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Joseph Nawahi

 (1842 - 1896)
Joseph Nawahi was active/lived in Hawaii, California.  Joseph Nawahi is known for Hawaii sea-landscape, volcano.

Joseph Nawahi

Biography from the Archives of askART

Joseph Nawahi was one of the very few native Hawaiians attracted to painting and drawing prior to the twentieth century, and his paintings are almost the only native works to have survived. Born in Puna on the island of Hawaii, Nawahi became a respected lawyer and politician and before the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893, was a member of Queen Liliuokalani's cabinet. He was a member of the legislature for twenty years, from 1872 to 1892, and was one of the electors who made Lunalilo king. Although only a few of his paintings are known to still exist, Nawahi stands out as one of the first native Hawaiian artists to use Western forms of artistic representation.

At the age of eleven he became a student at the Hilo Boarding School under the direction of Rev. David B. Lyman. In 1857 he went to the Lahainaluna Seminary on Maui, where the missionary Lorrin Andrews had previously educated many young Hawaiians in the arts. Nawahi then completed his studies at the Royal School in Honolulu in 1861.

Returning to Hilo, he became a teacher at the boarding school, and later its principal. In 1862 he married Meleana Keakahiwa, and after her death married Emma Aima Aii in 1881.

Nawahi is best recognized for a series of paintings executed around Hilo Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii. Like many other artists of the 1880s, the active Kiluea Volcano on that island also entranced him. He earned early recognition for a painting he did of the caldron, which the Hawaiian government sent to the Paris Universal Exposition in 1889.

The tremendous activity of the volcano attracted many artists to Hilo. When Enoch Wood Perry visited the islands he spent time there, and it is likely that during this time he came into contact with young Nawahi, who was then an instructor at the Hilo Boarding School. It is also likely that in a town as small as Hilo, Nawahi knew 'volcano painter' Charles Furneaux and his work. Nawahi some years later met Jules Tavernier, another painter of the Volcano School.

Mainly a 'Sunday painter', Nawahi was to become most involved as a legislator and newspaper proprietor, and did not exhibit or sell his work. Only about six paintings by him are known. One of his best is of Hilo Bay, striking in a zigzag design, and with a naive approach including a dog and figure.

With his wife, Emma Aima Aii Nawahi, he started a Hawaiian-language newspaper called Ke Aloha Aina in 1895 that expressed their opposition to the annexation of Hawaii by the United States. Between 1893 and 1895, he and other news reporters were arrested for the royalist content of their writing. Jailed for his political activities, may have contracted tuberculosis during his imprisonment. While on a visit to the mainland in 1896, Nawahi died from the disease in San Francisco.

Some of his works may be seen at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and at the Mission Houses Museum, Honolulu.

Sources include:
David W. Forbes, "Encounters With Paradise"
Don Severson, "Finding Paradise"

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About  Joseph Nawahi

Born:  1842 - Kaimu, Puna, Hawaii
Died:   1896 - San Francisco, California
Known for:  Hawaii sea-landscape, volcano