Kamehameha Schools has applied for permits to demolish older buildings at its Middle School on the Kapalama campus to make way for new facilities, according to city records, causing some in the arts community to worry about the fate of a mural by noted island artist, Louis Pohl.
Pohl, who died in 1999, taught at the Honolulu Academy of Arts for 35 years and at Kamehameha for 15 years, according to “>an online biography at the Louis Pohl Gallery web site. The Kamehameha mural dates to around 1960, and was created by Pohl and his students.
But some fear plans to raze the old buildings at the Middle School and replace them with newer and larger facilities now threaten the historic artwork.
This is the second time that a classic artwork at Kamehameha Schools has been at risk.
Night Hula, a mural by Jean Charlot, originally installed at the Tradewind Apartments in Waikiki in 1961, was gifted to the school by the Aluli family and installed in the Performing Arts Building in 1996.
But when it was damaged in a storm a year later, the mural almost ended up in a dumpster. Fortunately, quick intervention by the arts community saved the broken parts and Kamehameha was prevailed upon to cover restoration costs.
According to a UH newsletter:
Night Hula, a 9’x15′ mural, which depicts an ancient Hawaiian hula scene at night, was originally created as a private commission for a law office in Waik ??k ??. In 1991, the mural was donated by the Aluli family to Kamehameha Schools where it suffered severe damage from a storm. The school raised funds to have the mural restored and The Jean Charlot Foundation, which was in charge of restoration, donated the mural to the University.
The beautifully restored mural now resides on a wall on the ground floor of Saunders Hall at the University of Hawaii’s Manoa Campus.
Laura Ruby, a UH Art Department faculty member who spent three years working on the restoration of “Night Hula”, said she does not know whether Kamehameha has taken any steps to preserve and restore the Middle School mural, although planning for the demolition has been long in the works.
Ruby said the Middle School mural is on plywood, allowing for easy and safe removal from the building wall. Asbestos has reportedly been found, perhaps in the grout, though this is uncommon, Ruby said. The mural could be wrapped in plastic until such asbestos remediation and restoration can take place, Ruby said.
Can we hope that Kamehameha Schools, which teaches stewardship, especially stewardship of the past and its artifacts, recognizes the value of this 50-year old work of art, created by its own Hawaiian students? It certainly seems worth saving.