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OHA: Office of Hawaiian Affairs

OHA hosts Poakalani Hawaiian Quilt Exhibit

HONOLULU (May 31, 2022) – A special one-day Poakalani Hawaiian Quilt Exhibit was held today in Liliʻuokalani Hall at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ headquarters in Nā Lama Kukui.

On display were 14 Hawaiian quilts 45” by 45” which were then handed over to the Pitt Rivers Museum of Oxford, England. The commissioned quilts were received by Marenka Thompson-Odlum, a research associate with Pitt Rivers Museum. This was the only showing in Hawaiʻi of the 14 quilts before they leave for their permanent home in Oxford.

All of the quilts were designed by the late John Serrao and quilted by selected Poakalani Quilting teachers and students. Serrao and his wife Althea Poakalani Serrao were master quilt makers who also taught Hawaiian quilting workshops. John Serrao designed over 1,000 quilt designs. His designs can be seen locally and worldwide and are based on the floral, culture and history of Hawaiʻi. 

Cissy Serrao, a quilt teacher with Poakalani Hawaiian Quilts and the daughter of John Serrao, said they were originally commissioned to send just one quilt to accompany a feather ʻahu ula (cloak) that is already on exhibit at the Pitt Rivers Museum.  

One quilt couldn’t really tell the story of Hawaiʻi, so we decided if we broke it up into 14 quilts it would tell a bigger history of what Hawaiʻi is, who we are as a people and what we want to portray to the outside world of who we are,” she said.  

“Were very proud of this tradition that was handed down to us by my great grandparents. Its a tradition that we still hold close to our heart and we are so honored that we can continue this and not only teach in our family, but to anyone who wants to learn Hawaiian quilting. We want to be sure the world can see what we do here – its such a unique art.”  

The Hawaiian quilts will be featured at a general exhibition at the Pitt Rivers Museum and then built into a more permanent exhibit as the museum reimagines their space to include more contemporary artwork.

Cultivating economic development in and for Native Hawaiian communities is a key strategy of OHA’s Mana i Mauli Ola Strategic Plan.

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