Museum uses art to promote state's diversity

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HONOLULU -- Visitors stopped to stare at the watercolor, painted so precisely it looked like a photograph.

The subject -- a seedy used car lot -- though colorful, didn't seem worthy of such a work of art.

A curator explained its significance, to nods of recognition: The picture depicted the former site of the $350 million Hawaii Convention Center.

The watercolor is just one example of the 360 paintings and sculptures that fill the Hawaii State Art Museum, which opened earlier this month with the theme, "Enriched by Diversity ... the Art of Hawaii."

The museum, which is located on the second floor of the No. 1 Capitol District Building, offers visitors to Hawaii the opportunity to discover the history and culture of the land and its people through the works of local artists.

As diversity is the facility's theme, some sections highlight the islands' Asian roots. Others focus on the inspiration of the land and sea and some on social consciousness.

Greeting visitors as they enter the museum is an enormous painting by Herb Kane portraying the discovery of Hawaii.

Men aboard a double-hulled sailing canoe, rocked by the high seas, watch in wonder at the orange flash of a volcano's fury rising from the ocean.

The other side of the wall hosts a traditional Mango bowl -- easily three feet in diameter -- and a regal quilt made in 1918.

Stylized representations of Hawaiian women illustrate the early years of artist Pegge Hopper, whose work also is presented, along with Big Island sculptor Randall Takaki, who carves emotive human figures out of discarded logs.

The Hawaii State Art Museum is housed on the site of the former Royal Hawaiian Hotel, built in 1872 under the reign of Lot Kamehameha V.

In 1926, the original wooden building was demolished, replaced by the current Spanish mission-style concrete and stucco building.

The second-floor balcony offers views of the Iolani Palace and the state capitol across the street.

Plans are under way to open a gift shop and museum cafe in 2004, a museum spokesman said.

Through the Art in State Building Act, Hawaii became the first state to set aside 1% of the construction cost of a new state government building for the acquisition and commission of works of art.

Since the act was passed in 1967, more than 5,000 pieces by 1,400 artists have been purchased.

The Hawaii State Art Museum is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free.

For additional information, call the Hawaii State Art Museum at (808) 586-0900 or visit the facility's Web site at www.state.hi.us/sfca.

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