Norfolk pine bowl by Pat Kramer, flower form with feet, turned and carved
Pat Kramer’s work is widely collected and appreciated especially for his original forms. His technical excellence pairs with an irreverence, humor and wit that comes through in his work. Pat’s traditional Hawaiian forms are always favorites. His footed vessels, carved and turned, are exceptional too. From the artist:
“Pat Kramer is a woodturner emphasizing bowls, boxes and hollow vessels. His pieces are exhibited in a number of galleries and range from traditional Hawaiian forms to contemporary studio work. He has a background in pottery, boat building, furniture making, constructed boxes, and engineering.
Pat has worked with wood since 1958, and returned to a passion for making bowls and vessels in 1986. The sculptural possibilities of woodturning have been his present focus with wood.
The truth is, while this is probably what you would expect to hear in an artist’s statement, the story, as often is the case for most of us, is a bit more involved.
When I was about 9 years old, I got my first job building architectural scale models. I couldn’t believe that these people were paying me money to do this. I learned a lot about topography, making little sponge trees and how to plant little surprises into a clients scale model.
I went on to apprentice (slave, gopher and maid) to a wood sculptor. It was a summertime job and I was 11. I apprenticed and in return got to enroll in other art classes for free. It was a good trade and led me to ceramics and sculpture in clay. I then apprenticed to a ceramic instructor and as well to a mold maker. Back then we had a guy who would come around every month or so and make molds for pouring ceramic pieces. He would take the pile of strange and eclectic artifacts that had collected for the month and make plaster molds of them. They could then be reproduced by pouring clay slip into them. This was another fun job and it eventually led to teaching ceramics to younger kids (I was 13 by then). It was another trade for art classes.
Working with wood was accelerated by my uncle, who had a passion for marquetry. It was fascinating stuff, and an introduction to the fantastic woods that were out in the world.
By the time I entered high school, I was apprenticing to a boat builder. This man didn’t say much…. ever. He had exceptional skill in his craft and I pretty much had to pay attention and keep redoing things to learn from him. One day he came to me and, while plopping a set of plans in my hands, said, “Build this”. That’s pretty much all he said. I looked at the plans and thought, “how bad could it be”, building a 27-foot sloop, I mean. I was in way over my head. I was also at that age with too much time and enthusiasm to know better. I did learn a lot from that experience and remained pretty much penniless throughout the build. I think there is really something wrong with a teenager saving up for silicon bronze boat nails.
Furniture making came next and, like so many other people, I discovered that there is never enough room, tooling, or time to make furniture. I needed something that could be finished in my lifetime. Boxes were the ticket. I loved wooden containers, all kinds of containers. Jewelry boxes were fun and kept evolving into organic shapes. But after a few hundred dovetails and a thousand containers later, the need for precision joints and precise angles was gone. I pursued woodturning as a way to do containers that were more about the shape than the method of fabrication. I still do a lot of containers, and these days focus more on the shape and feel of the piece rather than the functionality. The quality of work is very important to me so technique is always a factor.”
From the artist:
Traditional Hawaii Bowls (umeke laau).
Any discussion of what is traditional is likely to evoke some difference in opinion, regardless of the culture that it originates in The Hawaiian culture has deep roots in bowl making and much of we know of the methods used to make them is still surrounded by a bit of mystery. One of the things to keep in mind is that we are talking about an interrupted culture. Much of the available information that we have regarding the making of bowls was Kapu and was considered to be knowledge that gave Mana to the maker. This would increase the standing and the respect of the maker within the culture, and maintain an open channel to the spirit of all things. The knowledge for the making of the bowls needed to be protected in order to keep the connection with the spirit that guided it pure and unbroken, and was passed orally from one generation to another. Bowls were not simply utilitarian but maintained in some religious and spiritual stature. There was a sense of tribute and respect for the wood, the process of creation and receiving of the fruits of such a creation.
The wood that was used was under the protection of chiefs that assumed stewardship of the land. The land was immortal and people were not. People belonged to the land. It was important to have permission or be commissioned to use wood from the land and to do this type of work risking some unhealthy consequences otherwise. Wood was taken from trees that were felled only after properly transporting the spirits within the tree to a new home.
