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Hawaiian artist Herb Kane dies at 82

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Hokulea. Hokule'a
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the 60-foot double-hulled Polynesian canoe which returned Monday from a successful voyage to and from Tahiti
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Hawaiian historian and artist Herb Kawainui Kane died Tuesday after a brief illness. Kane’s paintings have appeared on seven U.S. postage stamps.
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Luce Wing. This is Herb Kane's "Batlle At Nuuanu Pali". photo by Craig T. Kojima

Herb Kawainui Kane, a Hawaiian artist, historian and one of the founders of the Polynesian Voyaging Society who designed and helped build the voyaging canoe Hokule’a, died Tuesday after a brief illness.

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 Tuesday 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 had said: "If my work contributes to our comprehension of Hawaii’s past, that will ultimately become the greatest reward."

U.S. 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."

U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye said, "Herb was a hardworking and gentle man who personified the exploratory and artistic spirit of the Native Hawaiians. For most people, history is a dull matter, but when you saw a Herb Kane painting, you were energized and motivated to learn about the past. He was an accomplished historian, a Navy veteran, and one of the principal architects of the Hokule’a and the Polynesian Voyaging Society. His artwork captured both ancient and modern-day Hawaii and help preserve Hawaii’s unique culture for future generations. I’m going to miss Herb.

"I take some comfort knowing that he passed on the birthday of the Hokule’a. I know that Herb is somewhere, sailing."

Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi said, "I am deeply saddened by the passing of our respected and beloved kupuna, Herb Kawainui Kane. His deep respect and reverence for the culture of our islands, reflected by his talent as a world-renown artist, secures his place among history’s most influential Native Hawaiians."

Kane was born in 1928. He was raised on the Big Island in Waipio Valley and Hilo, and in 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 U.S. postage stamps, 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 Kane painting of the goddess Pele is on display at 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, Rapa Nui (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," published in 1998, describes the arts, skills, society and worldview 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.

Following Kane’s wishes, the family said there will be no public memorial services.

In lieu of flowers, monetary donations can be made in Kane’s memory to the Kanu O Ka Aina Charter School; P.O. Box 398; Kamuela, HI 96743.

Kane is survived by his wife, Deon; son, Dou; and two daughters, Jennifer and Susan.

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