images, but others included lush tropical flowers, the I'ao Valley and coiled fishing lines.  It took some time, but O'Keeffe finished her works for the firm that sent her to Hawaii and her painting of a spiky pineapple plant, among others, was used in an advertisement. 
Dole ad, 1939, with O'Keeffe pineapple painting.
Several of O'Keeffe's Hawaiian paintings are in the collection of the Honolulu Museum of Art and will travel to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum for an exhibition titled Georgia O’Keeffe and Ansel Adams: The Hawai'i Pictures, which runs through September 14, 2014.  For more info click here.

For more info, see this article in the New York Times.

Unless noted, all photo are ©Jeni Sandberg.

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