We have fine examples of the work done by ancient bowl makers, and there is a considerable amount that we don’t know about the way this came to be. It is a mystery to me how the birth of this art come about and how it come to assume such a high position in the ancient Hawaiian culture. The crafting of wooden bowls far exceeded the functional requirements needed to serve their purpose.
If we look at what other peoples were doing during the same period, one thing is clear: throughout the Pacific there was not this great effort to take a seemingly functional item and elevate it to such high standards. There are no comparable examples similar to the magnificent bowls in the Hawaiian culture in other areas of Polynesia during this time.
Hawaiian bowls were made with meticulous attention to detail and refinement. Getting the shape and figure of the wood perfect was a primary objective. The finish of wooden bowls was also highly refined and of great importance. The making a bowl was a long and careful procedure.
The time of the ancient Hawaii culture as most of us associate with the traditional Hawaiian bowl might be assumed to be commensurate with installation of the Kapu system. It is estimated that somewhere between 1095 and 1120 A.D.the Kapu system was put in place with the installation of Pili (Pilikaeae) a prince from Tahiti who would insure that the purity of lineage was present to receive the chiefly mana of the spirits. It is believed by some historians that this concept had originated in South American cultures.
The dynasty of which some 28 generations later Kamehameha I would become a descendent had been put in place, and it would displace the family based culture of the people already there.
Travel toHawaii had been done for centuries before this time and travel between Tahiti and Hawaii was apparently common. Travel to other parts of the South Pacific continued for a period of time, then suddenly ceased. There is a period several centuries before the arrival of Europeans when communication between Hawaii and other parts of the South Pacific are nonexistent. No explanation exists other than later writings by King Kalakaua regarding the possible disappearance of isle landmarks to guide voyaging mariners. It is also possible that the appropriation and development of lands much larger than any they had known in the South Pacific demanded much attention, leaving little time for voyaging.
Those who visited their southern homelands may also have found that shifting alliances had made them less welcome.
This would be a time of isolation essentially continuing until the arrival of Captain James Cook in 1778.
Perhaps it was this time of isolation that led to the birth of traditions unique to Hawaii. It would be a time that could lead to the making of more permanent vessels showing great beauty. It could also lead to a body of knowledge in the making of these vessels that would have developed without the influence of outsiders. Such a body of knowledge would have been protected. The passing of this knowledge would be to others worthy of maintaining the integrity of its use.
Although the Kapu system and the culture surrounding it continued after Kamehameha united the Islands in 1810, it was abandoned shortly after his death. In 1819 the Kapu system was ceremoniously put aside and much of the oral history and knowledge kept in trust by the Kahuna of that system lost its place in the culture. Much of the accumulated knowledge of ancient Hawaii was destined to be abandoned or lost forever.
In our attempts to understand what makes a bowl traditional or not, probably no one today would burn out the center of log and remove the rest with rock implements, even for the sake of authenticity. Nor would they go through the endless stages of seasoning to remove offensive tastes and odors, then rubbing with different abrasive rocks, coral, shark skin, charcoal and Ulu and bamboo leaves to get to the final polish of the bowl.
If the ancient Hawaiian culture had not been interrupted, no one can say what those bowl makers descendants would be doing today. The chances are that bowls would be even more refined, given that we have better tools and methods.
The ancient bowl makers did exquisite work. They have left us with examples that say that traditional shapes are not clunky, or unrefined. We may never fully understand how these bowls were made or what the driving force was in the making of them. What we can do is to appreciate the beauty and sense of integrity of spirit that is embedded in this tradition.
We are woodturners and as such, have our own sensibilities toward wood and how we do our craft. I think it is an important that making traditional style Hawaiian bowls have a sense of respect for the lineage from which it came. Creating a bowl with thoughtful attention to the shape of the bowl and the beauty that is in the wood requires some thoughtful inspiration. The bowl assumes its own life by putting our focus and attention into the making of it, and reflects the spirit in which that is done.
We might ask the question “If the culture had not been interrupted what would the descendents of the ancient bowl makers be doing now?” I think that is a question for modern bowl turners to answer.
