Repository Spotlight: Jean Charlot Collection

Concluding our conversation about Jean Charlot, the scope of his collection, and the deep relationships he forged, Curator Bronwen Solyom stated “I cannot think of a thing the man wasn’t interested in.” Distinguished as one of Hawaii’s great artists, his many talents and interests establish Charlot as a true renaissance man.

Charlot by Haar 1978

Throughout their twenty-year friendship, Francis Haar took many photographs of Charlot, documenting him at home and at work. This portrait was from their last session, taken in 1978 a few months before Charlot’s death.


The “Founding Collection” of books, archives, original artwork, photographs, audio-visual materials, and memorabilia was donated to the University of Hawaii’s Hamilton Library in 1981 by Jean Charlot’s widow, Zohmah. Additions to the collection were made by the artist’s family and friends. This is Hawaii’s most comprehensive public collection of artist papers. It serves faculty, staff, students, researchers and receives exhibition loan and reference inquiries spanning the globe.

Charlot ___Kahuna

“Kahuna with Sacred Stone,” portable fresco (plaster on Canec) created as a demonstration piece for Helen Gilbert’s art class in 1969.


The collection covers Charlot’s (1898-1979) career from France, to Mexico, to the United States and the Pacific. Charlot was prolific, creating paintings, frescoes, drawings, prints, ceramics and even sculpture. He was a scholar, critic, book illustrator, cartoonist, poet and collector. There are so many facets to his life that Bron says she can never predict how students will make use of the collections.



Bronwen Solyom

Bronwen Solyom, Curator of the Jean Charlot Collection, surrounded by art, archives, and books in the reading room (photo by M. Van Heukelem)


One of the most interesting aspects is the range of stories the collection tells in terms of his relationships with other artists. Correspondence between Charlot and noted photographer Edward Weston inspired a book. A postcard from Paris is signed by Dorothea Tanning, Max Ernst, Man Ray, Betty and Gustav Ecke. In Mexico, one of Charlot’s first jobs was to help Diego Rivera on a mural. Photographer Tina Modotti executed an early portrait in Mexico and Francis Haar’s photo of Charlot (pictured at top) captures him late in life.

Charlot EXHIBITION REC 1916 1st exhib

Charlot’s early interest in liturgical art led him to join the Gilde of Notre Dame, a group of young artists. In a 1916 exhibition, he stands next to Margeurite Hure, later a well-known stained glass artist, and sculptor, Renee Trudon. He displayed two polychrome horizontal bas-reliefs of angels, and a woodcut, Skeleton [Le pecheur, the sinner].

As a child in Paris, Charlot was surrounded by family collections. An aspiring young artist, he was taken to the Musée d’Ethnographie du Trocadéro (now the Musée de l’Homme) by family friend and photographer Désiré Charnay. Shortly after he began exhibiting (first exhibition pictured above), in 1918 he was sent to the front to join the French artillery and eventually became a junior officer. Following the war, Charlot tried his hand as a commercial artist, designing cosmetic packaging for Elizabeth Arden in the early 20’s. With little opportunity to make it as an artist, Charlot took his widowed mother to Mexico to live with relatives in 1921. Some of the earliest and most interesting memorabilia in the collection comes from Charlot’s family collection and his early years in France.


Charlot Goupil Louis vitrine 1970

Nineteenth century vitrine filled with Mexican folk art miniatures inherited by Charlot’s grandfather, Louis Goupil (who inherited it from his father Victor), as displayed in Charlot’s French childhood home.



In Mexico City Charlot was part of the Mexican Mural Movement. He fully immersed himself in the culture, even learning the language of the Mayan people. Besides murals, Charlot is recognized for working closely with archaeologists at Chichen Itza where he documented the fugitive colors on painted walls and reliefs as they were excavated. He collected the work of then under-appreciated artist José Guadalupe Posada. He was friends with Mexican artists active in the early 20th century including José Clemente Orozco, Emilio Amero, Leopoldo Mendez, Xavier Guerrero, and David Alfaro Siqueiros.

Charlot Massacre in the main temple  Kochen

“Massacre in the Main Temple.” Fresco mural, 1923, measuring 14 x 26 feet. Stairway, West Court, Escuela Prepatoria (now Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso), Mexico City.

Bron explains “this fresco, inspired by Paolo Uccello’s great battle masterpiece, established Charlot as a master of design and technique at the dawn of the so-called Mexican mural renaissance. The historical subject matter depicts atrocities committed by Spanish invaders as they surrounded a temple and killed or imprisoned the Aztecs celebrating a festival. It reflects Charlot’s pro-Indian sympathies and the lingering horrors from world war one. The powerful lines of the lances following the angular shape of the wall are painted in vermilion encaustic, an added medium that Charlot did not use again.”

