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Friday, July 18, 2014

D. Howard Hitchcock

Mokuaweoweo at the Top of Mauna Loa 1896, D.Howard Hitchcock
D. Howard Hitchcock, 1895,
possible self-portrait.
Almost twenty years ago, my wife, our son, and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary with a cruise among the Hawaiian Islands on the old S.S. Constitution, then operated in the final stages of her illustrious career by American Hawaii Cruise Line. The line is now defunct, as is the ship, which sank on its way to the scrap yard in 1997. The days we spent among the islands were among the happiest, most exciting, most beautiful we'd ever known. My wife and I plan to go back for a similar cruise for our fiftieth anniversary (hope the ship don't sink). One of the most memorable aspects of the experience, my being an artist, was the great number of Hawaiian paintings we encountered at various times along the way. And, although I don't recall seeing the name, I'm sure we came across the work of D. Howard Hitchcock. Being perhaps the premier painter of Hawaiian landscapes and culture during the first half of the 20th-century, it would have been hard to have missed seeing at least one of his paintings. In peering back through the archives, I think we may have seen two or three of them, in fact. There are several that look familiar.

Hawaiian Fishing Camp, 1913, D. Howard Hitchcock--not unlike what his grandfather might have seen when he arrived in the islands as a missionary in 1832.
The Outrigger, D. Howard Hitchcock
Over the past couple hundred years, following the arrival of western culture to the islands in the hands of New England missionaries around 1820, art has abounded on the islands of Hawaii. I suppose that's only natural if great beauty begets beauty. Some twelve years later, in 1832, the fifth wave of missionaries from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM, affiliated with the United Church of Christ) arrived in the islands. Among them was Rev. Harvey Rexroad Hitchcock, assigned the task of starting a church on the island of Molokai. A generation later, his grandson, D. Howard Hitchcock, (named for his father, David Howard Hitchcock) was born in 1861. Thus, if not the first, he was one of the first native-born Hawaiian painters.

Halemaumau, Lake of Fire ca.1886-88, D. Howard Hitchcock,
one of his earliest oils, before studying in Paris.
City of Refuge, D. Howard Hitchcock
As Howard Hitchcock grew into manhood, like so many Hawaiians of American lineage, he was sent back to "the states" for an education (Oberlin College, in Ohio). Returning to the islands the young man picked up the hobby of hiking about the island jungles with his watercolors, not painting the tropical beauty (when you've grown up with it, you come to take it for granted) but the numerous volcanic spectacles inland. Volcanoes are kind of hard to take for granted. When the French artist, Jules Tavernier, visiting the islands for the same reason, saw his work, he encouraged Hitchcock to study art seriously. Hitchcock apparently studied under Tavernier until the Frenchman's death in 1889. Thereupon, Hitchcock took his mentor's advice and journeyed to Paris where he studied at the Academie Julien for the next four years.

Kilauea's Halemaumau Crater, 1917 volcano eruption, D. Howard Hitchcock,
a much more sophisticated work than his two earlier volcanoes (above).
Lauhala, D. Howard Hitchcock
Returning to the islands in 1894, Hitchcock married and then joined with three or four other local artists to found the first artists' society in the islands, the Kilohana Art League. Together, along with Ernst William Christmas, Charles Furneaux, Ogura, Yonesuke Itoh, Ambrose McCarthy Patterson, Louis Pohl, Eduardo Lefebvre Scovell, William Pinkney Toler, William Twigg-Smith, and Lionel Walden, who later joined the group in painting and exhibiting, they came to be known as the Volcano School. The volcano painters of Kilohana Art League formed the organizational and aesthetic base upon which the Hawaiian art world rests today.

An untitled, undated, D. Howard Hitchcock coastal scene probably from the early 1900s.
A tidal basin, D. Howard Hitchcock
As fascinating as mother nature's firey tantrums might be to artists, the lovely beaches, overhanging palms, and extended palms of tourists bearing cash have proven far more enticing to Hitchcock and the generations since. Even before the first 707 arrived at Honolulu International Airport in the 1959, even before the first American GIs descended upon the place before the war, wealthy tourists had been buying and carrying home in their luggage painted images of the Polynesian landscape and  culture, some authentic, some...not so much. The paintings of D. Howard Hitchcock, his being the native born, "grandfather" of Hawaiian art, is about as authentic as it gets. His coastal scenes very often serve as models for young painters today.

At Lanikai, 1938, D. Howard Hitchcock,
the type of tropical island painting we've all come to know and love.
Tora Tora Tora The Attack on Pearl Harbor
Begins, Stu Shepherd--a view of the islands
Hitchcock could never have imagined.
Trekking inland, up and down mountains, even in a Jeep, in search of active volcanic images is no work for the weak, frail, or aged. As the islands became more and more American, the landscape more and more exotic to visitors from all over the world (East and West) Hitchcock's work shifted from the volcanic to the romantic. Among all the native-born artists to follow, his work became perhaps the most collectible. Hitchcock was also instrumental in bringing to the islands more than just his skills in painting. As his two sons, Harvey and Joshua, entered their teens, Hitchcock brought from California the Boy Scouts of America, starting the first troop in Honolulu around 1910. Some thirty years later, he and his grown sons witnessed first-hand the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The Hawaii Hitchcock knew would never be the same again. David Howard Hitchcock died a little over a year later, January 1, 1943.

Waimea Canyon, 1836, D. Howard Hitchcock.
As he grew older, Hitchcock's style became more impressionistic.






 

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