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Art, On and Off the Wall

Collectors Flock to Showcase Local Art.


Mary Ann Akao’s
small-scale treasures include Hiroshi Tagami and Betty Hay Freeland paintings. Sitting on the table is Rochelle Lum’s sculpture,
“Monkey Welcomes
the New Year.” Photos: Olivier Koning

Honolulu is a city of strong artistic impulse. Just ask Joyce and Al Tomonari, who had moved from the East Coast, to L.A., to the Bay Area-all without being bitten by the art bug. "We just didn't collect much of anything," says Joyce, yet, "the minute we got to Honolulu I knew that would change."

Today, the Tomonari's collection includes works by some of Hawai'i's best-known artists, including painter and printmaker Louis Pohl, influential modern artist John Young and celebrated landscape impressionist Betty Hay Freeland, as well as art by innovative, cutting-edge newcomers.

Al, who is the general manager of the art-filled Neiman Marcus store, and Joyce find that the art of Hawai'i matches their lifestyle. With a home that opens onto a lush, green view of a golf course, the couple has selected art that is quietly elegant-and sometimes very eclectic. Joyce laughs when she tells of her pride in bringing home a Koi Ozu sculpture of spoons. The artist had attached some plastic "dead flies," but they didn't last long: The Tomonari's housekeeper meticulously cleaned them up.

A long-time student of contemporary Ikebana at the Sogetsue school, Joyce has begun to create her own ceramic containers, planning to theme her arrangements to blend with their Hawaiian art collection. The former non-collector has now co-chaired two Honolulu Academy of Arts events, the elegant food and wine holiday party, "Kama'äina Christmas," and the August annual Showcase art sale, which features emerging and established Hawai'i artists. Showcase is an opportunity for architects, interior designers and individual buyers to purchase locally produced art.

Fray and Carolyn Heath with their favorite Rick Mills glass container and Vicky Chock’s
birthday sculpture.

This year, the Showcase celebrates its 10th season of supporting Hawai'i art. According to the Honolulu Academy of Art's director, Stephen Little, and his wife, Nadine Little, the art exhibition committee chair, Showcase is a great place for first-time art buyers to find an art treasure, meet the artist who created it and then buy it, all without too much stress on the wallet. Proceeds benefit the Academy's Art To Go youth-at-risk arts education programs, which take artists and art teachers into community centers in Nänäkuli, Waipahu, Wai'anae and Kalihi, teaching Hawai'i's youth new ways to express themselves and build self-esteem. In 2003, more than 30,000 school children participated in these programs.

"Art is the very best way to connect to your community," observes Suzanne Fuller, who, with her husband Larry, is an avid collector. The couple had lived in South Dakota, where they obtained Native American art. Their travels in Africa added beaded baskets and a towering carved giraffe to the mix. Once they moved to the Islands, it was only natural to expand their collection to include works by area artists.

At Showcase events, the Fullers have purchased paintings by Hon Chew Hee, Allen Leitner and Nancy Poes. Their collection happily mixes etchings with watercolors, and carved gourds with a collection of beaded pieces from the American Southwest. "Our art is about memories and images we love. And, at Showcase, there's the added satisfaction of knowing that 40 percent of the art sale benefits the children's outreach program."

Suzanne Fuller has on an easel a painting of the Academy of Art’s Asian Courtyard, by Nancy Poes.

Architect Nancy Peacock likes to take clients to the annual event. She describes the show as, "perfect for both new and seasoned collectors. The price range has something for every budget and the art is curated by the artist selection committee." Peacock points out that the show offers buyers a social setting where they can really get the feel of an art piece. "Another benefit," says Peacock, "is seeing a mix of art, maybe even asking to have several pieces grouped together, to get an idea of how they would work in an Island home."

Before she joined the staff of the Honolulu Academy of Arts, Mary Ann Akao, an archivist, knew of the benefit sales but didn't realize they were open to the general public. Once she realized that the sale is a great way to see a lot of art in a short time, she was hooked.