He continued on to a career in the United States, working in New York and Colorado, before settling in Hawaii in 1949 where he taught at the University of Hawaii for 17 years. His first project was a mural for the University’s new administrative building (Bachman Hall). This mural titled “Relation of Man and Nature in Old Hawaii” as well as murals at the Hawaii Convention Center (installed from a prior location), Leeward Community College Theatre, and the United Public Workers building (with Isami Enemoto) on School Street, feature prominently in our public spaces.

JC PORTRAIT 1949 drum

A prophetic moment. Charlot discovers the power of the Hawaiian drum at Bishop Museum. Photograph by Walter Johnston, 1949.


He went with Hawaii artist Juliette May Fraser to Bishop Museum to study Hawaiian art and artifacts in preparation for his first mural in Hawaii. As in Mexico, he immersed himself in the local culture, taking Samuel Elbert’s first Hawaiian language class and continuing to repeat the courses once he reached the highest level of instruction.

Unexpected finds include a variety of memorabilia: rare 19th century Mexican folk art miniatures passed down through his family; a Margarete Steiff bear hand puppet (puppets became a recurring theme in his work); and his WWI artillery uniform. Artist archives can have many points of interest for researchers and this collection is a treasure trove for curators, historians, art collectors, and researchers on a multitude of topics.

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The Jean Charlot Collection is located on the 5th floor of Hamilton Library at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. The reading room is open Tuesdays from 9:00 am to noon and Thursdays from 1:00 to 5:00 pm, or other times by appointment.

All photographs courtesy of the Jean Charlot Collection with captions by Bronwen Solyom, unless otherwise noted.

Information was drawn primarily from a conversation with collections curator, Bronwen Solyom, with supporting information from the Jean Charlot Collection website and brochure. Many thanks for sharing your wealth of knowledge and stories about the collection!


Malia Van Heukelem

Repository Spotlight: Kalaupapa National Historical Park- Hale Malāma Curation Facility

On November 3rd, I boarded a Cessna with a handful of other excited museum, library, archive, and cultural resource professionals from around the Pacific.  We were headed to Kalaupapa National Historical Park (NHP), to attend a three-day National Park Service (NPS) training:  “Preventative Care and Remedial Conservation Techniques for Archival Collections and Wooden Artifacts.”  UH Manoa students were among the participants, along with specialists from the Honolulu Museum of Art, ꞌIolani Palace, Kona Historical Society, and National Parks in American Samoa and Guam.  

As we departed Oꞌahu, I was reminiscing about my journey to the park with AHA back in 2011.  Museum Curator, Scott Williams, was our host and provided an orientation of the park, the new Cultural Resources facility, and some of the museum collections.

My attention was quickly drawn out the Cessna window as the Molokaꞌi North Sea cliffs came into view.  It was more breathtaking than I had remembered; although this was the first time viewing from that vantage point.  In my first visit, the adventurous archivists had flown topside and hiked down the 3.5 mile trail.  The trail scales 1,600 feet of vertical sea cliffs, with 26 switchbacks, and it was an amazing introduction to life on Kalaupapa.

As we now approached the runway for landing, I was grateful for the opportunity to experience Kalaupapa from the air.  After all, when you can witness things from varying points of view, there is often an enhanced understanding and appreciation for the beauty that is….

 “Kalaupapa… is a place where past suffering has given way to personal pride about accomplishments in the face of adversity.  It is a place where each of us can reconsider our emotional and physical responses to people with disfiguring disabilities or illnesses.  It is a place where the land has the power to heal—because of its human history, natural history, and stunning physical beauty.”  –NPS GMP/EIS

Kalaupapa NHP’s Hansen’s disease (leprosy) population, both surviving and deceased, with its material culture, oral histories, and intact physical community, is one of the only of its kind in the U.S.  The settlement is still home to several surviving patients that reside in the community on a part-time or full-time basis.   Kalaupapa NHP honors the mo’olelo (stories) of the isolated Hansen’s community by preserving and interpreting its sites and values.

Newly restored sign.

Newly restored sign at the airport.

The park is also an extensive and valuable archaeological complex with a number of archaeological resources, a vast variety of site types, and an extensive time range of habitation and land use.  The role of the peninsula as a place of exile from 1866-1969 contributed to the preservation of the pre-contact archaeological complex.   According to NPS, Kalaupapa remains one of the richest and least disturbed archaeological landscapes in Hawaiꞌi.

