Some things, such as a finely turned bowl in a warm Hawaiian hardwood, become more beautiful with age and loving use. For many local families a calabash — a tradition at baby luau, weddings, funerals and other rites of passage — is not only a functional object, but a prized heirloom.
If you’ve been coveting a Hawaiian calabash, some fine specimens will be up for auction by Bonhams on Wednesday in Los Angeles, and bids will be taken by phone.
All but one of the bowls come from the Kahala Collection, acquired over a period of 30 years by a Honolulu resident who has requested anonymity. “All I can say is that he is an older Japanese-American man who lives on Kahala Beach,” said Fredric Backlar, a Bonhams specialist who worked with the collector and wrote the auction catalog.
The collection is “fascinating for its diversity, with a lot of variety between sizes and shapes,” Backlar said. The bowls from Maui “have this little shoulder ridge towards the upper rim, around the bowl.”
The clean-lined, elegant pieces are mostly made of kou wood in shades of gold, amber and dark brown. “You get that marbleized effect of the interior of the kou tree, the sap wood, which has a lighter color that they used inside the bowl,” he explained.
Not all of the bowls, valued from $2,000 to $18,000, were carved by hand, but those that were hail from the 19th century or earlier.
Among the more venerable pieces is a gold-hued bowl carved from the crotch of a kou tree, which belonged to Col. John Richardson, private attorney to Queen Liliuokalani. A sleek, dark, contemporary-looking calabash, dating to 1843, belonged to the Rev. James Hunnewell Kekela, the first Native Hawaiian Christian minister in the islands, and is being offered together with a Hawaiian Bible from the period.
Other Hawaiian antiques to be auctioned, among 140 works of African and Oceanic art in all, include poi pounders, a staff of state that belonged to Lydia K. Aholo, an adopted child of Liliuokalani, and three lei niho palaoa, necklaces with hook-shaped pendants made of marine ivory.
On Wednesday the state Legislature passed a bill banning Hawaii sales of ivory objects, with limited exceptions for antiques. As of this writing, it awaits Gov. David Ige’s signature to become law.
Because the lei niho palaoa are at least 100 years old, they are exempted from current California and federal ivory trade bans, Backlar said.
The auction starts at 7 a.m. Hawaii time. Phone bids will be taken. The catalog can be viewed at bonhams.com; to register to bid by phone, call 323-850-7500 at least 30 minutes before the start.
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Not unless you have documented evidence that the Hawaiian artifacts are at least 100 years old. The vast majority of people don’t.