Monday, January 9, 2012

Herb Kane, Illustrator of Hawaiian History

Herbert "Herb" Kawainui Kane (1928-2011, last name pronounced KAH-nay) was an illustrator of Hawaiian-Danish descent who abandoned a career in commercial art in Chicago to return to Hawaii and create paintings illustrating Hawaiian history. Plus, he instigated the building of replica catamarans that duplicated voyages by Hawaii's Polynesian settlers. For more details on his career, here is his Wikipedia entry.

I'll present some of his views on art and illustration in a follow-up post and focus here on the art he created.

Kane was basically an illustrator in the sense that he tried to convey the appearance details of people, man-made objects and nature as they were in times past. This required a good deal of research along with personal knowledge of sailing techniques and acquaintance with Hawaiian and Polynesian culture. Therefore, in his paintings tended to be "hard-edge" (not "painterly") in style so that he could present as much detailed information as possible. Exceptions were allegorical works dealing with Hawaiian gods and legends.

My own taste runs to adding a dash of the painterly. For example, I tend to be less fond of depictions of aircraft that include lots of little dots representing rivets than of pictures showing non-center-of-interest parts of an aircraft slightly out of focus (such as they would be seen in person).

Nevertheless, I find Kane's approach both suitable for his purposes and satisfying from a visual standpoint. Below are images of some of Kane's work. Original-size versions are much more impressive than what you see here; click images to enlarge for slightly better views.


One of a series Kane painted of Polynesian sailing craft.

Ka'anapali 200 Years Ago
This beach on western Maui is now lined with resort hotels.

The Arrival of Keoua Below Pu'ukohola
The rival king to Kamehameha approaches the stone temple and soon will meet his death.

Kamehameha Landing
Kamehameha and his army landing on Oahu near Waikiki Beach. Note the swivel cannon on Kamehameha's craft and the Western style sailing ship in the background.

Kamehameha at Kamakahonu (detail)
The aged king at what is now Kailua-Kona.

Moment of Contact
Captain James Cook's ships meet native Hawaiians off Kauai, 1778.

The Hawaiian goddess of fire and vulcanism.

Hula Holoku
Multiple views of a hula dancer wearing a holoku gown. I find this image charming.


InFiDeL0020 said...


I am a current grad student of UH Manoa. I would like to use the picture for my final presentation. Just hope to have the permission. Thank you

Donald Pittenger said...

I grabbed them off the Web myself.

Ada Koene said...

I am working on a book for the Koloa Plantation Days Celebration committee and would like to use Moment of Contact.Do you know how I can get permission?

Donald Pittenger said...

Ada -- Go to and they have a link for use of copyrighted material.

Unknown said...

I tried that. They don't answer.


I do hawaiian themed artwork and knew herb kane when he was alive. You can also contact Brook Parker and Solomon Enos for hawaiian themed art.