"I like to walk through, take a quick look, see what catches my eye," she says. Then she falls in love and goes back to buy. Her collection includes the work of printmaker Shirley Hasenyager, photographer Paul Kodama, paintings by Betty Hay Freeland and Hiroshi Tagami and a "delightful" ceramic sculpture by Rochelle Lum that makes her smile. Akao is enthusiastic about buying local. She likes the benefit sales because they are non-intimidating ways to see art, meet artists and buy without retail gallery sales pressure. "I feel great knowing that a percentage of my purchase will benefit a program or organization," she says, "and I also am happy that the money the artist receives may help in keep that artist financially solvent and able to continue creating art."

Dr. Peter and Leila
Diamond display George Wollard’s “Coco Bolo,” a koi ozu copper pipe sculpture and a painting by Hiroki Morinoue.

Collectors are surprisingly open minded about how they use their Island-inspired art. "Our Showcase art can move from our Ward Avenue office to our Mänoa home and back again," says Carolyn Heath. "The pieces have become our friends." Carolyn and her husband, Fray, discovered art collecting because their company, Heath Construction Services, is managing the additions, renovation and redesign of the Honolulu Academy of Art. Steeped in the world of restoration, they are nonetheless drawn to contemporary Hawaiian art. Recent purchases include a glowing Rick Mills blown-glass vase and a whimsical, intricate Vicky Chock ceramic sculpture.

A love of art runs in Fray's family, as the walls of the Heath's home are crowded with Hawaiian landscape paintings by his great-grandfather, Bartlett Cooper. Heath describes the work as inspired by great Hawai'i painters like Lloyd Sexton and D. Howard Hitchcock, noting that his great-grandfather was one of the early painters who created the exhibition space on the Honolulu Zoo fence. "The Academy has a Sexton painting of Kähala Beach where I grew up. There is a tiny white dot that was our house. They assure me that painting will never be in an art sale," he laughs.

Whether your family has roots in the world of art or not, buying art is a collaborative experience. For example, Leila Diamond goes to the art sale and scouts things out. She then tells her husband, Dr. Peter Diamond, which pieces she thinks will work in their home. "He usually agrees," she says. If not? "Sometimes I just go buy what I like anyway!"

Both first-time buyers and seasoned collectors can incorporate Island art into their homes. Here are some secrets to buying and displaying your favorites:

- Be decisive. Once you fall in love with a piece, Mary Ann Akao says, buy it. Otherwise some other shopper may walk off with your favorite.

- Consider proportion. “Always watch the scale,” says architect Nancy Peacock. “The vaulted ceilings of the Academy complement very large works. Keep a tape measure handy!” Akao, who lives in an apartment, goes by the rule, “No big walls, so no big art.”

- Go off the wall. “Our home is windows and more windows,” Suzanne Fuller says, yet she had a growing number of framed works that needed to be hung on walls. So she purchased an assortment of floor and table easels. They can be easily placed on chests, sideboards and in dining room corners in order to display the Fuller’s collection.

- Contact the artist directly. At one sale, Peter and Leila Diamond were in a bidding war for a sculpture made of copper water pipe by artist Koi Ozu. “We loved it,” Peter says, “but we were outbid.” Knowing that the tall, open sculpture would fit perfectly with their large paintings and cathedral ceilings, they took a suggestion from an art sale volunteer and asked the artist to create another. “It was a win-win. Some months later we had our sculpture and the Honolulu Academy of Arts made an additional 40 percent commission.”

- Accent your home’s architecture. The Diamonds have purchased pairs of paintings, hanging them on either side of doorways. (One pair, by Hiroki Morinoue, even has the added versatility of working horizontally or vertically.) An early purchase, a large painting by George Wollard, usually fills the stairway wall.

The 10th Annual Honolulu Academy of Arts' Showcase 2004:

Art To Go, takes place on Sunday, August 15, from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in the Academy's new Henry R. Luce Pavilion and courtyards. The event features 500 original works by more than 100 local artists. The evening also includes gourmet cuisine from top Hawai'i restaurants and an exclusive wine selection presented by Fine Wine Imports. This year's featured artists are painter Kelly Sueda and ceramist Vicky Chock. Tickets are $75, or purchase a special sponsor's table for 10 at $4,000. For reservations, call 532-3687.

The Showcase Preview Sale Art Sale is Saturday, August 14, from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. in the Henry R. Luce Gallery. It is free and open to the public.

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