Two of the most stunning works of art commissioned for the Hawaii State Capitol are the tapestries that grace the chambers of the House of Representatives and the Senate. The tapestries are composed of geometric shapes; the tapestry in the Senate is colored in cool tones to represent the sea and sky, the tapestry in the House is colored in warm tones to represent the volcanic earth.
Last Friday, I happened to be in the House Chief Clerk's Office and stopped for a few minutes to watch Denise Liu put the finishing touches on their Christmas tree. As I was about to leave, a family of four, the Smith family from Arizona, came around the corner and stopped to hear the story of the tree. As it turned out, they were also hoping to see the tapestry in the chamber, but were disappointed that the room was locked.
Serendipitously, who should walk by but Lon Paresa, the Assistant Sergeant-at-Arms, who had the key to the Chamber door. Zachary Smith, the father, explained that the tapestry was done by his aunt and uncle, Ruthadell and Webster Anderson. Ruthadell is most often credited as the artist of the tapestries in both House and Senate, but according to Smith, his uncle Web Anderson had a hand in designing the pieces and Ruthadell was the primary weaver.
According to Baron Gushiken, who has been leading Capitol tours for decades, the tapestry is 39 feet tall, 25 feet wide at the top and 29 feet wide at the bottom. It has the appearance of a Hawaiian warrior's cape. The Andersons used 800 pounds of moth-proofed wool set against a heavy linen warp. There tapestry contains 49 panels, and 25 artisans worked with Anderson to tie about a million "giordes" knots within the weave.
Zachary Smith is a Regents Professor of Environmental and Natural Resources, Policy and Administration, Politics and International Affairs, at Northern Arizona University. Earlier in his career, he taught at the University of Hawaii at Hilo.