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