As part of continuing efforts to preserve objects of social and cultural significance, KNHP arranged for two conservators from Harpers Ferry Center (HFC) to work on-site for one month with a major task of cleaning and stabilizing the altar at St. Philomena Church.  Carrie Mardorf, Chief of Cultural Resources, with sponsorship through Pacific Historic Parks, also arranged for the conservators to teach a three-day workshop to allow museum students and professionals from the Pacific Islands to learn about preventative care and conservation techniques for museum objects.

The training was held in the Cultural Resources building, which houses state of the art curatorial facilities to preserve and conserve objects, artifacts, and archive materials that tell the stories of Kalaupapa NHP and its residents.  The collection storage and research facility, called Hale Malāma, was not fully completed back when AHA visited in 2011; so it was a privilege to see the result of phase II.

Scott Williams reports that the museum collection, first managed in 1987, contains over 350,000 objects and archival documents, primarily representing the late twentieth century experiences of residents within the Kalaupapa Settlement.  A growing portion of the collection is comprised of archaeological assemblages and representative natural specimens as management continues to inventory its resources.   Roughly 300,000 items have been accessioned and cataloged into the Interior Collections Management System.  For several years there was no full-time museum staff to process the items.  Right now, Scott is the only museum employee; however, the Museum Technician position will be filled in February.

The mauka wing has a lab and curatorial storage facility, which holds rows of books, archives, archaeological collections, and personal objects, that all tell a story of Kalaupapa’s history.  The mauka lab is used for accessioning, cataloging, and conservation work; in addition, it contains two large chest freezers.  The wing also holds a large back-up generator that proved very useful during our stay; although, in darkness we learned that the generator is solely for climate control and not lighting.

 Note:  Clicking on any photo in this post will display more information.

The makai wing holds a storage facility for over-sized objects such as furniture, lighting fixtures, and antiquated medical equipment.  This wing also contains a lab for processing and conservation work and allows for new collections to be brought in without affecting other collections.  I was highly impressed with the large walk-in freezer, which we also noted had a safety feature so that you could not lock yourself inside.

We were fortunate to have two highly informative and engaging HFC specialists lead the training.  Theresa Voellinger is the Photograph and Paper Conservator for all of NPS; and Curtis Sullivan is the sole Wooden Artifacts Conservator.   They carefully balanced lectures with hands-on opportunities to work with the museum collections.

Participants working with some of the park's archival collections. Photo Credit: NPS/S. Williams.

Participants working with some of the park’s archival collections. Photo Credit: NPS/S. Williams.

Theresa covered the history of paper and photography; as it is important to know what an object is made of and how it is made to properly care for it.  We  learned some surface cleaning techniques for archival collections and were able to clean some of the Park’s collection.

Theresa also taught us countless great tips and tricks for handling and caring for a variety of objects, including distinguishing cellulosic film and polyester film.  After learning about long-term preservation strategies for film-based photographic materials, we tried out our new skills and prepared some of the park’s cellulose film for cold storage.  The micro-climates we created will allow the boxes to be placed in a frost-free freezer.

 Note:  Clicking on any photo in this post will display more information.

When caring for wood objects, Curtis explained the usefulness of understanding the nature of wood and the variation of wood grain from various sawing techniques.  As both a wood craftsmen and a conservator, Curtis seeks to understand how a piece was selected.  The boards a woodworker may have chosen for decorative or aesthetic purposes may be unstable and difficult to conserve.  Conservation of wooden materials at Kaluapapa has been challenging due to the environmental conditions and termite infestations.


 We also had the privilege of seeing the work that Theresa and Curtis had completed at the park.  We did a site visit to Kalawao and St. Philomena (Father Damien’s Church).  Father Damien, one of the most famous caregivers at Kalawao, is buried in the churchyard at St. Philomena. Damien was 49 years old when he died on April 15, 1889, with Mother Marianne at his bedside. His remains were exhumed in 1936 and reburied at Louvain, Belgium. In 1995, a relic composed of the remains of his right hand was returned to his original grave at Kalawao. In 2009, Damien was canonized a Saint in the Catholic Church.

Just one of their many projects during their stay, Theresa and Curtis worked tirelessly as a team to stabilize and clean the surface of the church alter.  Loose pieces were secured, termite damage was repaired and surface grime was removed.

