Hawaiian Shirts. Does that phrase bring to mind tacky tourists? Or perhaps an 80’s television show featuring a mustached man who often drove a Ferrari. Perhaps the images conjure up a luau. Would you ever consider them to be works of art?
Before I went to the Florabunda exhibit at the Kaneko, these type of textiles were tourist trinkets to me. Upon walking through the displays in the gallery, I am fully convinced that these particular shirts are masterpieces. Granted, just like all works of art, imitation knock-offs do exist. Yet this arrangement demonstrated the thought and care that were put into the design of these shirts that were primarily designed in the mid-1900’s. Since an Omaha area sculpture artist was commissioned to arrange the collection, the finished result is a convincing masterful display.
By talking to some of the museum staff, I discovered that the curator of this exhibit just happened to be a native Hawaiian who is on staff with the artist Kaneko and his wife at their direct gallery in Omaha. For determining which patterns and styles to display, she narrowed down to Kaneko’s own personal collection of over 700 vintage Hawaiian shirts to around 200 for the exhibit. All of the shirts that were chosen represent not only the premiere designers of the time but also the best combinations of native Hawaiian flora and fauna. While the names Alfred Shaheen, John Meigs, and Elsie Das are not recognizable to me, in the textile world, these designers are considered legends. Besides featuring these three prolific artists, other creations are also included.
Of particular interest to me were the graphics that illustrated just how a design was transformed into a shirt. With all of the vivid colors and patterns, one can lose track of the layering necessary to achieve the finished result. Seeing the sketches demonstrated the artistic element that is required.
This is a perfect exhibit to take children to introduce them to art. As the shirts are primarily well off the ground, there is room to explore and wander. One can expect that a thorough examination will not be possible unless your kids have an incredible attention span. But I did have my own children each wander through and pick out their favorite shirts. Since they also had to explain their selections (they are in elementary school after all!), they made more of a personal connection to the collection.
The Florabunda exhibit will be at the Kaneko in the Old Market for almost another month – through April 25th. The gallery is open 9-5 on weekdays and from 1-5 on Saturdays, and they are closed on Saturdays. Admission is free, although they welcome any donations to support their artistic work. Florabunda is a part of their FIBER exhibit, and so other displays are also involved.
P.S. We discovered this time that the best place to park is at the lot just to the Northeast of Kaneko. You can enter the parking lot between 10th & 11th on Jackson Street. The Gallery address is 1111 Jones Street, although the entrance is on 12th. Some free parking is located across the street on 12th, but that is rather limited.