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Pacific Heights: A visit to Bishop Museum's new Pacific Hall

In 2005, Bishop Museum embarked on a monumental $24.5 million project to restore both halls. Hawaiian Hall closed for its overhaul first, reopening in 2009. Shuttering soon after for three years, Polynesian Hall reopened in September with a new name, Pacific Hall, reflecting the museum’s new, broader focus for the hall’s exhibits, extending beyond Polynesia to explore the cultures of multiple Pacific Islands and their connections.

Pacific Hall’s reimagined collection now features hundreds of ancient and modern artifacts from multiple Pacific locales including Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, Tahiti, the Cook Islands, the Marquesas, Taiwan and China. Among its many installations are a restored Fijian fishing canoe, a unique collection of model canoes, and an 18th-century Tahitian chief mourner’s costume made of pearl shell, feathers and bark cloth collected on British explorer Capt. James Cook’s second Pacific voyage.

Pacific Hall's canoe model showcase features large reproductions procured from throughout the Pacific region. Photo: Bishop Museum.

The story of the meticulously restored Fijian fishing canoe’s journey to Pacific Hall is particularly interesting. One of the hall’s first installations and, raised high above its two-story central atrium, its centerpiece display, the canoe was originally obtained in the mid-1980s by John Koon, a master mariner, marine surveyor and rigger. To acquire it, Koon exchanged a 36-inch chainsaw, 120 pounds of bronze screws, other hardware and mosquito netting with a family from Fulanga Island in Southern Fiji. He then had it shipped to Kaua‘i, where he restored it to its original luster.

The museum also restored the magnificent koa-wood balustrade of Polynesian Hall’s staircase, installed new koa exhibit cases, interactive kiosks and media displays, and put some 150 archaeological artifacts—everything from fishing hooks and traditional implements to jewelry and costumes—on public display for the first time.

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Check out these related HawaiiMagazine.com posts:
Classic Hawaii art gets new home at Bishop Museum
Bishop Museum's Hawaiian Hall reopening in grand style this weekend
MAMo Native Hawaiian Arts Market at Bishop Museum to feature for-sale works by multiple artists this weekend

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