If you have questions about KNHP collection accessibility, a portion of the collection is accessible for research to the public on-site and electronically.  Many materials have been digitized for access (NPS Web Catalog) for users off-site or those who can’t travel to park; however, some content is sensitive and requires restricted distribution. Copyright and permissions issues also limit distribution of some materials.

On behalf of all of the participants, I extend a huge Mahalo out to the NPS staff for being our hosts, teachers, and friends: Carrie Mardorf, Scott Williams, Theresa Voellinger, and Curtis Sullivan.  We walked away with  more than I could ever articulate in a blog post.

I leave you with the beauty that is… Kalaupapa…. Respectfully, Jill Sommer

“Many who come to Kalaupapa recognize an intense, nearly tangible, mana or powerful force that Hawaiian peoples find in all things. The ʻāina (land), a vital source that links us to spirit is sacred and becomes our ʻaumakua (guide) that connects us to the continued presence of all who lived out their lives on this peninsula. The ʻāina’s mana (spiritual essence) connects us to each other and to spirit.”  –NPS GMP/EIS

Repository Spotlight: Na Hawai’i ‘Imi Loa Community Archival Workshop

Na Hawai’i ‘Imi Loa (NHIL) is not an archival repository in the traditional sense. There are no linear feet of document boxes or aged tomes. It is, wonderfully, a repository for the future of archives. NHIL is a student organization at the University of Hawai’i, Mānoa open to students pursuing a degree in Library & Information Sciences, Hawaiian Language, or Hawaiian Studies. Their mission is to service the Hawaiian community by strengthening the Native Hawaiian presence in the Library and Information Sciences profession, and by building the capacity of the Hawaiian community in Library and Information Sciences practices.

As part of this mission, NHIL has been reaching into the outlying districts of the community with free archival workshops. AHA supports their efforts with monetary backing, but of infinitely more value, with member volunteers who share their expertise as speakers at this event.1

The latest Caring for Family Treasures workshop was held on Saturday, September 26, 2015 at the Queen Liliʻuokalani Childrenʻs Center: Hale ʻAha, in Punaluʻu. 27 participants gathered for the free two part workshop which included a home cooked shoyu chicken lunch by the McKeague family.

The morning session, MalamaPalapala: Physical Care of Documents, concentrated on the physical care of personal archives. Our own Helen Wong-Smith shared tips on how to store and display precious family heirlooms archivally, and Linda Hee walked people through the aspects of our Hawaiian environment that can accelerate deterioration and how to slow down these reactions.


In the afternoon session, Hoʻokikohoʻe : Digitizing your Family History, Kara Plamann Wagoner clearly explained, step by step, what is involved in digitizing personal collections. She ended with a fun interactive exercise that helped people tink about how they want to prioritize what to digitize.


Next year’s workshop is still in the planning stage, but hopefully more of you, AHA’s most valuable resource, will step forward to help NHIL, our future archivists, present our skills and knowledge to the community.

Please visit the NHIL website for updated information:

Hale Waihona – He Waihona ‘Ike / Collection Repositories – Collections of Knowledge

An ancient Hawaiian mele (chant) from the Pele family ends with the lines “O ‘imi‘imi, o nalowale, o loa‘a la e!” (Seek that which has been lost, and it will be found!) (Ho‘ohila Kawelo Collection).  I like to think that the kūpuna of old had a vision of the future, recognizing that while things would change, a generation would arise that would seek out those things thought lost.

Hawaii researchers at Library of Congress map collection

Library of Congress map collection where a group of Hawai’i researchers explored the Hawaiian Collection.

Without the foresight and commitment of people who organized and formed repositories of the mind and of documents,  those things “lost” may never be found. For the last 42 years we’ve been haunting collections seeking information on the traditions of place, and learning about the relationship shared between people and their living environment. The collections range from small family repositories to historical societies, public and agency archives, and national institutions, and are as far apart as Lāna‘i to Hilo, Honolulu, Denver or Boston.

Houghton Library, Harvard: Digital Scanner

The Houghton Library, Harvard, where we learned about the ability of scanning Hawaiian records to digital format, enabling us to bring valuable historical records back home since written as early as 1820.

One of the amazing discoveries is that regardless of how many resources may be found in any given collection, there is always more to be found elsewhere.  For example, a review of kingdom surveyor field books at the State Survey Division, leads one to associated but detached communications housed in the State Archives, and from there, one finds leads to the old U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey Branch collections in Silver Spring Maryland.  Each repository has discrete documentation, which, when pulled together provides us with a more complete understanding of the past.  This is also one reason why digitizing collections is very important.  For various reasons, one cannot always touch the paper.  But scanning collections and sharing them helps to bring valuable information to all people (it also reduces the stress on rare resources by minimizing handling), and the better informed we are of our history, the better prepared we can be to be responsible stewards of the inheritance that we leave to the future.

