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Yellow cape with black and red accents

Lady Franklin cape (detail) (#5948). ‘apapane feathers, ‘ō‘ō feathers. Bishop Museum

Royal Hawaiian Featherwork: Nā Hulu Ali‘i

August 29, 2015February 28, 2016
Textile Galleries 60–61

Explore the distinctive art, culture, and history of Hawai‘i with the first exhibition of Hawaiian featherwork on the U.S. mainland, developed in partnership with the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Honolulu. Presented in San Francisco, which is considered to be the gateway to the Pacific, the exhibition will feature approximately 75 rare and stunning examples of the finest featherwork capes and cloaks in existence, as well as royal staffs of feathers (kāhili), feather lei (lei hulu manu), helmets (mahiole), feathered god images (akua hulu manu), and related eighteenth- and nineteenth-century paintings and works on paper.

Handcrafted of plant fiber and rare feathers from endemic birds of the islands, the cloaks (‘ahu‘ula) and capes provided spiritual protection to Hawaiian chiefs, proclaiming their identity and status. The abstract patterns and compositions of royal feathers (nā hulu ali‘i) are both beautiful and full of cultural meaning. While the arrangements of their forms—crescents, triangles, circles, quadrilaterals, and lines—and fields of color appear contemporary, they are ancient. Symbols of the power and status of Hawai‘i’s monarchs at home and abroad, these vibrantly colored treasures of the Hawaiian people endure today as masterpieces of unparalleled artistry, technical skill, and cultural pride.

Featherwork: A Conservator’s Approach

This related exhibition explores the unique challenges around the study and care of feathered objects and textiles. The diverse objects on view are drawn from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s permanent collections, and include western hats, African headdresses, an Inuit parka, and a Peruvian feathered wall panel. An interactive touch screen allows visitors to learn more about each feathered object, the damaged sustained by these delicate and fragile pieces, and the scientific testing and conservation techniques that help to preserve them. The exhibition is a result of collaboration between the conservation departments for Textile Arts and Objects at the de Young.

Exhibition Preview

‘Ahu ‘ula (cape), pre-1861 (detail). Yellow and black ‘ō‘ō (Moho nobilis) feathers, red ‘i‘iwi (Vestiaria coccinea) feathers, and olonā (Touchardia latifolia) fiber. Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Ethnology Collection
‘Ahu ‘ula (cape), pre-1861. Yellow and black ‘ō‘ō (Moho nobilis) feathers, red ‘i‘iwi (Vestiaria coccinea) feathers, and olonā (Touchardia latifolia) fiber. Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Ethnology Collection
Lei hulu (feather lei), 19th century. Blue Japanese pheasant (Phasianus versicolor) feathers, black ribbon. Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Henriques Collection
Kāhili (royal staff of feathers), 19th century.  Red Kuhl’s lorikeet (Vini kuhlii) feathers, white chicken (Gallus sp.) feathers, green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) shell, and walrus (Odobenus rosmarus) ivory. Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Ethnology Collection
Lei hulu (feather lei), 19th century. Yellow ‘ō‘ō (Moho sp.) feathers, red and green Kuhl’s lorikeet (Vini kuhlii) feathers, and black ribbon. Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Princess Victoria Ka‘iulani Collection
‘Ahu ‘ula (cloak), pre-1825. Red ‘i‘iwi (Vestiaria coccinea) feathers, yellow and black ‘ō‘ō (Moho sp.) feathers, and olonā (Touchardia latifolia) fiber. Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Ethnology Collection
Lei hulu (feather lei), 19th century. Yellow ‘ō‘ō (Moho sp.) feathers, red Kuhl’s lorikeet (Vini kuhlii) feathers, and black ribbon. Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Ethnology Collection
‘Ahu ‘ula (cape), possibly 19th century. Red ‘i‘iwi (Vestiaria coccinea) feathers, yellow and black ‘ō‘ō (Moho sp.) feathers, and olonā (Touchardia latifolia) fiber. Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Kapi‘olani-Kalaniana‘ole Collection
‘Ahu ‘ula (cape), possibly late 18th–early 19th century. Red ‘i‘iwi (Vestiaria coccinea) feathers, yellow and black ‘ō‘ō (Moho sp.) feathers, and olonā (Touchardia latifolia) fiber. Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Ethnology Collection
‘Ahu ‘ula (cloak), possibly mid-18th century. Red ‘i‘iwi (Vestiaria coccinea) feathers, yellow ‘ō‘ō (Moho sp.) feathers, and olonā (Touchardia latifolia) fiber. Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Ethnology Collection
‘Ahu ‘ula (cloak), possibly mid-18th century (detail). Red ‘i‘iwi (Vestiaria coccinea) feathers, yellow ‘ō‘ō (Moho sp.) feathers, and olonā (Touchardia latifolia) fiber. Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Ethnology Collection

This exhibition is organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum.

Presenting Sponsors

The Michael Taylor Trust
Diane B. Wilsey

Director's Circle

Akiko Yamazaki, Chair, and Anthony Sun, Chairman Emeritus, Asian Art Museum

Curator's Circle

The Selz Foundation, Inc.

Conservator’s Circle 

Bank of the West
Mrs. Dwight (Blossom) Strong
Thomas W. Weisel Family

Benefactor’s Circle

Mark and Carolyn Blackburn
Paula and Bandel Carano
The Donald and Maureen Green Foundation
Mr. and Mrs. Edward M. Smith

Support for the education and public programs is provided by the Walter and Elise Haas Fund.