Accidental Purist

It started with a home in Kona and box filled with paintings in Vermont. Years later, Sharon Twigg-Smith finds she now has a bona fide collection of vintage Hawaiiana.

Sharon twigg-smith waxes nostalgic about a big island antique shop where, she was once a regular. “in those days, they had this great ‘collectibles’ store—it was like walking into one of those antique, secondhand stores, and there’s just stuff everywhere,” Twigg-Smith recalls. “You know you’re going to be in there for a minimum of two hours.Because everywhere you look, there’s just really interesting collections of this and that.”

While her late husband—newspaper mag-nate and philanthropist Thurston “Twigg” Twigg-Smith (who recently passed away in July)—may have been known for his highly prized collections of art and rare stamps, Mrs. Twigg-Smith, too, has slowly amassed an impressive collection of her own. Although in her case, it was somewhat unintentional.

When their home in Kona needed to be filled with something other than furniture, Sharon sought to round out the Big Island home’s interiors with one-of-a-kind pieces that deviated from typical decor. When she came across Hula Heaven, sometimes known as Flamingo’s—a local antique shop run by Hawaiiana aficionados Gwen and Evan Olins, who wrote several books on Hawaiian collectibles—Twigg-Smith immediately got pulled into their passion for all things from the era.

“I got interested in it—just talking to them and seeing that they collected from an era that was really my mom’s era. They had tins and nodder dolls. They had old posters, and they had beach mats that had been printed on for the tourists, you name it. Every time we got to Kona, I would go down and visit them, and I would get totally sucked into [their world]. ‘Wait until you see what we’ve got!’ They would say.” Sharon shares, laughing. “They’d go all over the country and to out-of-the way places … and always come back with these treasures from their trips.”


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Sharon Twigg-Smith's collection of hula girls and nodder dolls began with the need to decorate her home in Kona years ago. Today, the "girls" reside with her at her Kahala residence.

A carved hula girl lamp, dolls with lifelike details, painted figurines with their giant eyes and swaying hips—Sharon’s group of hula girls grew larger and larger as years passed. “I have so many, I have so many…” she says under her breath as if she just came to the realization of the sheer amount of girls she now has in her keeping. Some figurines still have their tags on them, while others contain quirky details, and sometimes, the lack thereof. Sharon picks up a statue of a porcelain hula girl. “Look at this hula statue,” she tells me. She points out that while the front of the statue is beautifully painted, the back of it was flat-out ignored, still a chalky shade of white. “i suppose they didn’t think anyone would notice the back if it was displayed on a shelf,” she theorizes the reasoning behind the seemingly half-finished statue.

In conjunction with the dolls, sharon had also begun collecting hibiscus paintings—a collection that was started by someone else. The twigg-smiths had a number of homes, both here and also on the mainland, and during one east coast visit, sharon unearthed the start of several collections from long ago—collections she presumed were started by twigg’s first wife, bessie, and by his second wife, laila.

“We’d be in places like vermont, and i’d find boxes of stuff that bessie had or [collections] she had started,” sharon says.

“The whole thing interested me so much that she’d done this … that somebody took the time to put these collections together.”

After a lot of dusting off, sharon now had several collectible paintings in her care and gwen—who, unsurprisingly, was also collecting the floral motif—over at flamingo’s had plenty in her store for sharon to sort through as well. And so, hibiscus-themed art and other items started making their presence known alongside the number of hula girls that were already in the Kona house.

The Hawaiian-themed home caught the attention of writer Jocelyn Fujii, who featured the dwelling in her 1992 book, under the hula moon: Living in Hawai’i. Eventually, Sharon had to pack up all those dolls, vases, paintings and other tchotchkes when they sold their house in Kona, and the collection found their new place of residence at the Twigg-Smiths’ beach house in Mokule’ia. Once again, the eclectic group of objects, art and trinkets gave the North Shore beach house such a distinct feel that it made another book appearance—this time on Malia Mattoch McManus’ The Hawaiian House Now, which published in 2007. That home, too, was eventually sold— but the treasures within it Sharon kept.

Today, most of Sharon’s Hawaiiana collection is divided between her storage warehouse and her own home here in Honolulu. Her guestroom houses about 18 hibiscus paintings, though she owns around 40 or 50 paintings total. Some are painted on velvet, while another is made of actual pressed flowers with a lacquered finish. Only one contemporary painting of a hibiscus is on display currently—perhaps the one piece of Hawaiiana she has that can transition to the art genre that dominates the rest of her home. Does she plan on adding to this collection? Realistically, the answer is no. “I’m in ‘downsizing’ mode, unless I just can’t resist,” she jokes, smiling.

I ask Sharon if she chats with other Hawaiiana collectors about their various wares—say, someone like gallery owner Michael Horikawa. “Oh yes, we’re on the board of trustees together at the Honolulu Museum [of Art], but…” She shakes her head. “… He’s a really serious and knowledgeable collector of the genre, and I just dabble in it. I’m more ‘serious’ about contemporary art, though I’m a sucker for the collectibles!” She then referenced the Honolulu Museum of Art’s Art Deco Hawai’i exhibition from a few years ago where Horikawa lent out some of his Hawaiiana. “Actually, seeing some of the stuff he pulled together for the art deco show made me realize that I did have a pretty good collection.”

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