Un-catalog land & genealogy records on Maui

Un-cataloged collection of land records and genealogies (land title) on the island of Maui.

Much as the preeminent native Hawaiian historian, Ioane Papa Ii wrote in his paper series published in the 1860s, the fragments of history are indeed scattered far and wide (“Na Hunahuna no ka Moolelo Hawaii”), but from the fragments clearer stories of our history may be found.  Then add to the research in collections, the oral histories of elder kama‘āina and it will be seen that fragments of traditional knowledge still lives in practice.  On top of that one will find that being on the land for which records of archival collections and memories of elder kama‘āina are found, brings a history and legacy of knowledge back to the present day.

Mahalo to those who have worked to collect the notes, photos, maps, journals, receipts, and every small or large record from the past. Everything has value to someone, and through the records recorded by those who came before us, we are able to understand how we came to where we are, and have greater appreciation for the importance of Hawai‘i.

By Kepā Maly

Repository Spotlight: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Daniel K. Inouye Regional Center

Photo credit: taken from NOAA web site

What do you think of when someone says NOAA? In Hawaii, we may think ‘oooh, marine biology!’ because of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in our (watery) back yard. Most people not as enlightened as us would ask ‘How’s the weather?’ This would have been me until Tuesday 28 July, 2015, when AHA sponsored a site tour for its members. There is so much more to NOAA.

NOAA is composed of six departments, the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service; National Marine Fisheries Service; National Ocean Service; National Weather Service; Office of Marine and Aviation Operation; and the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research.

Ani Turner, Patty Miller, and Wende Goo

Until very recently, the Hawaii components of these offices were scattered across the islands. By April 2014 all had been consolidated into the purpose built NOAA Daniel K. Inouye Regional Center based out on Ford Island. When we had gathered in the stunning atrium of the new center, our host, Librarian Ani Turner, introduced us to Wende Goo, communications director and public affairs, who gave us some background on Ford Island and the new center.

Mokuʻumeʻume was renamed Ford Island in the late 1800 for the island’s then owner, Dr. Seth Porter Ford. In 1916 it was sold to US Army for use as an air strip and for naval operations. In 1964 it was designated a National Historic Landmark for its witness to the start of World War II.

The photo at the top shows how two of the original airplane hangars were renovated and connected by new construction. Hangar facades and some features were historically preserved and house the research labs and offices. The new central atrium contains public areas, including the library and tsunami learning center which we visited later.

The building is LEED (Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design) gold certified. One of the ‘coolest’ things about it is its solar powered passive cooling system where air is blown over cold deep-sea water to cool building. Quite a feat in a more than 40 foot high glass box! Wende said it cost $335,000.00 to construct the building and it is projected to save $50,000 a year in our tax payer dollars in operating costs.

After this introduction, Patty Miller, Outreach Coordinator, demonstrated Science on a Sphere (SOS) developed by NOAA as an outreach tool for their educational program.

3SOS is a six foot diameter globe animated by computers and video projectors that can demonstrate an astounding array of information. Patty started us off with what you would expect, animated data of last week’s weather, showing cloud movement and current patterns. She then showed us wave amplitude and tracking of actual tsunamis, including the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan.

But SOS can do so much more! She demonstrated tracking animal populations and their movements, the changing polar ice caps over the decades (the shrinkage is very scary), night lights over the globe (America has a LOT) and even airplane routes. We were a pretty good audience, as appreciative and enthusiastic as kids about the amazing things she showed us.

4Ani then took us to the brand new library for the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center. It took 8 years to plan the 5,700 square foot space and the library is a little gem. You enter from the main atrium through a glass door in the center of floor to ceiling glass walls. The counters and shelving in the reading area are made from Hawaiʻi Island ohiʻa wood and the seating area furnished with comfortable chairs.

This is all Ani’s doing. She has been the sole librarian for 14 years, caring for the collection and the taking care of the needs of the staff as well as the public.

NOAA has a network of about 20 libraries across the nation, most geared to the specific needs of their professional staff. This particular library focuses on Pacific marine sciences and fisheries. Because the scientists need to keep up with current research, the collection leans more towards scientific journals and articles than books.

5Ani purchases based on staff requests and staff can borrow this material for as long as they need it. Those collections not currently in use are housed on shelves behind the reading area. She has a small climate controlled room for rare books and those that are in fragile condition.

