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Relief Map Preservation Fund

April 18, 2017

“These maps are jewels. When I've had visitors to campus, I've often taken them to see them because they can give visitors, faculty, and students an understanding of the geography of the islands that flat maps and pictures cannot. They are also a connection to a time in history when the making of plaster relief maps was an important art. They are works of art and artisanship in their own right.”

—Dr. Robert Bley-Vroman, UH Mānoa Chancellor & initial donor to the Relief Map Preservation Fund

Preserving the story of Hawai‘i

The story of Hawai‘i and its people is a story about the land. The ‘aina, as it is called the Hawaiian language, is at the centerpiece of Polynesian culture. A proud and passionate love of the land is at the heart of all Hawaiian customs, language, the hula, chants, native songs, popular music, art, history, geography, archeology, traditions, religion, and even the state’s politics. A commitment to loving, honoring and preserving the land is also a dedication to preserving the story of the land – its features, its beauty and its use. 

One-of-a-kind teaching tool

The University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa possesses a one-of-a-kind teaching resource that helps tell the story of the land. Displayed in the lobby of St. John’s Hall are three-dimensional ‘relief maps’ that have aided and enhanced our teaching and learning for almost 80 years. These relief maps of the seven primary Hawaiian Islands were constructed in 1936 by Richards Quinn and Robert Choy for the College of Agriculture to show agriculture in the islands. One other copy of the O‘ahu relief map was made for the military and is housed at Pearl Harbor. The maps of other islands Ni‘ihau, Kaua‘i, Maui, Lana‘i, Moloka‘i and Hawai‘i are one of a kind. The molds for these maps have long since disappeared and probably were destroyed.

These historic maps are a wonderful teaching tool for K-12 students, UH Mānoa undergraduates (Hawaiian studies, geography, natural sciences, tropical agriculture), and a constant stream of student groups that visit each semester to view these maps. Students from numerous classes spend at least one lecture in the lobby using this unique resource as a teaching tool to provide perspective to their class.

Wear and tear

Like most teaching tools (and works of art), time has a way of diminishing their initial luster. These masterworks are in need of refurbishing as the years and use have caused fading and wear marks. The plaster has developed cracks and losses as a result of moving the maps, and from touching by visitors over the decades since the maps were created. Additionally, the surfaces of the maps are covered with an accumulation of dirt, grime and oily residue.

Given the artistic nature of the maps and the expertise required to refurbish these works of art, a professional art preservation company will be engaged to carry out the delicate work.

For each map the following work will be carried out:

• Remove surface dirt and grime with appropriate solutions.
• Consolidate areas of flaking paint and damaged plaster with appropriate adhesives.
• Fill and texture areas of paint and plaster loss.
• Paint with highest quality professional coatings.
• Apply a final coat of synthetic resin varnish to map surfaces.
• Inspect map tables for longevity and possible reinforcement needs.
• Explore the possibility of installing Plexiglas coverings on the maps for additional preservation

The current estimated cost for completing this work on these seven maps and allowing these pieces of art to continue as teaching tools for many years to come is $75,000.

Your donation to this important cause will be instrumental in preserving the story of the land.

Naming opportunities are available for the relief maps and/or the St. Johns lobby for companies or individual donors who are interesting in underwriting a meaningful portion of this preservation project.

Questions? / More Information

If you would like to learn how you can support UH students and programs like this, please contact us at 808-956-8700 or send us a message.