the quilts at baldwin home museum
By Patricia Belyea
LAHAINA HI I’m a sucker for local museums that give me a sense of history for a place I’m visiting. On Front Street in the heart of Lahaina, across from the old site of the royal palace, sits the home of missionary Dwight Baldwin—now a small museum.
A highly educated young man, Baldwin decided to become a missionary in 1826. After attending seminary and becoming ordained in New York state, Baldwin was ready to begin his call except for one detail. He needed to be married before he could be sent to the far reaches of the world.
One week after meeting Charlotte Fowler, the daughter of a deacon who also desired to become a missionary, Dwight and Charlotte were married. Immediately they set sail for Hawaii, rounding Cape Hope and arriving in Hawaii six months later.
When I took the 2pm tour of the Museum on Christmas Eve, I was the only participant. My guide was Martha, a woman who has shared stories about the life and home of the Baldwin family for 30 years.
Once Martha and I left the entry area, we turned right into the master bedroom. The whole-cloth covering on Charlotte and Dwight’s bed was quilted with an on-point grid and embroidered with red tiger lilies. Tucked into the corner, past the big bed, was a well-used crib. The Baldwins had eight children—six of which lived beyond the age of three.
Centrally located in the house was the dining area. Festooned for the holidays, the table was set with period Blue Willow china. The classic pattern, first produced in the late 1700s, ranks as the most popular china ever with its two love birds flying over a Chinese temple and willow tree.
As we stepped into the boys’ room, Martha pointed out the “Christian Doors.” The woodwork forms a cross at the top and an “open bible” at the bottom.
Three single beds, a crib, a washstand and a sitting area sparsely filled the children’s room. As the family grew, with four girls and four boys, so did the house. Eventually an upstairs was added which included a girls’ room—now the office of Lahaina Restoration Foundation.
The quilts shown on the boys’ beds are examples from by-gone days—not likely originals belonging to the Baldwin family. My favorite was the Hawaiian quilt with its symmetrical white applique on blue.
The two other bed quilts displayed traditional patterns—with graphic Robbing Paul to Pay Peter and traditional Basket blocks.
A highlight of the study and dispensary, at the end of the first floor, was a bible translated into Hawaiian—Baibala Hemolele—stored in a tall wooden bookcase. Involved in the translation, a complicated and long-term collaboration involving many ministers, Baldwin focused on the Gospels and Acts.
Baldwin’s education included an undergraduate degree from Yale and a Masters in Science from Harvard. Not a medical doctor, Baldwin’s biology coursework awarded him the role of local doctor, dentist, vet and expert in public heath issues.
The home’s 24″ deep walls, made with coral, sand, lava rock and rough hewn timber framing, allowed for the unique construction of the medicine cabinet. On the right, note the round table discreetly concealing a chamber pot.
The shelves above Baldwin’s desk were also built into the thick walls. With its fold-down work surface, the secretary-like desk shows a sample letter from Baldwin, complete with red sealing wax.
My short visit to the oldest house on the island of Maui concluded.
I was pleased to see a kapa (Hawaiian quilt) on my tour. The quilt top is made from a single piece of fabric that’s cut with scissors into the overall design and hand appliqued to a solid-colored fabric. The richness of this tradition has spread from Hawaii to quilting enthusiasts everywhere.
It was time to return to the present, find my family, and enjoy some salted caramel gelato further down the waterfront street.