Linking Past & Future

Aha‘ula o Kamehameha Kunuiākea   by Brook Kapukuniahi Parker

Aha‘ula o Kamehameha Kunuiākea

by Brook Kapukuniahi Parker

In Hawaii, feathered garments denoted status and as such could be worn only by the elite. The 'ahu 'ula (cape) and mahiole (helmets) were worn by the most powerful chiefs, or ali'i, and were sometimes given as gifts.

In 2013, work began on a series of 14 capes, representing each of the Hawaiian leaders depicted in the painting, Aha‘ula o Kamehameha Kunuiākea, by Brook Kapukuniahi Parker, an artist and Hawaiian historian to represent our and our Legacy Partners’ commitments made to support the restoration of Hawaii’s forests, endangered birds, and other species.

These intricate pieces are being created by renowned Hawaiian featherwork artist, Rick San Nicolas. Both San Nicolas and Parker are direct descendants of King Kamehameha. The artworks were commissioned by the Hawaiian Legacy Reforestation Initiative. 

“I sought advisement from experts at the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum in Honolulu when starting the collection. It is such an honor to work on this project, and it represents a critical continuation of Hawaiian featherwork. Few, if any, other modern pieces of this type are available to the public, and it is estimated in historic accounts that there are less than 30 ancient Hawaiian featherwork cloaks in existence worldwide,” said San Nicolas.

“The reforestation efforts spearheaded by HLH and HLRI have re-established critical habitat for many of these endemic Hawaiian species, some of which are endangered,” said Jeff Dunster, HLRI Executive Director. “This ongoing featherwork collection provides an important link between Hawaiian history and our efforts to preserve these rare forests for future generations.”

The Collections


The Artists

Ricardo J. San Nicolas

Kumu Hulu Nui (Feather Master of Ancient Hawaiian Featherwork)

I keep the old traditions of Hawaiian featherwork alive though I now reside in California but was born and grew up in Hawai’i.  For me, my wife and four daughters have participated in a halau here in Modesto, CA and had many years of hula competition, and all traditional aspects of halau life. I was first inspired in feather work by the work of Auntie Mary Lou Kekuewa and Paulette Kahalepuna.  After reading their book and admiring all of the illustrations I knew that my calling was to work with the most noted Hawaiian experts of this heritage art.  I taught myself how to make my first feather lei, then first hatband, and this began my life in featherwork. I have done my featherwork through research, talking to Kupuna, listening intently to all that want to share their story and process. Through their dedication, I was able to position myself to help perpetuate the art of Hawaiian Featherwork for generations to come.

I was just bestowed the honored title of Ke Kumu Hulu Nui, meaning "Feather Master of Ancient Hawaiian Featherwork" by John R.Kaha‘i Topolinski. This is a great honor to me and I will carry that title on for many years to come and carry on the traditions that will be entrusted to me as well. All of my featherwork is done in the spirit of Old Hawai'i and to replicate the work of Ancient Hawaiians to the best of my ability. I was asked by Hula Master and Kumu Hulu, John Kaha'i Topolinski (Waipio, HI) to be his student in featherwork of Old Hawai'i. He knew that I was self-taught and he himself already appreciated the quality and authenticity of my work. He is considered an authority of ancient Hawaiian featherwork and that statement can be supported by many Kumu Hula and well known Hawaiians in Hawai'i to support my statement.

His reason for asking me to be a student of his is to further teach me on traditions of his Kumu Hulu in the past who have passed on traditions in the Old way of 'Olelo Kahiko, stories of Old Hawai'i told to him in Words, not written or recorded. He is asking me to keep these traditions alive and great humility and humbleness, I accepted.

I am a Certified Merrie Monarch Vendor which is selected by committee as who they feel is the best at their craft in all of Hawai'i and for that matter, anywhere.  I have been a Certified Merrie Monarch Vendor since the year 2000. I have made hundreds of feather lei(s) and hundreds of feather lei hatbands.  I am also a skilled cape maker and a maker of mahiole (feathered helmets), as well as maker of traditional kahili.  I enjoy teaching my art with any opportunity that comes about.  I have taught many feather lei workshops from Washington, Oregon, California, Hawai‘i and Japan.

