Aloha! Right now, I am enjoying a two week Thanksgiving break in Hawaii with my family. This trip I chose not to bring my paints, but that has not stopped me from cultivating my own artistic knowledge.
When I travel, whether on a family vacation or on a plein air painting excursion, I like to learn about the local art and culture of the area.  I hope you enjoy this brief art history lesson about the evolution of Hawaiian art from before and after the arrival of white man.
A true understanding of the strength and grace behind the Hawaiian people can be learned by understanding their ancestry…

  • Their story remains one of the greatest feats of all mankind.
  • Thousands of years ago the people of the Pacific migrated to inhabit the Hawaiian Islands with nothing more than outrigger canoes.
  • They survived violent, raging seas and were guided only by their intuition and the stars.
  • They put their trust in nature which is still reflected in the Hawaiian people today.

The evolution of Hawaiian Art:

  • Art existing prior to Captain James Cook’s arrival in 1778, is the true native art.
  • Cook and his crew were the first westerners to visit Hawaii, which they named, The Sandwich Islands.
  • The art during this time was very similar to the art of other Pacific Islanders
    • wood carvings
    • feather work
    • petroglyphs
    • bark cloth
    • tattoos


  • Today, a rare few craftsmen are still producing traditional Hawaiian arts, either to sell to tourists or in an attempt to preserve native Hawaiian culture.
  • Some of the first westerners to visit Hawaii were artists, either professional or amateur.
  • Many of the explorers’ ships brought professional artists along to record their discoveries.
  • These Western-trained artists sketched and painted Hawaii’s native people and landscapes using imported western materials and concepts.
  • Night scenes of erupting volcanoes were especially popular to western artists.
    • This gave rise to The Volcano School during the 1880’s and 1890’s. (It reminds me of the Hudson River School)
    • This type of painting refers to a group of non-native Hawaiian artists who painted dramatic nocturnal scenes of Hawaii’s erupting volcanoes.
    • Mount Kiauea and Mauna Loa were active during this time when the Volcano School of art was at its peak.
    • During those days, the journey to Kilauea was an arduous roundtrip expedition which took two or three long days on horseback.

Nowadays, the art created in these islands may be divided into three categories:

  1. Art existing prior to Cook’s arrival
  2. Art produced by recently arrived westerners
  3. Art produced by Hawaiians incorporating western materials and ideas.

Today, most of the art produced in Hawaii falls into the third category. Artworks produced by Hawaii’s native born and long-term residents incorporate western materials and ideas include paintings on canvas and quilts. These works of art can range from distinctly Hawaiian in subject matter to art that is indistinguishable from works produced anywhere else in the world.
I am happy to report that there is a resurgence of ancient Hawaiian traditions and customs among the native people after a century of neglect from the Western laws that banned them.
Maui is home to many talented artists (both native & long term residents) and beautiful art galleries. I will share some of their works with you in my next blog post on the art scene in Maui….
I hope you enjoyed learning a bit about Hawaii along with me…
lori3 Mahalo, Lori 🙂