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Art Center Features 120 Years of Women Artists of Hawai‘i

July 25, 2019, 11:35 AM HST
* Updated September 8, 3:27 PM
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Isaacs Art Center at Hawaiʻi Preparatory Academy in Kamuela will host “…the largest and most expansive survey of women artists of Hawai‘i in state history,” according to a press release from the art center.

An opening reception kicking off Sisters of the Brush: Women Artists of Hawai‘i, 1880-2000, is set for Thursday, July 25, 2019, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. The center is located at 65-1268 Kawaihae Road in  Kamuela.

The display will remain on-island from Thursday until Sept. 21, 2019. Viewing will be available weekly between Tuesday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The exhibition covers more than a century of diverse interpretations of the islands’ places and people. It includes works spanning the center’s permanent collection, recent acquisitions and loans from individual artists and major private collections.

At its core, this show celebrates the 90th anniversary of The Seven, a coalition of Honolulu-based female painters who first exhibited together in 1929. Several of the group’s inaugural members—namely, Juliette May Fraser, Genevieve Springston Lynch, Madge Tennent (founder and president) and Juanita Vitousek—would subsequently devote the bulk of their careers to Hawai‘i, the release said. Simultaneously, Marguerite Blasingame and Shirley Russell established themselves as exponents of sculpture and floral painting, respectively, and frequently appeared in shows alongside members of The Seven, the release continued.

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Yet the story of women artists in Hawai‘i extends both before and beyond The Seven’s two-year existence. As early as 1880, Helen Whitney Kelley and Helen Thomas Dranga began turning out highly depictions of the islands’ scenery, subtly challenging the monopoly set by their renowned male contemporaries, such as D. Howard Hitchcock and Lionel Walden. By the early 20th century, kamaʻaina artists Blasingame, Fraser and Cornelia MacIntyre Foley had trained on the United States mainland and in Europe, returned to Hawai‘i and taken on pupils in the islands, all the while cultivating personal styles that would accelerate the advent of a localized modernism movement, the release explains.

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Working alongside other women who traveled to the islands in the early 20th century, these artists transformed the concept of island art from Hawai‘i’s male-dominated, conservative landscape imagery into a more nuanced domain that reflected various modernist trends unfolding across the European cultural hotbeds at that time, the release said. Several would also play instrumental roles in the war effort, designing camouflage for local artillery units and creating large-scale murals at local military bases to encourage the soldiers deployed in the Pacific.

In the later 20th century, several other figures of note emerged to continue the tradition of women artists’ propelling Hawaiian art forward. Betty Hay Freeland and Martha Greenwell, for example, pursued seascape and landscape painting in Hawai‘i on their own terms, while the batik specialist Yvonne Cheng and graphic artist Pegge Hopper expanded upon Tennent’s genre of the Hawaiian wahine (woman), the release continued.

Susan McGovney Hansen, too, recalled elements of Tennent and Foley in her scenes of dynamic wahine engaged in time-honored customs of Old Hawai‘i. Meanwhile, Mayumi Oda, a renowned contemporary figure, has honed a highly individualized approach to both the nature and the female figure, the release said. Oda represents the promise of women artists’ continuing to play a central role in the evolution of the unique artistic heritage of Hawai‘i.

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Ultimately, this is an exhibition about women, about their relationship to artistic production as prescribed within the societal structures of women artists and about their invaluable contributions to the trajectory of Hawaiian art—contributions unique among women cultural producers who have worked elsewhere in the world over the last two centuries, the release stated.

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