HONOLULU (KHNL)- In 2007, the Honolulu Academy of Arts will mark its eightieth birthday with a celebration of its founder, Anna Rice Cooke, who donated both the original building and a core collection of important works of art. Commissioning New York architect Bertram Goodhue to design the elegant museum, the Honolulu Academy of Arts opened to the public on April 8, 1927. Mrs. Cooke was present for the opening, and afterwards continued to build the collection she founded. By the time of her death in 1934, she had donated over four thousand works of art to the new museum.
This core collection is at the heart of the Academy's collection, which now numbers close to seventy thousand works of art. Anna Rice Cooke's gifts included works of Hawaiian, Pacific, Asian, African, European, and American art. Her eclectic collection included Hawaiian wood carvings and featherwork, Maori shell carving, Korean celadon tea bowls, an Italian Renaissance altarpiece dated 1392, a beautiful Chinese wooden Bodhisattva of Compassion of the eleventh century, and a rare masterpiece by Paul Gauguin painted in Tahiti. Today we are the beneficiaries of Mrs. Cooke's generosity and continue to cherish her vision.
The story of how this unostentatious, soft-spoken, matronly grandmother made the transition from the daughter of two New England-born missionaries with few worldly possessions to a patroness of the arts is a fascinating one, illuminated by her gifts. She was a woman of little formal education who had the ability and the desire to impact the education of Hawaii's children.
She conceived the idea to give to the place of her birth a museum where both children and adults might learn of their own artistic heritage, and of that of their neighbors. It was her belief that through an understanding of the cultures of the many races living in Hawai‘I, the people of the
Islands could live in greater harmony. Once she made this decision, she resolutely set about to make her idea a reality. In December 1926 she handed over to the museum's board of directors a complete package: a beautiful new building, the block of land on which it sat, a collection of several thousand works of art, and an endowment of one million two hundred thousand dollars.
This exhibition, A Vision of the World: The Anna Rice Cooke Collection at the Honolulu Academy of Arts, focuses on works of art given to the Academy by Mrs. Cooke. Many of these were included in her original 1927 gift, while others were given over the following seven years, until her death in 1934. In the museum's main galleries are approximately seventy works of art given by Mrs. Cooke that are generally on permanent display.
During the course of this anniversary year, each of these pieces has been highlighted for easy identification. Mrs. Cooke sought and usually heeded the advice of the many people she trusted; her children, the museum's trustees, staff, loyal friends such as Catherine Cox, Katherine Jenks, and Alice Bowen, and several art dealers and scholars, principally Nomura Yozo and Osvald Sirén. She always retained the right to follow her own instincts. Against the advice of the staff she purchased the unique "Four Pillars from a Chinese Buddhist Temple," dating to the Yuan dynasty (fourteenth century). Against the advice of the trustees she purchased "Two Nudes on a Tahitian Beach," painted by Paul Gauguin (1848-1903).
Her ability to acquire art important to the museum's mission became more sophisticated over the years, as her taste evolved from late Victorian copies of masterpieces to actual masterpieces of the twentieth century. In the course of planning this exhibition, we have tried to tell the story of how Anna Cooke built her collection. That her dream of an Academy and a world-class collection was realized, against all odds, is a tribute to her courage, foresight, and vision.
The exhibition includes many works that have not been seen by the public for decades, and has resulted in a thorough reappraisal of her intellectual curiosity, taste, and dedication. On August 8, 1934, Anna Charlotte Cooke died quietly in her home. Her death was mourned throughout the community. The tributes to her life of philanthropy were legion. Perhaps one of the most touching came from Nomura Yozo, who personally rushed from Japan to extend his condolences to the family. He wrote: "She taught me the beauty of Love, Truth, Humanity, Justice, and Righteousness. Life is short and art is long after all."
A Vision of the World: The Anna Rice Cooke Collection at the Honolulu Academy of Arts is co-curated by Stephen McClaran, Docent and Academy Director Stephen Little, and will be on view through April 29, 2007. This exhibition explores how Mrs. Cooke built her remarkable collection, her intellectual curiosity, and her insistence that education through the arts be the foundation upon which the Academy's mission rests.