Bryant Neal – Telling Hawaii’s Story
By Susan Halas
A lot of people know Bryant Neal. The 55-year-old native of Arkansas arrived on Maui in 1982. He’s been a busy man ever since.
Some people remember him from his early days as director of marketing for a prominent Maui jewelry firm. Other people recall the more than 20 years he spent with Alan and Char Walker and their multiple Lahaina Printsellers, Ltd. galleries.
Still others are familiar with Neal as a founder and executive director of Art Education for Children Group (AECG), a non-profit organization known for hosting many cultural events. Those who patronize the Swap Meet on Saturday morning will recognize him from a familiar booth where he displays a wealth of Hawaiian maps and prints in affordable reproductions.
A New Incarnation in the Works
Comes now the latest incarnation of Bryant Neal, as the proprietor of a soon-to-open exhibition space at the Maalaea Harbor Shops, with more than 2,000 square feet devoted to vintage and antique Hawaiiana.
He calls the new venue The Story of Hawaii Museum.
When Maui Now visited him earlier this week, he was in the process of setting up in the huge room located near the Maui Ocean Center. Neal has his makeshift desk set up on a wobbly round table where he was surrounded by easels and bins of every description. There were Hawaiiana maps, prints books and ephemera covering literally every available surface.
According to Neal, after decades of working in other people’s galleries he wanted to have his own place. More particularly he wanted that place not just for selling prints and maps, but to “actually tell the story behind the prints and maps.”
“It’s the story that makes it all interesting. It’s the story that makes it memorable.” Looking around the giant space, anyone can see it’s quite a story.
Hawaii’s Story from the Polynesian Migrations to the 21st Century
The perimeter of the large room is being set up to display history of the Hawaiian islands in chronological order from the Polynesian migrations to the 21st Century. There are pieces related to Hawaii in pre-history. Next come the European explorers and American Missionaries. Then there’s Hawaii as a kingdom, as a republic, a territory and a state. Some of it exhibited as authentic antique originals, and all of it available as good quality giclee reproductions, also.
Lots of Ephemera Too
One thing that sets this venue apart from other exhibit spaces is that Neal also stocks a goodly selection of vintage ephemera. These are those older things that weren’t really meant to last through the ages, but some of it has. Ephemera often evokes a nostalgic feel that sometimes eludes older and rarer work. And because it wasn’t meant to last, often it’s become desirable and collectible too.
There’s a real copy the Honolulu newspaper from Dec. 7, 1941 with a banner headline: WAR-Oahu Bombed by Japanese Planes. You might have seen that before in a museum. But have you seen the views from the air taken by the Japanese planes as the bombs fell? He’s got those too in their original wrappers with the Japanese text yet to be translated.
In addition to WWII military material, there’s vintage Hawaiian sheet music, decorative Hawaii steamship menu covers, and graphics from the early days of Hawaiian aviation. There’s even vintage black and white movie stills showing Elvis Presley in a skimpy bathing suit riding a surf board.
Perhaps someday soon there will be furniture, explanatory notes, videos, audio-visual equipment, maybe even price tags and a sign or two outside.
A Lot on His Plate
In addition to setting up the new exhibit space (open now on a catch-as-catch-can basis), he’s also one of the organizers of the upcoming Mapping of Lahaina exhibit scheduled for the Baldwin House Museum on Front Street the evening of Friday, March 9.
For this event, sponsored by the Lahaina Restoration Foundation, Neal underwrote the visit of noted author and BYU map historian Riley Moffat. The visiting archivist will speak on maps of Lahaina from 1819 to 1975.
Neal and his subsidiary company, Tradewinds Production Group of Wailuku, made it possible for Moffat to illustrate a portion of his remarks with giant-sized reproductions of the rare insurance maps showing Lahaina as it looked 1914-1919. The March 9th talk starts at 7:30 p.m. and is free and open to the public.
Coming Soon to Maalaea
When the tents come down in Lahaina, the whole shebang, speaker, maps and a variety of yet-to-be announced special events will travel to Maalaea for the soft opening of the Story of Hawaii the next day. That event takes place Saturday, March 10 beginning at 3:30 p.m. in his new space directly adjacent to the Pacific Whale Foundation. This event is also free and open to the public.
Where Bryant Neal was once a busy man, he is now an insanely busy man. Busy, but happy.
Anyone who knows him and anyone who loves the history of the islands will find Bryant Neal has a good story to tell. There can be little doubt he’s the right person to tell it