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Looking Through the Glass

By: Tracy Kim

05 April 2019

When sunlight shines through the windows of the Manoa Public Library, the light transforms five still glass sculptures into an artwork that mirrors a waterfall cascading down a mountain.

The green, white, and blue ombre glass sculptures with jagged edges are bolted to a balcony and can only be seen from the second floor. These sculptures are “The Spirit of Manoa: In the Light of Day,” installed in celebration of the 2015 re-opening of the Manoa Public Library.

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Spirit of Manoa Artwork

Branch Manager Christel Collins said the community and the library staff worked together to decide on a piece of art that best represents Manoa.


“This is a vocal, intelligent, educated, passionate community, and they need to be consulted,” Collins said. “And if they’re not consulted, there’s going to be a problem.”


Collins mentioned that part of the thought process was whether or not they wanted the artwork to be interactive with children and visitors, as well as how the art could best fit with the library and the community.


She added that glass best represents the community because it is similar to the natural resources in the area.


“We didn’t want little statues of people,” Collins said. “We wanted something that reflected the beauty of the valley. We wanted something that reflected the natural form of the valley.”


This led to the selection of Rick Mills, a professor who teaches glass art at UH Manoa.


His inspiration for the sculptures came from the beauty of the story of Kahalaopuna, the princess of Manoa.


“I wanted them to capture the spirit and really the beauty of Manoa so everybody could relate to them, even if they don’t know the story,” said Mills.


Mills used the story as a reference and inspiration in building his glass work. The sculptures’ ridges mirror Manoa’s mountains, which legend says are the gods of the valley. One of the sculptures has a black shadow which signifies the tragedies that the princess from the legend had to endure.


The sculptures were funded by taxpayer dollars through the Art in State Buildings Law, which designates one percent of state building construction costs for artwork to be placed in that building.

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Spirit of Manoa Close Up

In 1967, Hawaii became the first state to pass a law to set aside funds specifically for the acquisition of an artwork. After 1989, the law was revised to include one percent of renovation costs.


These laws were introduced to help enrich the public by displaying works of art that emphasize the multicultural community throughout the Hawaiian islands.


Public places are not required to display artwork, but the Manoa Public Library chose to permanently showcase this art piece in their building.


Through this artwork, Mills hopes that people will appreciate the beauty and history of Manoa.  


A poem accompanying the sculpture serves as a reminder for people to connect with their history and their surroundings.


“Appreciate the surroundings for what they are and how fortunate we are,” Mills said. “But also learn the reflective quality... that life is a journey and sometimes we miss some of the most important things (because) we’re too busy.”

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Professor Rick Mills discusses how he made the artwork at his glass art studio

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Manoa Public Library

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“Certain hills or cliffs have names, as the story goes,” said Kalama Cabigon, the kumu, or teacher, who blessed the new Manoa Library. “The grandfather and grandmother are the names of the hills. They end up having a set of twins, male and a female. They end up having a sacred child, an offspring.”


Author Emma M. Nakuina wrote a book based on the legend. According to Asia-Pacific Digital Library notes under Nakuina’s story, marriages between siblings or within the family were done to “intensify the mana or power of an ali’i family.”


As the legend goes, the union of twins Kahaukani and Kauakuahine resulted in the birth of their daughter, Kahalaopuna, who was part of a family of ali’i.


Stories spread of Kahalaopuna and her “glowing” beauty.


According the the legend, Kahalaopuna was betrothed to Kauhi, a young ali’i of Kailua. Rumors of her unfaithfulness spread to Kauhi which drove him mad.


Out of rage, Kauhi killed Kahalaopuna at least 5 times. Each time, Kahalaopuna was revived from her ancestors and eventually justice was served for Kahalaopuna. Under Nakuina’s story, Kauhi and the two men who falsely spread the rumors were put to death.


The ancestors of Kauhi, who was part of the shark family, brought his bones to the sea and he was turned into a shark. Still angry over Kahalaopuna, he plotted vengeance.


Kahalaopuna married another man, but was advised to stay away from the ocean out of fear that Kauhi might strike.


Kahalaopuna, not heeding her family’s advice, ventured out to the sea in a canoe. Kahui saw this opportunity to strike. This last tempt to kill Kahalaopuna was fatal for she was eaten up by Kahui’s shark form. Since there was no body, she was not able to be brought back to life.


Kahalaopuna’s parents retired to Manoa Valley and reverted back to their natural elements, as did her grandparents.

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