Like most of us, she is trying to digitize the collection as time and resources allow. The question came up about what can be made public and what should not be. As an example, she has cruise reports- all correspondence and documentation as well as research results- dating back to 1949. The actual reports have been digitized and are on the web. Associated materials like memos and other correspondence are not. Hmmm…. A Collections Quandary! Perhaps there will be more discussion on this at the February 13, 2016 annual meeting- join us and see!

The question was asked about public access. Ani explained that as a federal institution, the collection is free and open to the public. NOAA maintains an on-line public catalogue of all their holdings. However, because of the high level of science carried out here, most of it is too arcane for your typical high school science project.

6We then, reluctantly, had to leave the library to go up the glass fronted elevator (my favorite kind) to the third floor where the Tsunami Information Center is located. Terry Fukuji explained that they work with, but are separate from the Pacific Tsunami Center. The Tsunami Information Center focuses on outreach and training locally as well as nationally and internationally. Like the library, they had many pamphlets, maps and handouts that we were welcome to take. This library was mandated in 1965 and currently has five staff members plus a vacant office manager position.

They are also free and open to the public and while you can’t check out these materials, you are 7free to do on-site research as much as you like. This is a main stop for school group tours and one of the ‘funnest’ displays was an acrylic diorama with ACTUAL WATER where you could push down on a plunger to simulate tsunami wave action. One of our members created a wave big enough to knock down the plants at the top!

8Our tour was completed by Chad Yoshinaga who told us more about the research side of NOAA. Chad has 22 years on the job as a Fisheries biologist. He gets to go out on the ships to gather science data that the resource managers will then use to determine national policies and procedures. One of the services they perform is to help injured animals, like monk seals that take hooks in their mouths or turtles tangled up in trash and fishing debris. Takeaway lesson: Let them know immediately if you see an injured animal and don’t try to help it. They have specific tools and procedures they use to track and capture the animals that we can easily mess up by ‘helping!’

He took us outside the building to see from afar two of the research vessels that were currently in port and the animal care facility. Interesting to note that the deep sea well that provides water to cool the building also fills the tanks in the animal care facility.

The Inouye Regional Center is an amazing place with even more impressive people working in it doing phenomenal research. If you have a chance, you should drop by or at least check out their web site.

By Linda Hee

Repository Spotlight: Pacific Tsunami Museum in Hilo

AHA is pleased to introduce you to another repository featured in the 5th Edition of the Directory of Historical Records Repositories in Hawai’i.  This month’s pick is the Pacific Tsunami Museum Archives.

The Pacific Tsunami Museum is located on the corner of Kamehameha Ave. and Kalakaua St in downtown Hilo.  The building, built by First Hawaiian Bank in 1930, was designed by the late C.W. Dickey, Hawaiꞌi’s most prominent architect of the early 20th century.

The Pacific Tsunami Museum is located on the corner of Kamehameha Ave. and Kalakaua St in downtown Hilo. The building, built for First Hawaiian Bank in 1930, was designed by the late C.W. Dickey, Hawaiꞌi’s most prominent architect of the early 20th century.

Hawai’i has a long history with tsunamis, which remain an ever-present threat to the islands.  The Pacific Tsunami Museum (PTM) is a community-based, non-profit organization that provides tsunami education programs to residents and visitors to the State.  The PTM Archives houses one of the world’s most extensive collections of tsunami photographs, maps, oral histories, scientific papers, documents, videos, and artifacts, many of which are on display within museum exhibits.  PTM archive materials are used in programming to promote tsunami understanding.  The Museum shares the stories of communities that have risen up after tragedy and survivor voices that impart a warning for others with lessons learned.

Caption:   The book Hawai’i Tsunamis includes images and survivor stories primarily from the 1946 and 1960 tsunamis, but also includes the 1950’s, 1975, 2010, 2011, and 2012 tsunamis.  Some of the images in the book are seen in print for the first time, from collections recently acquired.  Men running from the huge third wave in downtown Hilo in 1946. PTM Yasuki Arakaki Collection. Cecilio Licos, photographer.

“Hawai’i Tsunamis” in the newest book produced by the PTM and includes images and survivor stories from several tsunami events; some of the images in the book are seen in print for the first time.


The Archives has an extensive collection of historic images, which include photographs depicting the aftermath of tsunamis and advancing tsunami waves and historic images of Hawai’i, particularly of Hilo town.  Exciting new photograph collections in the archive include aerial photographs taken after the 1946 tsunami and also high resolution color images taken after the 1960 tsunami.  Some of the new images were recently published in the book Hawai’i Tsunamis, authored by PTM Archivist/Curator, Barbara Muffler.

