Ladies Who Launch

Giving more than just dollars, these five women lend their passion and verve to support Honolulu’s art community.

With the Honolulu Art Museum’s vast collection spanning centuries of art from all over the world, one can only imagine the efforts that go on behind the scenes to amass such a wealth of priceless works. Fortunately, museum director Stephan Jost and chief advancement officer Hathaway Jakobsen have more than just their staff to count on for support…

Sharon Twigg-Smith, Indru Watumull, Cherye Pierce, Jeri Lynch, Vi Loo—if they sound familiar, it’s because you’ve likely seen their names, whether on the program of an exclusive fundraiser, in fine print in conjunction with certain art exhibitions, or perhaps on an eponymous building. But to those who know them well, they’re more than just art patrons, they are dear friends and the lifeblood of a community dedicated to seeing art thrive.

When Jakobsen moved to HawaiÊ»i almost two years ago from Los Angeles, she was able to hit the ground running. “These ladies are mentors to me, they have taken me under their wing,” she shares. “They are excited for change and forward movement for this organization.”

Longtime Honolulu Museum of Art trustee Sharon Twigg-Smith has always been an art enthusiast. With a BA and MFA in Painting and minor in Art History, her involvement is deeply rooted in her love for art. She came to Hawaiʻi 1971 and jumped into the local art community headfirst—teaching at the then-Academy of Arts; organizing workshops for the docents; and curating the Honolulu Advertiser Collection for almost two decades.

Today, she’s just as animated about art as she was then, even more so when she sees the zeal for art in others. “One of things I enjoyed most in my career here was when I was teaching at the university and at the Academy—that look that people get on their faces when they get it is just so rewarding,” she says.

Twigg-Smith’s “hands-on” approach to art appreciation is unique and something Jakobsen and the rest of the museum certainly appreciate. Just last February, Twigg-Smith held a reception at her home—which houses museum-worthy works in its own right—for donors from the East Coast who had donated a collection of their wood vessels to the museum.

By sponsoring more events at home and showing others what it is to live with art, Twigg-Smith’s direct involvement to put art in the forefront of people’s minds is an admirable one. She explains, “You know the old adage about philanthropy—it isn’t about giving a hungry person something to eat; it’s about teaching them how to grow food. And that translates to everything… In the museum, it’s bringing in the best art as much as we can, so that our community has an opportunity to see art—not just in books—and learn about it. The more you know about art, the more you appreciate it, the more you can be passionate about it.”


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Museum visitors peruse the holdings within its newest exhibit: Doris Duke's Shangri La: Architecture, Landscape, and Islamic Art, on view through June 7, 2015 (photo courtesy Honolulu Museum of Art).

Similar to Twigg-Smith, Indru Watumull’s affiliation with the Honolulu Museum of Art is a long-standing one. Recalling her days as a young bride, new to the islands, a volunteer opportunity opened up at the Academy of Arts. Now, more than 60 years later, Watumull is on the board of trustees for the Honolulu Museum of Art that also is home to the Jhamandas Watumull Gallery of Indian Art that she and her husband, Gulab, established.

“I had not be exposed to art growing up,” Watumull explains. Her appreciation of art started shortly after she arrived in HawaiÊ»i, at age 20.

Through her work with the Junior League, she volunteered at the museum. Fascinated with the art she saw, she became a docent.

“I enjoyed it—especially the children,” she recalls. “Their eyes light up. I thought, ‘Why didn’t I have this growing up?'” Thus, Watumull sees great value in exposing children to the art world.

It’s evident that Watumull harbors a true appreciation and enjoyment of the arts.

“I always look forward to the opening nights of Diamond Head Theatre performances,” she says. “Opening nights of the opera … and all the shows that the museum puts together.”

Nurturing the arts community takes a multi-pronged strategy. Encouraging the government (as Watumull has done, supporting a bill that went before the state legislature that would add an annex to the Linekona building for the burgeoning Honolulu Museum of Art School) is one prong. Th e others are growing that next group of arts patrons and the future audiences for the arts.

