Beautifully designed and exquisitely constructed, Engraved at Lahainaluna  by David Forbes is the kind of hardcover that appreciators of Hawaiian history books might choose to prominently display on their koa coffee table. I certainly would, if I had one!

Specifically detailing the ten years of Hawaiian printmaking at the Lahainaluna Seminary, this book casts an insightful spotlight on significant visual records of nineteenth-century Hawaii before the age of photography. Copperplate engraving in Hawaii was pioneered at Lahainaluna, due to the greater demand for textbooks and because the Honolulu press was primarily concerned with printing tracts and parts of the Bible. The guiding force behind the drive for engraving was the Rev. Lorrin Andrews, who found great value in providing books rich with maps and illustrations for the improvement of general education throughout Hawaii. Once the press began operation, though the drawings and sketches were sprung from Western inspiration, it was the young Hawaiian students and scholars at Lahainaluna that worked on and created the engravings. As a result, these engravings represent an honest, native portrayal of Hawaii free from the idealized Eden Westerners consciously illustrated in their early depictions.

The book is split into two main sections: The Story of Engraving at Lahainaluna and the Catalogue of the Lahainaluna Engravings. The story includes a detailed history of the creation of Lahainaluna Seminary, formation of the press, and experiments with copper engravings. With specifics on the engravers and the various projects they embarked upon, this section provides an important historical record of the achievements of Andrews and the Hawaiian students.

Starting on page 83, the Catalogue makes up the rest of the 120-plus pages. It’s a incredibly comprehensive index of the engraving plates produced at Lahainaluna—all the views, illustrations, maps, charts, and even currency. I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated every visual representation of these plates included in the book and could easily spend an unhealthy amount of time poring over each map’s unique designs and each landscape’s minute details.

We are truly a visual culture, eagerly consuming thousands of images a day thanks to television, the Internet and more. Thinking of how easy it is for us to snap photographs from our mobile phones on everything from scenery to snacks just instills in me a greater appreciation for the hard work and dedication these young Hawaiians had in creating these engravings, capturing a physical essence of Hawaii in a time when visual representation was not as common. Engraved at Lahainaluna stands as a proud and worthy reminder of the accomplishments of the Mission members and Hawaiians of Lahainaluna.

Engraved at Lahainaluna
by David W. Forbes
Hawaiian Mission Children’s Society, 2012
210 pages, hardcover