Celebrating Hawaiian Honeycreepers with Master woodcarver Haruo Uchiyama
Cover Image: “The sculptures bridge the gap between art and science – they are teaching tools for both disciplines.” – Molly Hagemann, Collections Manager, Vertebrate Zoology
Photo credit: Jon Asato, Bishop Museum
Image: Nikki Thompson (right) interprets while Mr. Haruo Uchiyama (left) demonstrated his sculpture process.
Photo credit: Jon Asato, Bishop Museum
In January, Bishop Museum welcomed Mr. Haruo Uchiyama, ornithologist and master woodcarver, as he personally delivered the final carvings of the historically known Hawaiian honeycreepers from Japan to Hawai‘i.
Mr. Uchiyama is the artist-in-residence at the Yamashina Institute of Ornithology in Japan. He has carved birds from around the world but became interested in Hawai‘i’s native species in 2016, when he visited O‘ahu. Since then, he has been creating a set of exquisitely lifelike Hawaiian honeycreeper carvings which is intended to educate the public about these amazing birds.
“Bishop Museum has a significant role to play in protecting the biodiversity of Hawaiʻi. One of the ways we do that is by educating the public about the importance and fragility of Hawaiʻi’s ecosystems. The Uchiyama birds would allow visitors to see lifelike representations of extant birds they might never see in the wild, as well as extinct birds that have already vanished from the forest.” – Molly Hagemann, Collections Manager, Vertebrate Zoology
The weekend was filled with events to celebrate the completion of the first stage of this ongoing initiative. Since the project began in 2016, Mr. Uchiyama’s sculptures of Hawaiian honeycreepers have helped to raise awareness of Hawai‘i’s native forest birds.
During Bishop Museum’s After Hours in January, a special Pau Hana presentation with Mr. Uchiyama offered attendees the opportunity to see and touch the bird sculptures. The next day, a special kamishibai presentation was held in the Gulab & Indru Watumull Atrium in Hawaiian Hall.
Kamishibai, meaning “theater on paper,” is a form of street-style storytelling that originated in Japan. Performed by a narrator who uses illustrated paper cards to tell a story, Mr. Uchiyama’s kamishibai brings to life the story of Hawaiian honeycreeper evolution.
Why should we care if honeycreepers go extinct?
Having evolved in isolation from a single ancestor over a span of five million years, these birds are known as the “jewels of Hawaiʻi.” As of today, more than half of the known honeycreepers have gone extinct, and the remaining twenty birds are classified as endangered.
Honeycreepers are an important part of Hawaiian culture – their feathers were incorporated into the beautiful featherwork pieces that were so important to Hawaiian royalty. They’re an important part of Hawaiʽi’s ecology – native birds evolved in conjunction with native plants, so they fertilize and disperse the seeds of those plants. But they’re also an important part of the planet’s overall biodiversity that you’ll only find here in the Islands.
The limited ranges and small population sizes of these species means that there are very few places where people can see these birds in the wild. These bird sculptures will allow Bishop Museum to dramatically improve our efforts to educate the public about the incredible evolution of the honeycreepers, as well as their status as endangered species. We will be able to take the sculptures to classrooms, to outdoor festivals, and to traveling exhibits.
“Bishop Museum is paving the way in bringing Natural History content to the blind and visually impaired. People can touch the sculptures. In fact, they were made with that in mind. Mr. Uchiyama has pioneered what he calls ‘touch carving,’ where he uses his carvings to educate the blind and visually-impaired about birds. The Museum has continued this initiative and developed a relationship with the Hawaiʻi Association for the Blind.” – Molly Hagemann, Collections Manager, Vertebrate Zoology
We look forward to continuing our mission to inspire our community and visitors through the exploration, celebration, and perpetuation of the extraordinary history, culture, and environment of Hawaiʻi and the Pacific. Visit us soon and see the birds on display in the Science Adventure Center.