“My dad says that if we are going to die, we hold each other hands so they can find everybody together.”  – Bertram Kinoshita

Perhaps the most important collection is the oral histories, emulating a “living archive”.  The oral history collection includes over 600 first-hand accounts, from tsunami survivors and witnesses, in video and written format.

“Faces began to appear at the windows of buildings damaged so heavily that any life in them seemed impossible.”  -A.E.P. Wall

Kazu Murakami, 15-years old at the time, had been washed out to sea at Laupahoehoe during the 1946 tsunami.  He drifted overnight and was rescued the next day by David Cook and brought aboard the Naval ship LST 731.

Kazu had been washed out to sea at Laupahoehoe during the 1946 tsunami. He drifted overnight and was rescued the next day by Naval ship LST 731. Photo from PTM Archives.

One of my favorite stories starts with a photograph (right) donated to the archive that showed a man hanging on the side of a Naval ship rescuing a boy that had been washed out to sea during the 1946 tsunami.  The identity of the boy and the rescuer were unknown at the time… but then two random visits to the Museum within eight days of each other connected the families of both men to the photograph.  Years later, the PTM brought the men, David Cook and Kazu Murakami, together for a “surprise reunion” at the Museum and to share their amazing stories.  

Kazu was 15 years old at the time and had spent the day and night drifting at sea.  He was taken to the military hospital after his rescue; however, he was not identified by his family, even thought they had searched for him there, because his sunburned condition had made him unrecognizable.  When he was discharged, Kazu took a bus home where he found family members planning his funeral.

Tsunamis have played a significant role in determining where people live and work in the Hawaiian Islands.  With hundreds of lives lost and extensive damages, the Big Island areas of Hilo and Laupahoehoe have been heavily impacted by tsunami events; but the disasters also brought countless stories of survival and heroism.  Out of these tragedies, families relocated into new homes, beautiful open spaces and parks were developed in waterfront areas, and the warning system improved to allow more assurances to the community during future events.  The PTM stands as a living memorial to those who lost their lives in past tsunamis and those that reshaped their communities out of these tragedies.

“The city’s spirit was one of rebuilding, with greater safety precautions than ever before, confident that out of the rubble would come a more beautiful and more productive community.” -A.E.P. Wall

If you have any questions about the Archive, please contact the PTM Archivist at (808) 935-0926 or email at

Jill Sommer


Repository Spotlight: Brigham Young University Hawaiʻi Archives

Lāʻie, Oʻahu. Photo Courtesy of Envision Lāʻie.

Lāʻie, Oʻahu. Photo Courtesy of Envision Lāʻie.

Tucked away on the far, east side of ‘Oahu is the beautiful community of Lāʻie. It is historically known as the birthplace of the shaka sign, the site of Waiapuka pool, a sanctuary for the mythical Lāʻieikawai, and for its community Hukilau, now commemorated by the naming of Hukilau Beach as well as a 1948 Hawaiian medley. It is probably most famously known for its visitors attraction The Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC), owned and operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and famed for its authentic Polynesian entertainment. The church established itself in Lāʻie in 1865 and has become one of the key figures in documenting the community and surrounding Koʻolauloa area. They also established a robust acedemic resumé for Lāʻie attributed to the creation of Brigham Young University Hawaii in 1954 (originally Church College of Hawaiʻi).

1959 Lāʻie Hukilau mens troupe. L-R: John Quereto, Alan Barcarse, Ronald Wong, Brian Hollis, Ishmael Stagner, Pitone Ioane. Photo courtesy Joseph S. Smith Library Archives & Special Collections.

1959 Lāʻie Hukilau mens troupe. L-R: John Quereto, Alan Barcarse, Ronald Wong, Brian Hollis, Ishmael Stagner, Pitone Ioane. Photo courtesy Joseph S. Smith Library Archives & Special Collections.

These are, by all means, some of the most common elements of Lāʻie. However, there is a more obscure, lesser known fact about the small community worth mentioning. Lāʻie played an extremely important role in the preservation of Hawaiian dance or Hula. This was due to its rural location far from the enforcement of public restrictions and also to a community of resilient families who valued and perpetuated hula traditions. Hula can still be seen today in the community’s frequent celebrations and gatherings. And the PCC, which is a fairly modern creation (1963), really owes its success to the community’s preservation of hula, as it truly grew out of that effort.

