When you think of Hawaii, you think of many things and certainly one vision is hula dancing with a guitar or ukulele player on a beach.
As I was driving out of Hawi, an adorable little town in the north of the Big Island of Hawaii, I saw the word Ukulele out of the corner of my eye and pulled a quick U-ey. I had to stop.
Hawi Gallery it said…there was also a sign that said local artists, local authors, local crafts, local jewelry, local music, and yes, local ukuleles. How could you not stop?
In addition to having a range of ukuleles to choose from, they also have ukulele workshops with Andy Andrews, the founder of the Ukulele Club of Santa Cruz the third Thursday of every month.
They represent a number of bands including Aquila Strings, Big Island Ukuleles, D’Addario, Hal Leonard, Hawaii Kai Ukuleles, Island Provisions Ukulele Straps, Kiwaya Ukuleles, Riptide Ukuleles, Planet Waves, MEl Bay, and Zaphoon.
They offer ukuleles from the following luthiers: Black Bear/Duane Heilman, James Curtis, David Gomes, Haiku/Brian Luker, Kamaka, Bill MacDonald, Sonny D, Dennis McKenna and Tangi.
The shop is this quaint little gem on the main drag of Hawi, loaded with tons of interesting ukuleles, art, jewelry, bags, dresses and tropical island materials. It also has crafts, woodwork, bowls and other interesting pieces that represent Hawaii in its traditions.
I spent time talking to Lee Bodien, who owns and runs the shop with her husband Richard. Moving to Hawaii from Seattle, they realized they had to start their own business, so while taking on a shop is a gamble, many of the things in it is what they’re most passionate about. Richard has a passion for music and art, owned a number of instruments, and had become a prolific painter over the years. With the amount of things they brought with them from Seattle, they ended up getting the gallery as a way to store all their art and music and the whole thing organically took off.
And so, I learned their story. Prior to the shop becoming reality, Richard owned a ukulele he bought on the Big Island several years ago and loved playing as much as Lee loved hearing it. Once the idea of a music shop was proposed, they became very excited about helping people to find an ukulele to fit their own needs.
As the business grew, they have been able to search out a broad range of quality pieces in every price range. Says Lee, “the instrument has so many qualities to recommend, first of which is that it is Hawaiian. Sure, it may have roots with the Portuguese, but the Hawaiian people have made this their instrument and it’s sound is as distinctive and beautiful as they are. We feel blessed to be able to put ukuleles and their music in people’s hands and lives, whether through the sale of an instrument, a free class to help with technique and the sharing of the sound of the Islands, or a simple listen to local musicians whose CDs are available in our store.”
They have had a lot of fun acquiring vintage ukuleles and feel that the pre-owned instruments have distinct stories to tell. Each piece is so different from the next because each was handcrafted by an artist and has been in the hands of different musicians, sometimes generations of musicians in the same family.
Currently the oldest ukulele in the store is a 1915 Kumulae. Others in the same room are two 1920’s Kumulae, and Kamakas from the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s. All of these ukuleles are made from solid koa.
They are very excited to soon be unveiling their first HAWI branded ukulele, a koa tenor model custom built for them by Bill Ford of Honokaa. Rounding out their inventory are ukuleles from the Big Island, Kiwaya, Martin, Paulele, Recording King, Hawaii Kai, as well as banjoles, banjolins, lap steels, cigar box guitars, autoharps, Indian instruments, and even a Mongolian Morin Khuur.
As for other things in the shop, they listened to ideas from the community about what they needed or wanted to have available on a regular basis from them and little by little the inventory expanded and grew, and continues to do so.
They feature fibers arts and jewelry by Ti of Honokaa and beautiful beaded jewelry by Araya of Honokaa. Handmade purses and ukulele bags from Uhane Pono are created from vintage fabrics.
Not long after they opened, the well-known portrait artist Susan Kobzev was looking for a place to show her work and so now, they display her work in a room with beautiful antique and vintage Hawaiian ukuleles and books on Hawaiian history and myths.
Captain Phelonius provides them with hand-knotted sailor’s cuffs and artifacts, and Leilani provides them with her handcrafted lo’ulu’weke (black velvetseed) jewelry. Artists and craftspeople from all over the island have visited their shop and offered them their work, from stenciled ipu (gourds) to koa paddles and bowls. They feel fortunate to also be able to feature the koa and mango furniture of Hap Tallman.
The well known luthier and musician David Gomes from Hawi is also consigning for sale with them his “Picasso” Bass Ukulele along with an eight-string ukulele he made in 1978.
The images below give you a visual idea of a couple of the rooms despite the fact that the quality is blurry and poor as I didn’t have my Canon with me.