Authenticity is not am issue that can be addressed when we are making a bowl. We are not part of the culture that established these traditional pieces. We need to decide whether we want to imitate or celebrate the legacy that preceded us. Imitation has no authenticity. If we do bowls that are based on traditional pieces, it is a tribute to a previous time and sensibility. The bowls that we make now should be a part of the continuation of the spirit that created that legacy. We have no choice other than to decide individually our way to celebrate the spirit that gave life to this tradition.
I think that carrying on the making of traditional style bowls is a good thing. If we can do work that respects the roots from which it came and put a piece of ourselves into it, it certainly does not diminish the legacy that inspires it. In its simplest form our tribute to the traditional bowl would be nothing more than doing the best we know how to make a bowl that has a shape that we feel good about, and is a canvas for the painting that is the beauty of the wood. To strive to put the two together is a worthwhile endeavor, and It is safe to assume that many ancient bowls demonstrated the importance of doing so.
When I am doing a traditional style bowl, it is simply my attempt to make a piece that embodies the classic appeal of traditional shapes. I am careful to show a sense of appreciation for the beauty of the wood and the elegant shapes of traditional bowls. I do this in my own style of turning, taking the time and attention necessary for me to create a piece that has a sense of wholeness, encouraging the shape, wood figure and color to complement each other. I am finished with the bowl when it ‘feels’ done.
The Names We Use
There seems to be a fair amount of confusion about what to call a traditional style bowl. In the interest of finding a more accurate way to refer to these bowls, I think the following information might be helpful.
The calabash is a name that, in present day use, commonly describes what is thought to be a traditional Hawaiian bowl. The word has been taken from the gourd of the same name and is probably Spanish in origin. In modern usage, “calabash” would seem to refer to Hawaiian-style bowls, while the original use was a general reference to a vessel made of gourd, wood, or other materials, such as stone. It did not indicate a specific shape or material. Some think that the calabash, as a wooden vessel, distinguishes itself from the ipu (gourd). This is not the best assumption, especially when we consider that the term calabash is derived from the gourd.
In the same way, the Hawaiian word “‘umeke” would not describe a wooden bowl, or a certain style of bowl. “‘Umeke” alone does not indicate what a bowl would look like, what it would be used for, or how big it would be. ‘Umeke is a vessel of some sort, and ‘umeke la`au is a wooden vessel, which can have many sizes and shapes and serve many different functions.
Types of bowls
Classifications of bowls is based on basic use and size as well as on shape.
While not strictly referring to size and shape, examples of basic types of vessels would be as follows:
Ipu Kai would probably be a gourd used as a food container and most likely for an individual.
Umeke or Umeke Kai would be an general reference to all containers gourd or wood, although it is generally accepted these days to be thought of presently as a wooden vessel.
Umeke laau would be literally be a wooden gourd or what we think of a calabash.
Vessels that are classified more by their size and not necessarily by their function:
Kumauna are bowls that are extra large, and not considered to be portable.
Pakaka are large and flat and usually were used in food preparation.
Kepakepa are similar to kumauna and used in much of same ways. It differs in the shape of the rim. If it is low in height then it would be considered to be a Pakaka.
Palewa are of medium size. These were usually used for serving food for a family rather than an individual.
Most of us are inclined to refer to bowls by thinking of their basic shapes. I am using the term style and shape interchangeably in this context.
Wood Types Used For Ancient Bowls
The woods that were most commonly used, during the ancient period, for bowls and platters were kou (Cordia Subcordata), milo (Thespesia Populnea), wiliwili (Erythrina Sandwicensis), and hau (Hibiscus Tiliaceus). Wooden bowls (‘umeke la`au) and platters, as well as containers for fishing apparatus and for the storage of precious articles pertaining to the worship of the gods, were hollowed and carved from these woods.
Kou was the wood most widely used for vessels, both large and small; milo was the second choice. Both of these woods were easier to work than the harder woods, and did not warp or crack as easily. Kou and milo were not eaten by wood-boring insects. At one time large groves of kou were present in the islands. Sometime in the early 1760’s a red mite infestation took the species to near extinction. The kou that we presently know are a mutation from the original species and do not grow as large or have timber that is quite as dense.
