The Blackburns’ Black Point residence houses a wealth of museum-worthy pieces.
For some, a collection is a passion displayed on a single wall , a well-loved detail of their home. But walk into the Black Point house of Mark and Carolyn Blackburn, and it is instantly clear that their collection is their home. More than a thousand stunning Polynesian artifacts line its walls. Carvings, bowls, weapons, jewelry, books, artifacts and photographs transform the feeling of the space into that of a wonderfully lived-in museum.
Each piece would individually be the star of any collection: a bowl used by King Kamehameha I, Robert Louis Stevensonâ€™s steamer trunk, a cup used by Captain Bligh to measure rations on the famous open boat voyage after the mutiny on the Bounty. Along the walls are paintings by some of Hawai’i’s most famous artists, including Madge Tennent, Cornelia Foley and Robert Lee Eskridge.
It’s a collection so stunning it’s been documented in a lush hardcover book called Polynesia: The Mark and Carolyn Blackburn Collection of Polynesian Art, by Adrienne Kaeppler. Mark began collecting coins as a child. By his teens he was dealing in rare coins, and by age 19 those coins had made him a millionaire. A book about the journeys of Captain Cook inspired him to retrace Cook’s voyages through Polynesia: New Zealand, Tahiti, Fiji, Hawai’i. His first Polynesian find was a Maori artifact in Hamburg. Forty years later, he’s still collecting.
“It’s the largest private collection of Polynesian art in the world,” explains Mark, who with Carolyn owns Mauna Kea Gallery on South King Street. “Our collection is the focus of our life.”
Their collection also motivated their move to Black Point from Waimea on Hawai’i Island. Mark’s travel for the gallery and collection made the extra inter-island commute difficult. “Collecting requires travel,” notes Mark. “Today, I’m in New Mexico for an 18th-century decorated Ni’ihau gourd.”
They wanted a location on O’ahu, which echoed the peace of the Big Island and found it in this four-bedroom, three-bathroom home constructed in the 1980s.
“Since we love mid-century architecture, we would have preferred a great mid-century designed home like the one we had on the Big Island,” says Mark, but they’d already fallen in love with the area.
“When you go out to the point, it’s like living on the Big Island, the wildness of it. Black Point has some of the most incredible air on the planet. It’s like nothing else on O’ahu,” Mark opines. He also noted that the house needed a new electrical system and wall treatments, as well as extensive shelving and cabinetry to house their collection.
“We were enamored with the view, the clean lines and atmospherics for displaying the art. We live with it. We have an emotional attachment to it and live every day with our art.”
Many of the Polynesian objects are stored in specially constructed pull-out drawers, but even with all of their additions, it’s still a challenge to do justice to a collection of this size. Many pieces are not on display due to limited wall space for paintings and flat works of art, so they store a tremendous amount of the collection and change works out from time to time.
“Some works of art are meant to be viewed from certain angles, elevations and of course, climatic conditions are always a challenge, especially sunlight,” reveals Mark. “The entire home is air conditioned 24 hours a day, due to Hawai’i’s challenging environment.”
The Blackburns built their collection’s cabinetry in black walnut for how it worked with their modernist furniture.
“We are collectors of mid-century furnitureâ€”especially George Nakashima and George Nelson. The Nakashima furniture in our opinion goes hand in hand with great art, especially tribal art.”
Mark describes his favorite time of day in the house, and collection, as morning.
“With the light in the space and the water view playing against the objects and period furnitureâ€”it’s quite spectacular.”