TACOMA, Wash. — Craving swaying palms and Aloha spirit? Look no further than Tacoma, at the Washington State History Museum, where The Art of the Aloha Shirt: Keoni of Hawaii, 1938 to 1951 recently opened.
Curator Gwen Whiting says these aren’t just any Aloha shirts.
“It really focuses on one particular artist, John Keoni Meigs, from a moment in what is called the Golden Age of Hawaiian shirt history.”
All of the patterns in this exhibit were created by Meigs — a self-taught artist who led a life as colorful as the shirts he designed. And you’ll see how these iconic images evolved from sketch, to painting — to shirt. Repeating designs, bright colors, iconic images of the tropics, and sheer artistry are hallmarks of Meigs’ work.
For Tacoma Aloha shirt collector David Bader, this exhibit is better than a flight to Hawaii.
“I’ve loved Aloha shirts since I was little because of the bright colors,” said Bader, who got his first Aloha shirt given to him by his mother when he was two. “When you put one on you just feel immediately like you’re on vacation someplace tropical.”
Among Bader’s favorites — a well-loved shirt that shows some wear and tear from the mismatched buttons to hand-sewn fabric repairs. Considering that some of these shirts date back to the 1930s, they’re amazingly well constructed.
He also noted a shirt inspired by another artist who fell in love with the South Pacific, Paul Gauguin. It features images from Gauguin’s paintings of Tahiti.
“This one right here is really important, it’s based on a Gauguin woodblock print, it’s extremely rare and extremely valuable,” Bader said, pointing out a blue and red shirt that pays homage to the French artist’s work.
Just like Hawaii — a vintage Aloha shirt is a melting pot.
“Every single shirt you see in the exhibition is a blending of cultures — everything from the coconut shell buttons that drive from Filipino design to the silk fabric which was inspired by kimonos from Japan.”
Shirts made by a mix of people — all sharing the same tropical tale.
“All of the things that you’re seeing represented on the shirts, they’re all moments of joy,” Whiting said.
Don’t miss David Bader’s presentation of his own shirt collection at The Art of the Aloha Shirt Gallery Tour and Reception on Thursday, Aug. 18, 6 p.M. To 8 p.M. The exhibition will be at the Washington State History Museum until Sept. 11, 2022.
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