A Brighter Light

"Days of Grace" highlights paintings from Grace Hudson's year in Hawaii by Roberta Werdinger

On Saturday, September 6, a new show debuts at Ukiah's Grace Hudson Museum titled "Days of Grace: California Artist Grace Hudson in Hawaii." This landmark exhibit brings together for the first time many of the extant paintings and sketches that the Museum's namesake artist made in 1901 while staying in Hawaii. This artwork will be supplemented by pertinent artifacts, letters and photos, and rare works from other painters active in Hawaii with whom she had contact.

In 1900 Mendocino County painter Grace Carpenter Hudson (1865-1937) was in the middle of a thriving career, known for her sympathetic and lifelike portraits of the Native people she had known from childhood. Wedded since 1890 to John Hudson, a medical doctor who had left the field to devote himself full-time to study Pomo languages and culture, Grace found herself exhausted in her role as sole breadwinner. The Hudsons decided to spend some time apart: John took a job at Chicago's Field Columbian Museum, while Grace headed to the Hawaiian Islands to recover her health and take stock of her life and career.

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Taking up residence at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Honolulu, and later in Hilo on the Big Island, Grace's hiatus from painting was short-lived. "She discovered a really fascinating land and people and started to paint them," Museum Director Sherrie Smith-Ferri, who co-curated the exhibit with Carpenter Family Historian Karen Holmes, says. Grace produced 26 consecutively numbered oils plus quite a few sketches during the 11 months she stayed in Hawaii before re-uniting with John and, after some travels, returning home to Ukiah. Some of these works were sold or given to friends when Grace was in Hawaii and later when she returned to the mainland; many of them have remained in private hands. Only a few of them have been shown before. The curators did extensive research to track down her Hawaiian work, locating 14 of her 23 existing numbered oils, plus a number of sketches. Through the generosity of many private lenders and institutions, most of these pieces will be shown in the "Days of Grace" exhibit. The exhibit will thus document and assemble together Grace's Hawaiian work for the first time.

The work includes portraits of Native Hawaiian and Asian women and children, and lush small landscapes and seascapes of the Islands themselves. The Hawaiian paintings feature more saturated colors than those in Grace's usual Tonalist palette, the result of working under a tropical sun with buoyed spirits. Smith-Ferri comments, "I think it is some of Grace's best work." Holmes adds, "While the Hudsons' year apart tested their marriage, it ended up strengthening it." It also strengthens the viewer's appreciation of a California painter whose intimate portraits broadened to encompass a new subject matter for one important year.

"Days of Grace: California Artist Grace Hudson in Hawaii" runs from September 6 until December 28, 2014. An extensive catalog for the show is available in the Museum Gift Shop. Several special activities in tandem with the exhibit are planned, including an opening reception on Saturday, September 6 featuring a dramatic reading of John and Grace's Hawaiian letters, and a "Grace in Hawaii Celebration Luau" on Saturday, September 13.

The Grace Hudson Museum is at 431 S. Main St. in Ukiah and is a division of the City of Ukiah's Community Services Department. The Museum is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 am to 4:30 pm, and Sunday from noon to 4:30 pm. General admission is $4, $10 per family, $3 for students and seniors, and free to members on the first Friday of the month. For more information please go to www.gracehudsonmuseum.org

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