Some blame Queen Victoria. She didn’t just moon about with Prince Albert; the royal couple busied themselves collecting stuff — all kinds of stuff, from all over the empire. It was so much stuff that a good bit of it became the Victoria and Albert Museum. Now that’s some serious collecting.
What is this mania, this psychological drive to collect items? As the Delbert McClinton song goes, "Well, it’s way too much / You’re never gonna get enough / You can pile it high / but you’ll never be satisfied. …"
Psychologists have even studied this compulsion, pretty much agreeing it’s a form of "self-definition" — your objects represent you, your inner you, in a way that your career or even family cannot. What you collect is always yourself, or so claim the deep thinkers. On the other hand, there’s also the hunt, the thrill of the chase, the sleuthing of hidden treasure. Humans are by nature hunter-gatherers.
You think you’re not a collector? Got more than one of anything? You’re a collector. It’s a human thing. Deal with it.
HAWAII ALL-COLLECTORS SHOW
Where: Blaisdell Exhibition Hall
When: From 3 to 9 p.m. today and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. tomorrow
Which brings us to Linda Lee. She collects Julene of Hawaii porcelain figures. Ask her why, and she shows you a Julene creation and says it’s just so darn cute.
Cute. There is vast depth to that shallow word. And Julene of Hawaii is too cute, apparently, to resist, with its little, shiny porcelain figures of Hawaiian children, Hawaiian royalty and Hawaiian menehune, rosy-cheeked and bow-lipped in the way of painted porcelain. Linda Lee has 40 or more of these fragile little creations in her office — she’s a pension consultant but would never advise you to sink your life savings into porcelain figures, no matter how cute they are — and she’s having an exhibit of them at the Hawaii All-Collectors Show, opening today.
"You know menehunes," said Lee. "You get one and before you know it, they multiply. My first one was a naked menehune holding up a leaf. Oh, so cute."
JULENE MECHLER was a Windward Oahu artist who sculpted these figures, made molds, cast them from porcelain materials and hand-painted each one. (Porcelain, although technically a ceramic material, is finer, harder and more translucent than traditional ceramics.) Her Hawaiian monarchy figures were a staple at Liberty House. Mechler died in 2005, in her 90s, and her heyday as a Hawaii ceramist was the 1950s through the ’70s. Mechler also wrote and illustrated Hawaii-themed coloring books.
"You just can’t find them any more," said Lee, explaining their attraction as collectibles. "There’s a lady in Kona with a really good collection. Mine is just OK. The Julene figures are also fragile, ’cause they’re porcelain — look, I got mine with a finger off, toe gone — but if you had a broken one, you could take it to Julene and she’d repair it. But when she died, that was it. I wonder what happened to the molds. "
There are a couple of Julene figures currently up for bid on eBay. One is listed at $2,950 and the other at $469.
The fragile and hand-created nature of the Julene figures make them collectible, naturally, in addition to the difficult-to-quantify cuteness factor. There are all sorts of things to catch the eye of hunter-gatherers at the Hawaii All-Collectors Show, however, and show creators Wayne and Ilene Wong are marking their 20th year.
According to Ilene Wong, that even includes a kind of comeback for pogs or milk caps. "There’s a hot spot on the Big Island where kids are playing them again," she said.
"Other collectibles shift over time; after 20 or 30 years, items gain a beautiful haze of nostalgia. We’re seeing that for aluminum and plastic items from the midcentury, the post-atomic era. If the item makes you feel something, then it could be your collectible."
Another feature of the show is the critical mass it generates of collectibles experts, such as Tomoko Young from Japan, who has volunteered to help identify and appraise Kokeshi dolls.