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Engraved History

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful, engaging and interesting book this summer than the story behind the collection of copper plate engravings issued forth from Lahainaluna Seminary, a Maui school run by the Sandwich Islands Mission. Illustrations of Island towns and rural landscapes, portraits and objects of natural history and original maps and charts are just a few of the historical records found in this book, reminding us of an age before photography existed.

The printing house at Lahainaluna (completed in 1837) consisted of four rooms, and copper plate engravings were made in one small room and printed in the room directly below it.

Author and historian David Forbes takes us through the house, documenting the Engraving Project and the workers themselves.

The story begins with Lorrin Andrews, and the “bold and indefatigable pursuit by a missionary who trained a dozen Native Hawaiian boys to make copper engravings.” The collaboration between the American Protestant missionaries and the Hawaiian chiefs resulted “in one of the most literate populations in the world.”

This engraving experiment, which had a life span of just 10 years, though Lahainaluna School (a public high school), remains, had no precedent among other missionary operations in the Pacific, and at no time were similar engraving operations either proposed or commenced anywhere in Oceania.

“The Lahainaluna views are of a different nature,” the author writes. “They are unromanticized responses to the landscape of reality rather than the landscape of imagination. And despite their origin as drawings made by non-Hawaiians, they are images created by Hawaiian engravers and reveal a strong native response to the landscape.”

Engraved at Lahainaluna offers us a clear vision of Hawaii in the early-to-mid 1800s–a stark, dramatic, rugged place, on which the advances of Western-style education are noticeably apparent.

–Shantel Grace

A History of Printmaking by Hawaiians at the Lahainaluna Seminary, 1834 to 1844

David W. Forbes

Hawaiian Mission Children’s Society, Mission Houses Museum, 2012

232 pages, 177 illustrations $75