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Gladys Kukana Grace

Dec. 12, 1919 - Jan. 17, 2013

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After Gladys Kukana Grace’s husband became ill, she resumed making palm leaf hats, recalling her grandmother’s lessons. She taught extensively, and her work is eagerly sought by collectors. Perry and Elizabeth Valleriani Photography, courtesy Gladys Kukana Grace
Gladys Kukana Grace making a hat, Bethesda, Maryland, 2010, photograph by Alan Govenar
Gladys Kukana Grace making a hat, Bethesda, Maryland, 2010, photograph by Alan Govenar
Gladys Kukana Grace, hat-making supplies, Bethesda, Maryland, 2010, photograph by Alan Govenar
Gladys Kukana Grace, Bethesda, Maryland, 2010, photograph by Alan Govenar
Gladys Kukana Grace, hat-making supplies, Bethesda, Maryland, 2010, photograph by Alan Govenar
Gladys Kukana Grace, hat-making supplies, Bethesda, Maryland, 2010, photograph by Alan Govenar
Gladys Kukana Grace, hat-making supplies, Bethesda, Maryland, 2010, photograph by Alan Govenar
Gladys Kukana Grace making a hat, Bethesda, Maryland, 2010, photograph by Alan Govenar
Gladys Kukana Grace, hat-in-progress, Bethesda, Maryland, 2010, photograph by Alan Govenar
Hat by Gladys Kukana Grace, 2010 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Alan Govenar
Gladys Kukana Grace with two of her hats, Bethesda, Maryland, 2010, photograph by Alan Govenar
Hat by Gladys Kukana Grace, 2010 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Alan Govenar
Hat by Gladys Kukana Grace, 2010 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Alan Govenar
Hat by Gladys Kukana Grace, 2010 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Michael G. Stewart
Hat by Gladys Kukana Grace, 2010 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Michael G. Stewart
Gladys Kukana Grace, 2010 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Michael G. Stewart
Hat by Gladys Kukana Grace, 2010 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Michael G. Stewart
*Hala* (pandanus) tree, Hawaii, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
From left:raw *lauhala*; three bamboo tools to soften and flatten dethorned leaves with example of *lauhala* ready to be stripped (above); box and hand strippers with examples of stripped *lauhala*; *lauhala* weaving project in progress, courtesy Gladys Kukana Grace
Gladys Grace weaving *lauhala* hat, courtesy Gladys Kukana Grace
*Anoni* (two-tone) hat: petal pattern with domed top, courtesy Gladys Kukana Grace
*Anoni* hat: *maka moena* (single weave) pattern with *niho* (tooth) brim, courtesy Gladys Kukana Grace
*Anoni* hat: *kaimana* (diamond) pattern, courtesy Gladys Kukana Grace
Hat: *maka moena* pattern on crown, courtesy Gladys Kukana Grace
Hat: *pawehe* (geometric) pattern, courtesy Gladys Kukana Grace
*‘Ula‘ula* (red) *lauhala* hat: double *nalu* (wave) crown, courtesy Gladys Kukana Grace
*‘Ula‘ula lauhala* hat: triple *nalu* crown, courtesy Gladys Kukana Grace

Gladys Kukana Grace, born in South Kona, Hawaii, was about 10 years old when she began learning the art of lauhala weaving from her maternal grandmother. She and her siblings gathered the lauhala (leaves of the pandanus tree) used to make floor mats and hats. Grace enjoyed making the household mats but wasn’t interested in weaving hats, a much more difficult process. She moved to Honolulu, where she married and raised a family and worked for twenty-five years as a salesclerk at the Pearl Harbor Naval Exchange. It was only when she took early retirement to care for her ailing husband that she returned to weaving. Her decision was precipitated by a remarkable experience. “Before I left from working, I was walking one day and I started to be concerned about where I was going to get extra money,” she said. “So as I was walking to work, I heard a voice speaking to me, ‘What are you doing with your hats?’ I don’t know if I had imagined it, but I was full with joy. I said, ‘Oh, yes, I’ll go back and weave.’” She remembered being inspired by watching her grandmother and a friend learn to weave anoni hats, which featured contrasting light and dark patterns. She had not learned the complex process of weaving two strands but resolved to try. She was frustrated at first, but one day it came to her “as if something opened up in my mind and just everything flowed right in … and I think that’s why I have this joy. I want to keep teaching and teaching to everyone who wants to learn, and I can’t stop.”

Grace began giving free lessons on her porch and moved on to teach widely throughout the islands and on the mainland. From 1988 to 1998, she took part in a state folk arts apprenticeship program. She was featured at a number of conferences and festivals, including the 2006 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Her work has been displayed in the Smithsonian and other venues, including the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, which honored her with the Mamo Award in 2010. In 2008, she received a Kahili Award from the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

“Aunty Gladys” followed her grandmother’s approach: Students learn by watching and doing. They first learn to select and gather the leaves. Only those that are fresh and pliable are suitable for making hats. The student must clean and strip the leaves and remove all thorns before beginning to weave. Each hat includes twenty-five to thirty leaves. She and one of her students, Frank Masagatani, established an organization, Ulana me ka lokomaika’i, whose name translates to “weaving with the goodness and kindness from within.” The support group, formed in 1997, helps those who want to go beyond what they have learned in formal classes. They gather regularly to weave and share ideas. As the name of the group indicates, Grace stressed that weaving is a spiritual activity whose success depends on the weaver’s state of mind. “Weaving comes from within,” she said. “Just weave, and your hands will take you where they want to go.”

Bibliography
Wu, Nina. "Master lauhala weaver Gladys Grace dead at 93." Honolulu Star-Advertiser, January 23, 2013. http://www.staradvertiser.com/news/breaking/20130123_Master_lauhala_weaver_Gladys_Grace_dead_at_83.html?id=188132771

Watch

Gladys Kukana Grace, 2010 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Listen

Gladys Kukana Grace's niece Marsha helps to explain about how Gladys got started weaving hats. Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 22, 2010

Gladys Kukana Grace's niece Marsha helps to explain what was done with the hats she sold. Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 22, 2010

Gladys Kukana Grace's niece Marsha talks about how she learned to weave hats. Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 22, 2010

Gladys Kukana Grace's niece Marsha talks about how many hats Gladys has made. Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 22, 2010

Gladys Kukana Grace's niece Marsha helps to explain what keeps Gladys continuing to teach and weave hats. Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 22, 2010

Gladys Kukana Grace's niece Marsha helps to explain how Gladys has affected future generations of weavers. Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 22, 2010