Wiliwili and hau were generally used as containers for fishing equipment but not for food or fish, as they were prone to attack by wood-borers. When used in service out at sea, they had the advantage of being buoyant and the salt water protected the wood from attack by insects
Woods that were hard and tough, such as kauila, lama, uhiuhi, kolea, ‘ahakea, and ohi`a ha, would crack easily if worked as thin as bowls and platters, especially if they were subjected to wet use and then dried in the sun. These woods would also warp and split open, and were very heavy to carry. Kukui and ‘ulu were soft enough to work with but had a tendency to become infected with dry rot. ‘Iliahi, and naio would spoil the smell and taste of food, as the strong scent of the oils in the wood were difficult to remove.
Kamani would warp and crack if used for a thin vessel. When worked thick, it was useful for making refuse containers (ipu `aina). Kamani was also used for potions and medicine containers, and some references are made to its use for weapons.
The Names of Various Kinds of Bowls and Their Uses
There were many forms of this type of bowl, most of which were broad and low. They were made principally for the cutting up of meat such as pig, dog, and large fishes into pieces that were easier to work with (poke or pakaka). Sometimes large pieces of pork (kaka pua`a) and large fishes were dry rolled in salt (ka`a pa`akai) in this type of container.
This vessel, the barrel of ancient times, was a very large and high bowl. Due to its size and great weight, it was not carried around. Typically, this bowl was used to hold poi, sweet potato or hard-pressed potato. Sometimes the initial mixing of poi was done in this kind of container; whenever some poi was needed for eating, a portion was scooped out and placed into a smaller bowl such as as ku’oho or palewa, which held enough food for an entire family.
This bowl was similar in form to the kumauna and ku`oho, and was used for practically the same purposes. It was carved with longitudinal flat surfaces all around it. Sometimes there were just a few flat areas and sometimes flat surfaces coved the whole outside of the bowl. If it was carved low and broad, it was called pakaka.
Palewa or Ku`oho
This was a medium-sized bowl of medium weight that could be conveniently carried. Rather than each person having an individual bowl, such a puaniki, puahala or opaka, the family would eat together from a ku`oho. Although similar in shape and use, the examples that I have seen indicate the palewa is wider in relation to its height, and the ku`oho appears taller, although not taller than its width.
Puahala (tall) and Palewa
Ku`oho (taller) and Palewa (shorter)
This is bowl, is taller than it is wide. Its shape resembles the drupe of the pandamus, which accounts for its name. There were various sizes of puahala. If they were small and fairly low, they were called puaniki, which was for individual use and probably for the favorite child (punahele) of the grand parents.
This was one of the most artistic bowls and was famous among the people of Maui. It was made in various sizes ranging from small to large and had a number of longitudinal flat surfaces resembling the facets of a diamond. The upper edge was carved inward, and the exterior was sloped down and in like the sides of a top, and widened at the bottom to form a base. This bowl was for individual use. If the bowl was carved broad and deep, it was used as an Ipu kai or as a receptacle for precious items of the ancestors.
Simple Facets and designs of more complex `’umeke `opaka
This was a bowl intended for individual use. It was of various shapes and sizes. Poi bowls such as the puahala, kumauna, kepakepa, and palewa or ku’oho when carved small for individual use were called puaniki.
A small personal bowl, it was sometimes thought to be the same as a puaniki (small bowl) or poi bowl. It was not a specific size or shape; it would be something considered appropriate for the child receiving it. At the time of weaning, when a favorite child was ready for his first hard food, the bowl would be given to him as part of his birthright and would remain with him as a personal item for the rest of his life. Traditionally, a tree that was most likely planted by the child’s grandparents would be used to make the bowl. Wood from that tree would be used to make the mana `ai, and another tree, would be planted for the generation to follow. A mana `ai was to be used only by the person to whom it was given; it was thought to have been spoiled if used by anyone else.
