Bishop Museum Whale Cleaning Begins

KALIHI (KHNL) - Conservator Valerie Free and her assistant Angelica Anguiano have donned their white jump suits and will undertake the dirty, dusty task of cleaning the massive whale hanging in Hawaiian Hall at Bishop Museum this week.

Hawaiian Hall is undergoing a $20 million renovation to bring it up to modern conservation and accessibility standards so that the Museum¹s world-renowned and unrivaled collection of Hawaiian artifacts and cultural treasures can be displayed properly. The project will enable Bishop Museum to better fulfill its mission to serve and represent the interests of Native Hawaiians.

When completed in late 2008, all three floors of Hawaiian Hall will be dedicated to the stories of Native Hawaiian history and living culture as told from the Hawaiian perspective through state-of-the-art, world-class interactive presentation techniques and methods. Award-winning museum designer Ralph Appelbaum (Holocaust Museum, Clinton Library) is directing the reinstallation with support team from Bishop Museum, which includes staff, Board members and cultural advisors.

Appelbaum and the design team are committed to bringing multiple voices and a Native Hawaiian perspective to help convey the essential values, beliefs, complexity, and achievements of Hawaiian culture and offer a more culturally-sensitive view of history of Hawaiian culture through Hawaiian eyes. The artifacts will be displayed in ways that pay tribute to and respect their inherent power.

The full-sized sperm whale (palaoa) model has been hanging in Hawaiian Hall for more than 100 years. It is one of the most famous and beloved exhibits in the entire Museum. It is acknowledged as one of the first of its kind in any museum in the world, and was the very first specimen installed in Hawaiian Hall. It arrived from New York in December of 1901, having traveled cross-country and then overseas to HawaiŒi.

Under the direction of William Alanson Bryan, Taxidermist and Curator of Ornithology, the full-grown male specimen was painstakingly put together piece by piece. Two steel rods were inserted in the vertebrae for support. The ³skin,² made of a papier-mâché mixture, was then added and painted.

During the painting, one of the chain¹s holding up the skeleton broke, sending it crashing down on the scaffolding, barely missing Bryan. The sperm whale exhibit was completed in January 1902, suspending from the ceiling of Hawaiian Hall.

The whale has delighted and fascinated visitors of all ages. It measures 55 feet, 7 inches in length and weighs over 4,300 pounds‹the skull alone weighs 3,000 pounds. (The weight of the whale when it was alive is estimated at about 50 tons.) The massive mammal dominates the center atrium of Hawaiian Hall. When the renovation and reinstallation is complete, new interpretive signage will help educate visitors about the specimen itself, its place in the history of the Museum, and the significance of the sperm whale to Hawaiian people.