Ancient Hawaiian Umeke Poi Calabash

Value (2006) | $20,000 Retail$30,000 Retail

It was my husband's grandmother's, given to her on her... her wedding, in about 1920, given to her by her great-aunt, who acquired the bowl in the 1880s. And it sat on my husband's grandmother's floor for 70 years. The kids used to get in it and spin around. And when they got too big, then they couldn't spin the bowl anymore.

I... I hear that story often; that's very funny.

Oh, yeah?

Yeah. This is an ancient Hawaiian whole wood poi calabash-- an Umeke Poi. These bowls made in Hawaii are unique in the Pacific. Everybody throughout the Pacific ate taro, but the Hawaiians where the only people who beat it into a thick paste, almost a soup. And therefore they took these low bowls that are known throughout the Pacific and made them, basically, into these high-walled, almost soup bowls. The best of these poi bowls copied the gourd, and this has a wonderful organic form. It's seat rests on a point, and it just seems to float on the table. Uh, the walls are very thin and it's cut out of the crotch of a tree. So that you have a core here... you have a core here... and you have a third core-- which is probably the branch of the tree-- here. This light sap wood that you see here dips down from the rim, three times around the bowl, which gives it a wonderful swirling pattern. So this is a hard bowl to make. It's dramatic, made by a nameless craftsman-- we don't know when-- sometime in ancient Hawaii; but we do know who did the repairs on it, and it has some wonderful repairs. Now, at each core, this is end grain on the core, so it's soft and it eventually rots out. And they all have repairs. So your repairs are on these three areas. These were put in the 1880s by a man named Herrick in Honolulu. He was a German repairman, who did a huge number of bowls, like, over 30 years. He repaired bowls for all of the elite. His trademark is just combining three or more different patches-- there's a big wooden patch here, then there are some small pegs around it and I think, over here, we can see a butterfly. And then the butterfly is pegged. So each repair itself becomes a little picture. And the bowl has a wonderful finish. You have never touched this bowl; it's never been refinished? And that's great. It still retains a little bit of the shellac finish that was probably done when Herrick repaired it, which you could see on the bottom. But it has wonderful patina. Now, what's very important in Hawaiian bowls is that you never finish the inside of the bowl. But when you look in here, you could see that this bowl has never been touched. I just think it's an outstanding piece and I would guess that, if this bowl appeared in a Honolulu antique shop, they would price it between $20,000 and $30,000. Easily.

Oh, my God. You're kidding.

And I would expect that it would reach the same at auction and perhaps even more at auction.

Wow. I think that's amazing. I-- I was too rough with it. I'll have to treat it more kindly. (laughing) No more spinning kids.

Appraisal Details

Honolulu, HI
Appraised value (2006)
$20,000 Retail$30,000 Retail
Honolulu, HI (August 26, 2006)
Tribal Arts

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