First Lady Michelle Obama will now be wearing a piece of Hawaii wherever she goes. An intricately-designed orchid brooch and hand-faceted koa wood square cufflinks were presented to her and several other Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation delegates Sunday. Handcrafted sterling silver brooches and koa cufflinks make for unique Hawaiian gifts.
The exchange of gifts not only represented a timeless act of diplomacy but also an opportunity for a few Native Hawaiian artists to showcase their works.
Award-winning artist Wayne Keeth, who created the brooches, knows his flowers. Growing up, he recalls the floral colors and fragrances of his grandmother’s yard. He’s become so fond of flowers that today, he grows orchids at his Big Island home, handpicking each at the height of its beauty. He then casts the inpidual blossoms without a mold and creates sterling silver pieces found nowhere else in the world. Other works from the 45-year veteran jewelry maker can be seen on the Big Island as well as at the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel on Oahu.
Hawaiian woodturner Keith Maile and designer Kara Ross created the koa wood and sterling silver cufflinks, which were presented in a lauhala style box and adorned with a carved coconut creation. The First Lady’s pair has “Made Exclusively for Michelle Obama” engraved on it.
Ancient Hawaiians used wood from the koa trees in a variety of ways – from sailing on koa canoes to sitting on koa benches. And it was the deep spiritual connection to the native koa forests that made this all possible. So much so that in ancient times, Hawaiians would chant, “ E ola koa,” which means, “Live long koa.”
It’s always great to hear when Native Hawaiians get some sort of recognition for their works in the community, and in this case, it’s a huge honor that will be shared with others from around the world. During the past few years, Native Hawaiian artists have been steadily making a comeback, with the help of monthly festivals like the Maoli Arts Month Celebration (MaMo). Such festivals showcase native artwork and talents throughout the islands. It’s become so popular that many have deemed this the beginning of the Maoli Art Movement. (Maoli refers to Native Hawaiians or the first indigenous Polynesians of Hawaii or their descendants.) Hopefully the next time the President and First Lady are in town, they’ll be able to stop by one of these Native Hawaiian art galleries and see how an ancient craft has been so delicately molded by many different hands into many different mediums.
Photo Credit: U.S. Department of State