There is a theory on collecting that says people typically start a collection once they have just two of some thing. While it apparently took a PhD at the Stanford Graduate School of Business to do the math on that one, its hypothesis can certainly be proven true by the veritable trove of treasures found at Kohananiki, the ultra-luxury residential and golf community on the Big Island’s sun-kissed west side. Theories aside, one shouldn’t focus on which particular pieces kicked off this collection, but rather to see it as a whole. What is evident is that the mission of research- ing, locating and acquiring the items that make up the property’s collection was an important and integral part of Kohanaiki’s beginnings. One can surmise that after the first few pieces were secured, the rest of the collection took form and grew with an equal sense of curation and foresight as the process was shepherded along.
Most collections that one encounters are acquired without a clear and knowing vision, and without the adequate financial horsepower to ensure the inclusion of quality and culturally significant pieces; they are typical of the hodge-podge assemblages of art and artifacts that one finds at say, an airport concourse or back corner of a hotel lobby. In stark contrast, the team that was responsible for Kohanaiki’s collection can be commended for pulling together as one, and not just acquiring, but also displaying the collection with the highest of standards, exceeding those of many museums. The collection owes much to the vision of Mr. Joe Root, first CEO of Kohanaiki, who started acquiring pieces as the first ‘o-‘o– sticks were breaking ground, before the first buildings went up, and before anyone knew just where everything would be placed or hung.
Kohanaiki’s Director of Design—from day one—is Kae Elledge, and she is quick to credit Root with taking the property’s collection to the next level with a clear vision of how the clubhouse’s public spaces would be complemented by art of various genres, and how the art itself would not play second fiddle to the elegance and grandeur of what are often voluminous rooms and halls. Nothing at Kohanaiki appears to be the result of compromise, and it is evident in how seamlessly integrated the collections are with the walls, niches and spaces containing them. Everywhere one turns is evidence of that. “Actually,” Elledge confirms “Joe had a different space in mind when he found a complete collection of rare Hawaiian Fish prints from 1903 by Albertus Baldwin, still in their original and pristine koa frames, and I said ‘let’s keep them together, like a school of fish’ and he quickly agreed.” While the collection is virtually complete, Elledge remains at Kohanaiki and part of her current mission is to perpetuate the stories behind each piece and share the significance of the artists behind them.
Everywhere one turns at Kohanaiki, there is either a spectacular view to catch one’s eye, or, should your back be turned to mother nature, rest assured that there’s equal spectacle to entertain one’s eye on every wall or hall in the building. Kohanaiki’s collection certainly has enough known-names to serve as its foundational bona fides, but mixed in with the likes of Herb Kane are other more contemporary artists from the local community, like multi-talented Mike Field, whose large-scale paint- ing can be found just past the movie theater, hanging in the entrance to the clubhouse’s game room. Field spends his days surrounded by artists of many types, from world-class architects, to Olympic-caliber athletes and is fortunate to also have access to a cache of original Peggy Hopper paintings, which undoubtedly inform his talented eye and choice of retro palette for this representation of a silhouetted paddler gliding across the waves. Seeing it, and other artwork, one senses an underlying theme: the artwork does not shout for attention, it merely awaits the viewer to pause and appreciate it.
Steps away from Field’s painting, one’s eye will be drawn to other installations that do their best to slow one’s pace and invite both passing glances, and more carefully studied inspections. A full wall of signed Herb Kane prints welcomes guests to the clubhouse’s lower level. They are illuminated by custom commissioned lights resembling the sea urchins found just offshore. Elledge points out that other lamps and chandeliers were also commissioned and draw inspiration from the land and sea surrounding Kohanaiki.
One is pulled in many directions when it comes to viewing the collection. On one side, there are lauhala woven hats from local legend Auntie Elizabeth Lee hanging in display cases that are works of art in themselves. More than just a purveyor of woven leaves, Auntie Elizabeth was treasured by the local community and Kohanaiki, where she constantly shared her passions and talents with residents and visitors. Elledge perpetuates Auntie Elizabeth’s legacy with a museum-quality presentation of her woven art. Further inside the game room is a bowling alley, and when one isn’t busy climbing the league ladder, one might be tempted to pull one of the dozen-plus ‘ukulele off the wall, and fortunately that is one of the “please touch” exhibits. “That’s what they’re there for,” Elledge says. “We commissioned Sam Rosen from Holualoa Ukulele to assemble this wall of instruments, and we want people to be able to choose one and strum, should they want to.”
Turning in another direction, one finds more Hawaiian-inspired artifacts, like an authentic fishing canoe, restored by Gary Eoff, who also created the fishing equipment using traditional methods and materials. The authenticity is carried on in other displays of Hawaiiana, such as the intricate featherwork of renowned artist Ricardo San Nicolas. Eoff’s canoe serves sentinel duty outside a meeting room and wine tasting room that has a collection-within-a-collection; surrounded by residents’ private wine collections is a display table containing the full and complete series of Rothschild’s Mouton Cadet wine, from 1963 through the most recent. Each bottle’s label is a work of art, but seeing them displayed all together with some empty