birth of a quilt museum

birth of a quilt museum

By Patricia Belyea

KAILUA KONA HI  There are 21 quilt museums in America. That's less than one for every two states! Who cares? We do.

A quilt museum honors quilts and the people who make them—whether the quilts are traditional or contemporary. And by creating a collection of quilts, a quilt museum cares for them. Their educational programs help all of us learn more and be inspired. Quilts are raised up from being viewed as a domestic craft to something of value when they hang on the walls of a museum.

Hawaii’s first quilt museum opened this past June on the Big Island. Karen Barry—once a school teacher, today a quilt shop owner—is the visionary force behind Kona Hawaiian Quilt Museum & Gallery.

Karen’s not an ethnic Hawaiian and she’s not trained as a museum professional. Obviously Karen can not change her race. To her credit, this busy lady is currently a student of the Graduate Certificate Program of Quilt Studies at the University of Nebraska. Karen works ceaselessly to shine a light on the art and culture of Hawaiian quilts with enthusiasm and a gentle spirit.

The museum, around the corner from the storefronts of a shopping mall in north Kailua, looks like a grassroots operation. And it is! Temporary walls made of pipe and hung with black curtains create a maze of exhibit spaces in one large room. Quilts are hung on every surface. And the distance from the quilt to the viewer is scant—so much so that it’s impossible to stand back and take a whole photo of the larger quilts on display.

The treasure below plays an important role in Hawaii’s history. This Hawaiian Flag Quilt, with Union Jacks and crown, makes a statement of patriotic loyalty to the Hawaiian nation and its ruling monarchy. At one time the Hawaiian flag was outlawed. In the 1800s, Hawaiian Flag Quilts were used upside down on beds as a surreptitious statement of protest for the governmental changes. One story circulates that a turn-of-the-20th-century family boasted that all their children were born under the Hawaiian flag as a Flag Quilt hung under the canopy of their four-poster bed.

Traditional Hawaiian quilts made with four-way symmetry, turned-edge appliqué, and echo stitching abound. Some are time-honored designs where the motifs are handed down within Hawaiian families. Others are contemporary interpretations of the classic quilt form.

One area shows the exquisite work of Sylvia Pippen, once a Big Island resident and today a quilt leader living in La Conner, Washington. Sylvia’s work combines sashiko-style stitching with delicately appliquéd images.

In the back of the Museum hangs an unfinished Hawaiian quilt. Found perfectly stored in a trunk, the red and white top is known to be the work of Rosa Oline Rasmussen-Rogie. It’s believed that Rosa started the quilt when she was married in 1900. The educational installation illuminates the overall approach to making a full-size Hawaiian quilt.

Why is this little museum such a big deal? Because the determination and diligence needed to grow the seed of an idea into reality is monumental.

Today Kona Hawaiian Quilt Museum & Gallery exists in a fledgling cultural institution. The Museum founder, Karen, has audacious dreams of the Museum being in a building of its own—designed with remarkable exhibit spaces, world-class archival storage, and a gathering place for anyone interested in the cultural arts of Hawaii. With support from lovers of Hawaiian quilts near and far, this too will become a reality.

Be sure to drop by the Museum next time you are in the Kona area. These days you will be charmed by a warm welcome and a lovely collection of Hawaiian and Hawaiian-style quilts. Be sure to keep coming back to witness a bona fide quilt museum growing up!

Kona Hawaiian Quilt Museum & Gallery
To visit the Museum website +click here

75-5706 Kuakini Highway, Suite 112, Kailua Kona, HI 96740
Monday - Friday: 10:00 am - 5:00 pm Saturday: 10:00 am - 4:00 pm
Closed on Sunday

Admission: $5.00


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18 comments


  • Patricia Belyea
    David—I suggest that you contact the museum in Kona directly. PB

  • david pollin
    good day . . . i have a old hawaiian tapestery. about 11′ × 2 ’. burgundy field, with decorative edge art. strips at top and bottom. i am looking to clean and sell. any help to find an interested party would be greatly appreciated. thank you

  • Patricia Belyea
    Patricia—There is nothing wrong with armchair travel. It’s lovely that you are curious and interested! Best, PB

  • Patricia Belyea
    Rosemary—As a maker of Hawaiian quilts, you will appreciate this museum all the more when you visit it. PB

  • Patricia Ann Tomes
    Thank you for the information on the Hawaiian Quilt Museum. If I were younger, I would visit it. As it is, I’ll have to view on-line.

  • Rosemary Newman
    Thanks for the lovely article (and pictures) of the Hawaiian Quilt Museum. Hawaiian quilts are my first quilt love. I have made two traditional Hawaiian quilts, including the design, and all by hand. It is good to see these quilts in a home of their own.

  • Patricia Belyea
    Ruth—The gals at the Museum will be sure to welcome you. Everyone is so friendly on the Big Island! PB

  • Patricia Belyea
    Judy—You will love the Museum and their collection of traditional and contemporary Hawaiian quilts. PB

  • Ruth York
    Will be visiting Kona this August; thanks for the information. I am adding this to my itinerary.

  • Judy McNeel
    I would love to see this museum someday! I love Hawaiian quilts!

  • Judy Deneen
    Beautiful, and if I get to come visit the island some day I will definitely come to the museum….Wonderful quilts

  • Patricia Belyea
    Judy—The Big Island is worthy of a visit. And when you stop by the Quilt Museum, you will be warmly welcomed. PB

  • Patricia Belyea
    Judith—I have also come to love Hawaiian quilts over the years. I appreciate your enthusiasm. PB

  • Judith Lawrance
    These quilts are absolutely fantastic. Even though I live in Florida— so far away—-a trip to Hawaii is would be a beautiful dream come true—

    — even if the major attraction is the quilt museum!!!


  • Patricia Belyea
    Pat—Wow. I hope you get back to Kona to buy more beautiful fabric, see the Museum, and enjoy the fantastic sunsets. PB

  • Pat Davies
    Hi, Wow I was just in Kona to watch the world championship Ironman! I did find time to go to the quilt store there which had beautiful fabrics including some signature fabrics for their store! Sorry to

    have the missed the museum! The staff in the store were super but the owner was not there that day!!! Best wishes for success of the new museum!
    Husband mentioned he is excitedly waiting for a finished product with the fabric I bought! Lol!!!
    Best wishes to for a Happy Holiday and great 2019!!!
    Pat Daviess


  • Patricia Belyea
    Janet—I agree. The quilt museum in La Conner started on the second floor of the Gaches Mansion, when Rita rented it from the town. Today the museum owns the Gaches Mansion and is doing great work in La Conner and around the region! PB

  • Janet Wright
    Reminds me of our own quilt museum in La Conner when Rita Hupy had a dream.

    I hope that the Hawiaan museum will supported by residents and visitors alike.


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