As you can see, Lāʻie has a very rich and vibrant history. It is truly inspiring and exciting to know that some of that history now lives in the BYU-Hawaiʻi Archives.

Researching in the Reading Room of the BYUH Archives. Photo courtesy Hula Preservation Society.

Researching in the Reading Room of the BYUH Archives. Photo courtesy Hula Preservation Society.

The Archives are located on the grounds of the Brigham Young University Hawaiʻi campus, on the second floor of the Joseph S. Smith Library. A small, quaint office hosts student interns and staff who assist the Archives with research inquires, digitizing, and cataloging. Next to the work office, is a reading room with a large viewing table and a computer capable of searching the Archives’ catalog.

The primary collecting area of the Archives includes the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Hawaii and Oceania. Their secondary collecting areas includes Hawaiian history and culture, the history and culture of Oceania, and the history of the Koʻolauloa moku of the island of Oʻahu. The majority of the materials themselves are corporate records and contributed by Church College of Hawaii (now BYU-Hawaii), the Polynesian Cultural Center, the Lāʻie Hawaiʻi Temple, the Hawaiian Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the Lāʻie Sugar Plantation. Other materials were received as donations over the years from families and individuals of photograph collections, journals, diaries, personal papers, physical artifacts, and audiovisual material.

Materials in the BYUH Archive. Photo courtesy of BYUH Newsroom.

Materials in the BYUH Archive. Photo courtesy of BYUH Newsroom.

Currently, the Archives has a small, but amazing online resource at its Archives and Special Collections webpage ( A dozen collections are available for viewing with materials ranging from plantation photographs to oral history collections with audio interviews in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, audio interviews with Koʻolauloa residents, and memoirs of church members.

Archives & Special Collections Webpage.

Archives & Special Collections Webpage.

Koʻolau Railroad in Lāʻie carrying sugar cane, circa 1906-1946. Photo courtesy Joseph S. Smith Archives & Special Collections.

Koʻolau Railroad in Lāʻie carrying sugar cane, circa 1906-1946. Photo courtesy Joseph S. Smith Archives & Special Collections.

Matt Kester, current head Archivist of the BYU-Hawaii Archives, holds much of the repository’s materials in high esteem stating,

“We have many collections that are dear to our heart. However, the James McGuire collection of Native Hawaiian art and artifacts is exceptional, as is the Alice Namakelua Collection, the Douglas DeSure collection of scrimshaw, and our collection of original diaries from missionaries in Hawaiʻi”.

Auntie Alice Namakelua demonstrates kīhoalu, 1980. Photo courtesy Hula Preservation Society, Nā Mākua Mahalo ʻIa Collection.

Auntie Alice Namakelua demonstrates kīhoalu, 1980. Photo courtesy Hula Preservation Society, Nā Mākua Mahalo ʻIa Collection.

The Archives occasionally hosts events to highlight some of their collection materials. They have recently co-hosted two public presentations highlighting rare footage from the 1980’s Nā Mākua Mahalo ʻIa award series, which recognized prominent hula and musical greats of the 20th century. They currently have an exhibit on display in the Joseph S. Smith Library with items from the Alice Namakelua Collection. Auntie Alice was a well known and highly respected Hawaiian composer, famed as the foremost expert on Kīhoalu, Hawaiian slack-key guitar. She also worked for the City & County Parks & Recreation Program for many decades, teaching hula, language, and music. The exhibit will be on display until December 2015.

The Archives at BYU-Hawaiʻi has various ongoing projects including an effort to digitize the Kahuku Sugar Plantation Newsletter entitled “The Kahukuan”. They are also working with graduate students in Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawaiʻi to remaster and index the audio files and transcripts of the Clinton Kanahele Oral History collection, which a portion of is available online at their Archives & Special Collections website (previously mentioned). The future also looks bright and busy with a planned project to implement a comprehensive digital database of 46,000 photographic images.

So, The Archives at BYU-Hawaiʻi are filled with treasures of information and history. With all this valuable material and the effort to preserve it, you might be asking the most common question the repository gets, “Are you open to the public?” And always with a chuckle Matt replies,

“Of course! We welcome all researchers, students & community members! For those who are looking to research a specific subject but are not sure if we have a specific item, either myself or our student staff are available and happy to assist.”

The Archives is open to the public Mon-Th 7am-12pm, Fri. 7am-8pm, & Sat. 9am-9pm

Keau George is the Collections Manager at the Hula Preservation Society and is on the Board of the Association of Hawaiʻi Archivists.