Spalding House, a.k.a. The Contemporary Museum
I am on Oahu, staying at the Outrigger Luana Waikiki
, which sits, propitiously, next door to Ft. DeRussy Park, a perfect compliment to the theme of this long weekend trip to Oahu—not the fort part but the park part.
As you may know, I believe in trip themes. By themes, I mean a trip built around a yoga retreat, say. Or hiking adventures. Or history. Or friendship. Or romance. Or birdwatching. Travel themes give the journey a purpose. They also help whittle down decisions in this distracting world in which we live. They just plain make life easier. And shouldn’t vacation be easy?
This trip’s theme is meditation. Or introspection. Maybe contemplation. You get the idea. It’s probably true that I have Audrey Sutherland to thank for this current state of mine. Or the Dalai Lama. He’s speaking on Sunday at the University of Hawaii’s Stan Sheriff Center, and I built this trip leading up to that event.
The journey to hear the Dalai Lama harkens back millennia when people made spiritual pilgrimages. People of all faiths were known to do this, Hawaiians included. Interestingly enough, this pilgrimage takes me from Kauai to Oahu, from the country to the city. And that is in direct contrast to one poet’s prescription to the salvation of the soul, as, ironically, I read on the flight into Honolulu.
In “The Art of Travel,” Alain du Botton shares that the poet William Wordsworth shocked the literati when he first wrote such lines as,
O Nightingale! Thou surely art
A Creature of a fiery heart--…
Thou sing’st as if the God of wine
Had help’d thee to a Valentine.
But, soon, Wordsworth's contemporaries’ sneers turned to cheers, and more and more people followed his footsteps into the country in an “attempt to restore health to their bodies, and more important, harmony to their souls.”
There are many things to do in Waikiki. Should I go shopping at Ala Moana Shopping Center? Sign up for a snorkeling boat tour? Go people-watching along Kalakaua Avenue? Or visit an art gallery? My trip’s theme helped me decide. Made it easy. Harmony to my soul.
As soon as I took possession of my rental car, I headed for Makiki Heights Drive and The Contemporary Museum on Mt. Tantalus.
Upon arriving right at opening time of 10:00 a.m., I remembered The Contemporary Museum is no longer The Contemporary Museum. It is now called Spalding House, after it merged with The Honolulu Academy of Arts, which itself has since gone through a transformation and is now called The Honolulu Museum of Art. (Did you get all that?)
The net result: The gift shop is closed. But the rest of the changes are in name and legalities only. As far as I could tell.
A mama chicken and her six, freshly-hatched chicks scratched in some dirt outside the entrance of the one-time residence of Anna Rice Cooke. A couple entered before me. They headed for the wide-open grassy yard with its sculpture of a horse made of twigs, and I never saw them again. I had the exhibit hall to myself.
When I saw the hundreds of shark teeth tacked into the bare wall—it looked like this collection of teeth, each no bigger than a dime, were all put into a sling shot and blasted at the wall in one fell, Rorschach swoop--I pulled out my iPhone and got busy, attaching my handy Olloclip (with fish-eye, wide-angle and macro lens) to my camera’s lens and tapping my artist wannabe.
People are so creative. I am always inspired by whatever works of art are on display here. This exhibit, titled “Biennial of Hawaii Artists X”, featured six artists from Hawaii. What fascinated me most on this visit was the way in which artists come to their work.
Bruna Stude’s artist statement read, “I spent most of my life at sea. My earliest memories are of water.” She wrote that she used to take portraits of marine life. Now, she photographs “empty oceans,” because of the concern she has for our impact on the sea. “My photographs are not documentation but an artistic choice to illuminate. Looking up from only a few inches below the surface, I see cities. I see only what man has created. By revealing the truth and the extraordinary, I try to create an awareness and inspire reverence.”
Bruna’s is more of a conservation message. Wordsworth might well approve.
From “Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey” and subtitled, “On revisiting the banks of the Wye during a Tour, July 13, 1798, Wordsworth writes:
Though absent long,
These forms of beauty have not been to me,
As is a landscape to a blind man’s eye:
But oft, in lonely rooms, and mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet…
With tranquil restoration.
In another room of this one-time residence that was built in 1925, Solomon Enos drew on his Native Hawaiian upbringing and stories of shape-shifters and voyagers in his creation. He wrote that he is also influenced by the writings of Carl Sagan, Frank Herbert, Philip K. Dick and Kurt Vonnegut “from which I have always sought to merge the genre of science fiction with indigenous and aboriginal beliefs, and from this desire, birthed a concept called Polyfantastica. His work reminds me a bit of the demi-God Maui in that Enos throws his creative fish hook into the deep of his subconscious where the stories of his ancestors reside, and he pulls them into the light and flings his discoveries into the sky where they dance and morph and run in parallel lives to the stars and sun and moon.
I exited the Spalding House and discovered a maze of trails through a delightful garden, as if I’d found a back door in a wardrobe. Through the cloud of mosquitoes that escorted me over moss-covered rocks, I delighted in and descended into more artistic works of art. Someone had planted these hillsides of ferns. Someone had placed these boulders just so, statuary in their own right. Someone had carved this path leading to a warren of rocks, and I could have sworn fairies or beings—maybe Enos’ shape-shifters—gathered here when no one was looking. Maybe they were here now, dancing on tiptoe and giggling in great guffaws behind their inter-galactic hands or paws or whatever they used to cover their mouths.
I laughed, too—really, I did. Out loud. I flipped my Olloclip from macro to fish-eye, and I clicked away.
When I emerged from the garden, I discovered a huge Monkeypod-like tree draping the grassy yard and—can you believe it—a Pacific golden plover scurrying in the grass plucking nourishing nuggets from the ground. Birds, of course. Even in the city. Take that, Wordsworth. I laughed out loud, again, and dropped to the ground. It was time for the Big Girl Camera. I pulled out my telephoto lens to snap reminders of this native bird—kolea—with his shiny, new feathers as it fattened up for its upcoming 36-hour migration to Alaska. Then, I noticed the red-breasted cardinal and shama thrush. That’s what’s great about birding—you can do it anywhere. Take nature with you, even to the big city.
By now, a school group dressed in black—school colors?—were being led around the place by a docent. A couple enjoyed a picnic basket provided by the Contemporary Café--its name hasn’t changed.
This will sound like an exaggeration, but I swear on my Olloclip lens that it’s not: The Contemporary Museum or Spalding House or whatever it is called is one of my favorite places on Oahu. Here, I am nourished on so many levels. I can gaze at whatever the current exhibit and be inspired enough to try some of my own artistic endeavors. I can meander up and down the nature path and contemplate—and maybe, one day, if I bend, tilt my head and squint just right I will actually see the fairies. I can sit under a tree on the lawn and write. Or I can pull out my camera and take pictures of the many birds that alight on sculptures, peck the ground for food and call to me from the towering umbrella of a tree. And I can enjoy a tasty lunch of Herb and Roasted Garlic Tomato Soup and Quinoa Salad with avocado, red onions, cilantro and herb vinaigrette dressing. It’s easy being vegan at the Contemporary Café.
But here’s the key. I believe these kinds of endeavors need to be done alone--as solitary endeavors. If I was with a friend or my husband, I’d gaze at a work of art and try to think of some astute thing to say about it, and I’d have to process some astute thing they said about something that touched them. I’d have to worry about whether I was taking too long in the garden—me and my Olloclip. If I was with someone else trying to be astute, trying to keep up, I might have missed the fairy rocks, the kolea in the yard, and the millipede on the empty, white canvas of a wall.
And, now, if you’ll excuse me. I’m off to go hiking.