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Vol. 15, no. 6
Dec. 2012 / Jan. 2013

 

Carving Copper 

Story by Paul Wood 

Images courtesy Hawaiian Mission Children's Society

 

In 1836
the USS Peacock anchored off Lahaina, Maui, tucked amid a throng of whaling ships. On board, a naval surgeon wrote in his journal about a marvelous local product— an atlas of the world, every page an intricately detailed map created by copper engraving, the entire book fashioned, printed and bound there in Lahaina.

 

He must have glanced from the book to the shore with some astonishment. Along the little town’s mile of shoreline he saw mostly thatched hale (houses). Just about the only Western-style structures he could see were a fort with twenty-foot-high coral block walls, which served as a hoosegow for sailors on shore leave, and an unfinished “palace” that the young king refused to sleep in. Near those was the town’s only church, Waine‘e, established thirteen years earlier by the king’s mother, Keopuolani, who had then very rapidly received the first ali‘i baptism and Western-style burial. As she expired, she commanded her people to embrace Christianity and gave her young children into the custody of the missionaries.

 

The surgeon could also see a dirt track that ascended the steep mountainside behind the town and stopped a few miles beyond on a high, parched, isolated ledge where a random collection of thatched hale clustered around a couple of plastered two-story buildings. That was Lahainaluna Seminary, established just five years prior by the Congregational mission to be a “high school for raising up school teachers.” That simple encampment on that barren knob had produced the refined little atlas that the surgeon held in his hand. And it had done so without suitable copper, using tools knocked together by the local blacksmith and carpenter, and (most admirably of all) by people without any prior training in the art of copper engraving. The work was propelled somehow by the native skills and industry of certain young Hawaiian men and the raw determination of a brawny American visionary who was named Lorrin Andrews.

 

That atlas no longer exists, not a single known copy. But before the decade-long engraving project dissolved in 1844, Lorrin Andrews’ press yielded thousands of maps, landscape views and detailed portraits, some of which still exist scattered across the United States and other Englishspeaking countries. Historian David W. Forbes has just cataloged those relics and tells their story in Engraved at Lahainaluna, a new book published by the Hawaiian Mission Children’s Society— and speaking of masterful book production, the design work on Forbes’ book by Honolulu’s Barbara Pope makes the volume an art piece in itself. The full-size 1838 map of the Hawaiian Islands, folded into a neat back-cover pocket, feels and looks like the real deal.

 


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