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Figure (Akua ka’ai)

Artist Culture
Hawaiian Islands
18th century
Wood and pigment
Place associated
Hawaii, Polynesia, United States, Oceania
Current Location
On View, Gallery 106
12 1/16 x 2 1/2 in. (30.7 x 6.3 cm)
Credit Line
Bequest of Morton D. May
Public Domain
Object Number
This small figure with broad shoulders, narrow waist, and bent knees demonstrates the dynamic and athletic character of Hawaiian sculpture of the early 19th century. The long, chiselled facets on the legs and chest are found on many types of Hawaiian sculpture. Large eyes dominate the face, and the slight figure-eight shape of the mouth gives the figure a unique appearance. The crest on top of the head most likely represents the close-fitting feathered wickerwork helmets worn by aristocratic men, particularly as they prepared for battle. The wooden spike at the base suggests this piece was a portable image which may have been wrapped in bark cloth.
ouis Art Museum, Hooper stated “Kenneth Webster got…that around 1946 and several other Polynesian things from the [Cuming] museum, which he then swapped with my grandfather [James T. Hooper]” [copy of email in SLAM document files].

[6] James Hooper acquired the piece in 1948 from Kenneth A. Webster ["Hawaiian and Maori Art from the late James T. Hooper's Collection." Christie, Manson and Woods, London, June 21, 1977, p. 54]. This object was No. 271 in the Hooper Collection [Phelps, Steven. Art and Artefacts of the Pacific, Africa and the Americas: The James Hooper Collection. London: Hutchinson and Company, 1976]. In an email dated February 22, 2012 from Steven Hooper to Amy Clark of the Saint Louis Art Museum, Hooper stated “after my grandfather died in 1971 the entire collection belonged to his estate, “The Estate of James Thomas Hooper,” until items were sold at the series of auctions.” [copy of email in SLAM document files].

[7] See Note [6]. An invoice dated June 21, 1977 from Christie, Manson and Woods to Morton D. May documents the purchase of this object [May Archives, Saint Louis Art Museum].

[8] Last Will and Testament of M. D. May dated June 11, 1982 [copy, May Archives, Saint Louis Art Museum]. Minutes of the Acquisitions and Loans Committee of the Board of Trustees, Saint Louis Art Museum, September 20, 1983.
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