Gladys Kukana Grace learned the art of weaving lauhala (lau = leaf, hala = pandanus tree) from her maternal grandmother, Kukana, through a longstanding oral tradition. Her grandmother's family was known in particular for weaving hats with the technique of light and dark contrasting patterns known as anoni. In her youth, the family would weave hats as a source of income. As an adult, Grace worked for 25 years as a sales clerk at the Pearl Harbor Navy Exchange and raised her family. When her husband became ill she took up weaving hats again, recalling the patterns her grandmother had taught her.
In early Hawaii, because a family's livelihood was tied to weaving, knowledge of techniques and patterns were closely guarded family secrets. However, due to her desire to keep traditional lauhala weaving from becoming a lost art, Grace, a weaver for more than 80 years, is open to teaching anyone who has the desire to learn about the history and culture of lauhala weaving. In addition to giving private lessons at her home, she also has taught classes and workshops throughout the Islands. Her lessons include where and when to collect lauhala, how to prepare it, and then how to master the complex patterns of weaving. She also participated in the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts Folk Arts Apprenticeship program from 1988 to 1998.
In 1997, Grace co-founded the weaving club Ulana me ka lokomaika'i,which means "weaving with goodness and kindness from within," to give students and weavers a venue to learn. In the past few decades, she has been a featured artist in festivals and conferences in the Pacific Islands and on the U.S. mainland, including the 2006 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Her weaving is highly sought after by collectors and museums -- although she prefers to give it away to family, friends, and students -- and her works have been displayed in the Bishop Museum, the Kauai Museum, the Smithsonian Institution, and Kamehameha Schools. She was the recipient of the 2008 Kahili Awardfrom the Hawaii Tourism Authority and the 2010 Mamo Award from the Bishop Museum.
"Auntie Gladys", as she is known, has devoted her life to making sure this longstanding tradition will grow and flourish among generations to come: "Weaving lauhala is like weaving a relationship.... It is weaving together the older with the younger generation like a family.... We are all connected through weaving."
Photo courtesy of Gladys Kukana Grace
National Endowment for the Arts · an independent federal agency
"Aunty" Gladys Grace talks about the process of weaving hats from lauhala.