“That’s why we’re starting with the children,” she says. “We are making the 20-year-olds aware. That’s why at the museum, ARTafterDARK is so popular.”

And, that’s why, to quote that George Benson/Whitney Houston standard, the children really are the future—they are the ones who inspire Watumull to keep pushing for the arts.

Cherye Pierce also credits Junior League with giving her a major push into the Hawaiʻi arts scene.

Shortly after moving into her house, neighbor Claire Lau, invited Pierce to volunteer for an event called Show House, which was chaired by Vi Loo. “I got to meet so many people.” From there, Pierce joined the Honolulu Symphony Associates and later, the Junior League. “I liked the Junior League because we did so many jobs, and you always knew you couldn’t fail because you had the entire Junior League behind you. It was very good training.”

Now on the board of trustees for the Honolulu Museum of Art (among many others) Pierce is excited about the Doris Duke’s Shangri La and Artists of HawaiÊ»i exhibits. And, as chair of this year’s event, she’s also eagerly awaiting the HOT Opera Ball, set for November 14.

She sees great progress when it comes to fostering the next generation of art patrons. “I think the 20and 30-year-olds weren’t getting much arts in school,” she explains. “We’re starting from the ground up.” She points to events like ARTafterDARK that features activities throughout the museum, guiding guests through various galleries.

“It helps them feel much more comfortable with art. Also, the opera has Gen Hot. It features little talks before the opera, they can get a drink at the Honolulu Club, then go to the opera across the street.”

A vivacious artisan, entrepreneur and activist, Jeri Lynch channels her remarkable energy and charisma into everything arts that is Hawaiʻi—and beyond.

Acknowledging her compulsion to keep busy through what she calls “monitor work,” Lynch is no novice in advancing the visual arts.

“I grew up surrounded by art. My mother paints, my sister paints … another [aunt] always had a creative project in the works.”

She delved wholeheartedly into HMA after moving to Hawaiʻi in 2001, expanding her arts education through trips to Manhattan and virtual collage courses with MoMA. Cultivating further study into all things arts and design is also how this visionary plans to inspire the next generation of colorful creatives.

Lynch’s opinion? “Have it [art] be a core subject in schools, not an elective … I feel it’s a process that begins in pre-K—making art as important as history, math and science, for art heals.”

Using the term “Humorous Mixed Media, perhaps?” in attempt to categorize her current “monitor work,” Lynch’s smile-inducing masterpieces encompass many mediums—custom purses and “Happy Houses,” to name few—and help fund many island arts programs.

As for something she feels we, as a community, can accomplish now?

“Have the museums open on Mondays. National holidays typically fall on a Monday. What better place than an art museum to take the children on a holiday Monday?”

In tune with her delightful personality, principally, Lynch feels that perpetuating the arts means, “Be passionate! Go to exhibits, frequent museums, spread the word that art heals!”

When it comes to those with ground-breaking achievements, Vi Loo is at the top of the list. Currently the chairman of the board of trustees of the HMA, she’s the first Asian, female to chair the board.

Vi Loo, daughter of an avid art collector, learned to appreciate the beauty, and the stories behind, works of art in early childhood. Still a “staunch believer in the value of education,” Loo overcomes obstacles—our islands’ remote location and travel expenses, amongst them—to perpetuate the enrichment of arts education in HawaiÊ»i.

“I feel it is our [Honolulu Museum of Art] responsibility to provide an art center here in the community,” Loo shares.

A passionate fixture of Honolulu fine art, Loo is anything but laissez-faire in actualizing her “daunting but exciting” vision for the future. Th rough travel, Loo forms avant-garde ideas and cultivates industry connections to bring major exhibitions to the Pacific.

“Art fosters creativity and promotes ‘thinking outside the box'” (a valuable asset to today’s young, career-driven generation, she adds).

“I think art in HawaiÊ»i faces a bright and promising future,” Loo shares, nodding to HMA’s doubled membership in 2014 and overflowing art classes. “At HMA, we focus continually on improving the quality of the visitors’ experience … and on events and exhibitions that deepen the understanding and appreciation of art.”

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