In 2014 I was selected as the first Artist in Residence at the Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park.  I was there to share my featherwork with the many visitors of the Park through the month of May, 2014.  I have since been invited back in 2015 and again for the 100th anniversary of HVNP in August, 2016.   This was an application/competition process which I was chosen among 100+ applicants.  I present a large exhibit of Hawaiian featherwork and demonstrations throughout the month.  In 2013 I was commissioned by Hawaiian Legacy Forest to “bring a painting to life” of the “Aha Ula O Kamehameha Kunuiakea” by Brook Parker.  The painting of 14 high chiefs with all of their regalia I have been asked to produce.  Fourteen feather cloaks, 14 feathered helmets, one pair kahili, and one replica of a Ki‘i Hulu Manu (feathered god image), Kūkailimoku.  I estimated that this project would take all of 15 years to complete and I am now in the process of the the 4th cloak and helmet.


Brook Kapukuniahi Parker

Brook Kapūkuniahi Parker is an artist of his native Hawaii, raised in Wailau, Kahalu'u, O’ahu. Brook's family roots run deep in the islands being a direct descendant of John Palmer Parker, founder of the Parker Ranch on the Big Island of Hawaii. John Parker's wife, Rachael Keli'ikipikanekaolohaka Ohiaku was a granddaughter of Kamehameha the Great and his wife Kanekapolei. The majority of Brook's art portrays the deep love and admiration he has for his island ancestors. As a little boy, Brook was greatly influenced in the arts by his father David, a gifted, self taught artist and painter, Hawaiian historian, genealogist and writer. As Brook grew older his father's interest became his interest and with no formal art school training, his father's library of art books, Hawaiian history books & books of other interest became his other teachers.

As an artist, Brook has illustrated numerous children's books for Aha Punana Leo Hawaiian Language Emersion Schools. Other clients include Disney’s Aulani Hotel, Kamehameha Publishing, The University of Hawaii at Manoa and Hilo, State of Hawaii Board of Education, Conservation council of Hawaii, Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale Sanctuary in Maui, Hui Malama o Waimanalo and ongoing projects with the Pacific American Foundation to name a few.

Brook is married to the former Drena- Jo Kauakoko’ipohaiapuninamoku Kalani and they are the proud parents of five children, two sons and three daughters. They currently reside in Kalihi, O’ahu.


Alan Wilkinson

Alan Wilkinson was born in Glendale, California, in 1943.  He came to Hawai`i in 1963 to surf for a while and ended up staying.  He attended the University of Hawaii in a Bachelors of Fine Arts program, majoring in sculpture with a minor in Asian art history.  Financial reality changed his career course, starting with a job in a local shipyard working on large wooden vessels.  In 1968, that job ended and Wilkinson Koa Furniture began.  The learning curve was steep, although training seminars with Sam Maloof, James Krenov, Ian Kirby, Alan Peters, and especially, a three week intensive with Art Carpenter in 1976 accelerated his understanding of designing and building furniture.  As the furniture got better, so did the clients and commissioned projects.  Alan's first pieces were a desk and chair, commissioned by the founder of a restaurant chain.

Over time, Alan has built custom pieces for many high-end clients.  Over 20 years ago, a client commissioned Wilkinson to build a "high-chair for a little prince."  Now we know that little prince as Prince William.  The high chair sits in the Permanent Collection of the Royal Family of England.

Many of today's clients started their collection in the mid-70's to the early 80's.  Although Alan has created a few speculation pieces for shows and galleries, Alan's main focus has always been on commissioned pieces.

Besides Alan's love for koa and wood craft, he is an avid fan of the University of Hawaii sports program.  When Alan is not hard at work in his Pearl City shop, you can find him rooting for the UH football, women's volleyball, men's volleyball, baseball, women's basketball, or men's basketball team.  He's been a proud season ticket holder for UH football for more than 20 years, cheering the team on from the nose-bleed section of Aloha Stadium.


Gordon Umialiloalahanauokalakaua King Kai

Born and raised in Kaimuki, Oahu, his father is Douglas AW. Kai of Waiahinu, Hawaii and mother, Lahela K. King of Waimea, Hawaii.

Umi learned to craft Hawaiian items out of curiosity and desire to know his culture starting in high school. Today Umi is known as a Hawaiian Implement Maker. He fashions implements for fishing, tapa making, poi pounding, hula, farming and is best known for making traditional style weapons. Umi shares his knowledge and experiences with many across the state and aboard and is regularly asked to hold classes at the different schools, hotels and many organizations. He has worked in the Visitor Industry for over 43 years and is currently the Sales and Marketing Manager of a worldwide rental car company.

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