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Artist Herb Kane dies at age 82

By Gregg K. Kakesako and Gary Kubota

Honolulu Star-Advertiser

LAST UPDATED: 6:10 p.m. HST, Mar 9, 2011

Herb Kawainui Kane, a Hawaiian artist, historian and a founder of the Polynesia Voyaging Society who designed and helped build the voyaging canoe Hokule'a, died yesterday.

The Kona resident was 82.

Billy Richards, one of the original crew members of the Hokule'a which set sail for Tahiti in 1976, said in an e-mail to friends that it was appropriate that Kane chose " Hokule'a's birthday to take his final voyage."

Friends had gathered at Kualoa Beach park last night to mark the "birth place" of the double hull canoe which was launched from that site on March 8, 1975. Prayers were said for Kane and fellow crewman, Ben Finney, who is ailing.

On his website Kane said: "If my work contributes to our comprehension of Hawaii's past, that will ultimately become the greatest reward."

In paying tribute to Kane, Sen. Daniel Akaka said: "Herb Kane helped the world recognize the history and culture of the Native Hawaiian people through his art. He showed ancient Hawaiians as they were, explorers, seafarers, trailblazers in land and resource management. His beautiful portraits displayed on stamps, in National Parks, and in museums continue to inspire people around the world.  Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends during this difficult time."

Kane's passing also was noted on his website. 

Daniel K. Akaka Jr., the son of the U.S. senator, said on the website that: "Herb Kane was a titan and a giant amongst Hawaiian historians ... His works will continue to inspire generations of students of Hawaiian culture and those who love Hawaii."

Kane was born in 1928, he was raised on the Big Island in Waipio Valley and Hilo, and Wisconsin.

After serving in the Navy he studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where he received a master's degree in 1953, and at the University of Chicago.

His paintings have appeared on seven postage stamps for the U.S. Postal Service, as well as stamps for the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and French Polynesia. Kane's Hawaii commemorative stamp for the U.S. Postal Service, celebrating 50 years of statehood, was released in August 2009. Kane's painting on the stamp is of a surfer riding a wave beside a couple surfing an outrigger canoe. 

A painting of the goddess Pele is on display at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

In 1975, Kane's research on Polynesian canoes and voyaging led to his participation in the Polynesian Voyaging Society, where he designed and helped build the Hokule'a. Kane also served as its first captain in 1975. 

Hokule'a has navigated more than 110,000 miles without instruments including, several Hawaii-Tahiti voyages, and voyages to New Zealand, Easter Island, Tonga, the Marquesas Islands, the Cook Islands, Micronesia and Japan. 

As a design consultant, Kane worked on resorts in Hawaii and the South Pacific and a cultural center in Fiji.

Kane authored and illustrated the book "Pele, Goddess of Hawaii's Volcanoes" in 1987, and "Voyagers" in 1991. Another illustrated book, "Ancient Hawaii August," published in 1998, describes the arts, skills, society and world-view of the Polynesians.

He was selected as a Living Treasure of Hawaii in 1984.

In September, Kane unveiled a new display of his paintings at King Kamehameha's Kona Beach Hotel depicting early Hawaiian lifestyles and legends, through modern day.

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