An artist-historian and author, Herbert “Herb” Kawainui Kāne (June 21, 1928 – March 8, 2011) had a special interest in Hawai’i and the South Pacific. Born in 1928, he was raised in Waipi‘o Valley and Hilo, Hawai’i, and Wisconsin. After Navy service, he studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and at the University of Chicago. His residence for many years was in rural South Kona on the island of Hawai’i.
Herb’s career experience has included advertising art, publishing art, architectural design, painting, writing, and sculpture. His limited edition sculptures of the Goddess Pele are available at Pele Hawai’i. Clients included many private collectors, the Hawai’i State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, the National Park Service, National Geographic and major publishers of books and periodicals. His art has appeared on seven postage stamps for the U.S. Postal Service, as well as stamps for the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and French Polynesia. As a design consultant, he worked on resorts in Hawai’i and the South Pacific and a cultural center in Fiji.
Research on Polynesian canoes and voyaging led to his participation as general designer and builder of the sailing canoe Hokule’a, on which he served as its first captain in 1975. He was also one of the founders of the Polynesian Voyaging Society. Hokule’a has now made several Hawai’i–Tahiti voyages, and voyages to New Zealand, Easter Island, Tonga, the Marquesas Islands, the Cook Islands, Micronesia and Japan. These ocean sailings were navigated without modern instruments. Herb is well known for paintings that expertly depict the many types of Polynesian and Micronesian sailing canoes that were used on these historic voyages.
In 1984 he was elected a Living Treasure of Hawai’i. In 1987, Year of the Hawaiian Celebration, he was one of sixteen persons chosen as Po‘okela (Champion). From 1988 to 1992 he served as a founding trustee of the Native Hawaiian Culture & Arts Program, a Federal program at Bishop Museum. In 1998, he was awarded Bishop Museum’s Charles Reed Bishop Medal. Herb authored and illustrated the books “Ancient Hawaii”, “Pele” and “Voyagers”, and he produced a DVD of “Voyagers”. In 2002, he received an award for excellence from The Hawaii Book Publishers Association. He is a 2008 recipient of an honorary doctorate awarded by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Herb Kāne’s artworks illustrating the history and culture of the Hawaiian and Polynesian islands are awe-inspiring glimpses into another world. His images of tall ships and oceangoing canoes, goddesses and native dancers delight people all over the world.