This is a rather low bowl, with its upper edge shaped with an inward slant, and carved in bulging form (nepunepu). The sides and base were extra thick. This bowl was made from both wood and gourds. In this bowl, various kinds of fish were salted. The heads of palatable fish, the bones, and internal organs were mixed with a kukui-nut condiment. The kidneys of squid and seaweeds were also prepared in this type of bowl, as were the internals of pigs, fat from pigs, the sauce of sea urchin, `opihi and black crab. There are other delicacies that were made in this type of bowl, and all were medicines for the health of mankind.
Ipu Holoi Lima
This is known as finger bowl and had many sizes and shape, from small to fairly large. There were various ways in which the insides were carved. Some had carved handles and there was an incised inner ridge on which poi was rubbed from the fingers. They were used, as well, for washing hands before and after meals. If wooden containers were not available, gourds were used. This is a fairly modern container in terms of ancient bowl making, and is likened to the wash basin of that era.
This is a wooden spittoon. It was forbidden to spit anywhere but in cuspidors and children were taught this at an early age. An ipu kuha done to prevent the theft of their spittal by a sorcerer (kahuna ‘ana ‘ana) who, it was believed, could use it to cause the loss of their life.
These containers were made in various sizes and shapes. Those who didn’t have wooden spittoons used gourds instead. Most of these receptacles were carved with straight perpendicular sides and had handles for grasping with the fingers, and most were made of Kou.
Fragrant leaves of plants from the mountains were usually placed within them before use, but people living near the seashore used sand. When these spittoons were cleaned, their contents were burned or washed out to sea.
Sometimes the contents were buried.
This is commonly called ipu ‘ala or perfume container. It was carved in the form of half of a coconut shell and was made in various sizes. A cover was made so that the fragrance within would not escape. The container housed perfumes made from sandalwood, mokihana berries, `olapa, kupaoa, `api`ipi`i, `olena, maile lauli`i, and other fragrant plants and extracts.
The `Awa Bowl
This was a bowl very similar in shape to a coconut half shell, except that it was much wider and had a narrow half-spout or nozzle at one end, as well as and a handle at the other. The examples we are most familiar with are heavily sculpted, although much simpler forms have been found. This was a fairly deep container and the `awa was thoroughly mixed and strained in it. After this was done, the `awa was poured into individual drinking cups called `apu `awa, or kilu, which were made of coconut shells, cut in half, or gourds that were similar in size and shape.
Kilu and Apu `Awa
These are names used for cups for water and `awa. They were made of coconut shells cut in half or halved gourds that were similar in size and shape. Some called these cups kilu and some called them `Apu`awa. Kilu would have been a cup, and apu `awa would have been a cup that more accurately described a kilu set aside for the use of `awa.
This was a container for fishing gear such as hooks, lines, and sinkers. Gourds formed a majority of these types of containers. They were also made from wiliwili and hau. These containers were buoyant and would not sink with their contents. Fishhooks and lines were highly valued as they were invested with divine power by the deities of the fishing art, and they were a means of sustenance in ancient Hawaii.
`Umeke ‘Unu or `Aina
`Umeke `aina is probably the more common name for a bowl for refuse. This was a bowl similar to the ipu kai, but with much heavier and thicker and construction. This was a container for fish bones, potato and taro peelings, banana skins, and other scraps from the meal table. This type of container has been noted for its use as human refuse collector. Examples of this type of bowl show decoration applied to them with the bones of animals and humans, and the teeth of humans. It was thought that the teeth of defeated enemies would sometimes have been used as decoration for the refuse container, making a strong statement.
Na ‘umeke `Apu La`au
These were of various shapes and patterns used for the preparation of medicinal potions. They were usually carved with depressions on the edge used to place the medicine pounding stick. A place was also made from which to pour the potion, although sometimes the depression that held the pounding stick was also used for pouring.
A different type of bowl was used for washing, preparing and the final straining of the herbs used making medicinal potions. This was called a kaka. These vessels were made from kou, milo, kamani, `ulu, and other woods suitable for the purpose. The pounding sticks and beaters used in the preparation of these potions were of heavy woods such as ‘ohi`a, kauila, uhiuhi, and other dense woods. They were shaped similar to baseball bats. Sometimes stones were hewn for this purpose.”
The size listed in the actual size; size on the additional information tab includes information when packed for shipping.