Elizabeth Akana

Photos

CO80304_001_a.jpg
CO80304_001_b.jpg
CO80304_001_c.jpg

Title

Elizabeth Akana

Description

Elizabeth Akana began quilting in 1968 in Hawaii and has been a professional quilter since in 1969. She learned to quilt from her friend and neighbor who quilted, and together they started a business selling patterns. Later, the Hawaiian police and fire departments commissioned Elizabeth to make quilts, and she became very committed to the storytelling presented in her designs. While most of her quilts were made with the help of others, Akana made her quilt “In God We Trust” entirely by herself, and she received some notoriety for it in the early 1990s.

Identifier

CO80304-001

Interviewee

Elizabeth Akana

Interviewer

Karen Musgrave

Interview Date

11/11/2009

Location

Oak Park, Illinois

Transcriber

Kim Greene

Transcription

**This transcript was created by QSOS volunteers and was reviewed and, in some cases, edited by the interviewee. It may not exactly match the audio recording. For citations and interview quotations, please refer to the audio-recorded interview.**

Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave and I'm conducting a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Elizabeth Akana. Today's date is November 11, 2009. We are in Oak Park, Illinois, but Elizabeth lives in Boulder, Colorado. Elizabeth, I want to thank you so much for taking time out of the day to do this and we are going to begin our interview at 10:45. Elizabeth, tell me about your quilt "In God We Trust."

Elizabeth Akana (EA): You know as a professional quilter since 1969, I always had appliquér and quilters help me complete projects, but not this one. This quilt, "In God We Trust," is one I did everything myself. I made it in 1986. It was my entry into the first Great American Quilt Festival. I decided that the Statue of Liberty would be part of the center medallion, since that was the theme of the competition, and then I would do four American flags going around that medallion to represent four different phases of our flag. This was all done in the Hawaiian Flag quilt format. My sister, who I'm staying with here in Oak Park, Francis Asher, actually Francis Asher Perrin, said to me, 'If you really want to win the competition, you have to do something very special.' I thought, 'You know, I do have more to say.' So, I created a second side to the quilt. Actually, the medallion of the second side is quilted independent of the medallion on the first side. As you can see it's completely different. It's got the eagle on one side and the statue on the other. Each medallion is quilted independent of the other side and then brought together with the quilting of the flags around.--[KM turns the quilt over,] We've got hat 200 years of history that is pulled together in this quilt. Then, I sent in the photos into the contest and tried to explain to the judges that this quilt was actually one quilt that had two sides, I don't think I did a very good job. I think they thought that I had sent in two entries. And, in the pictures I had not yet completed the quilt. However, I did assure them that the piece would be ready for the competition. At any rate, they called and said that I was one of the winners, and I finished the quilt and they never called back. My son, John, kept saying to me, 'Mom, you've got to call them.' I said, 'Well, if I was one of the winners then they would call me.' He said, 'Mom, please call them. This piece is so wonderful you need to call them and let them know that it's done and it's a perfect piece for them.' I called and they said, [phone rings.] excuse me. At any rate, I called them and I said, 'This is Elizabeth Akana and somebody from your contest had called me and said I was one of the winners.' And they said, 'They made a mistake.' I'm sure it was because it was two-sided, they did not understand that. I probably should have sent in a picture of just one side. I went to New York for the Great American Quilt Festival as I was giving a lecture and I took my quilt with me. At any rate, I'm in New York and everybody just loved my quilt and how it had two sides. I must add that the quilt that won from Hawaii I believe was made by Kathy Jensen, a lovely gal, was an absolutely gorgeous quilt and it was a beautiful representative from Hawaii. [phone rings.] Now, I gave my lecture and afterwards a Bernice Steinbaum from the Steinbaum Gallery in New York stopped by and wanted my quilt for an exhibition she was putting on in 1990 or '91 called "The Definitive American Quilt Exhibition." She said, 'Here's my card and I'm going to contact you because I want your piece to hang in my show and then travel around the country for three years.' I said, 'Oh, okay'. When the exhibit finally happened they had this big grand opening in New York and Bernice said, 'Please come to New York for it. Your husband is with the airlines, you can come.' I thought, 'Hum? That is a long way to go for one night.' Me, being practical? Now, it did happened that my sister, Frances, was living in New York at the time so I asked her to go in my stead and let me know what the show was like and how the quilt looked. My sister called me the next day and said, 'You're such an idiot.' [laughs.] 'Why didn't you come?' And, of course I had a million lame excuses. She said, 'Your quilt was the first thing you saw as you walked in and the last thing you saw as you walked out. Yours was the centerpiece of the entire exhibit.' I couldn't believe it. 'You've got to be kidding me.' 'No, I'm not,' she retorted. The next thing I know it turns up in the, what is the big paper in New York City, The New York Times. Well it turns up in the paper in the Art section. There is a picture of my quilt. Bernice sent me a copy of that article. Now, because my son loved that quilt so and had such faith in me I dedicated it to him.

KM: How do you use this quilt?

EA: How do I use it? Actually, I gave it to my son, John, and his wife, Tracy, and then had to ask for it back for an exhibit. When I tried to return it they said, 'We're not ready for this quilt, you need to be able to keep this because you enjoy it.' I do enjoy it. I have it hanging over the upstairs railing in our home and I see it every time I'm up and down those stairs. They will get it back someday. It was gone for three years while it traveled with the "Definitive American Contemporary Quilt Exhibition and again after 9/11 when it hung in the governor's office in Hawaii for six months. It really does talk about what this country is all about. You know all quilts are like that "They are really poetry or pros set in fabric. And, sometimes they capture a moment in time. They are all so wonderful.

KM: Is this the first piece you did that was two-sided?

EA: No. No.

KM: When did you start making two-sided quilts?

EA: Oh golly, okay I did the climb. It's called Stairway to Heaven. It's not open anymore and looking back I am so glad I did it. It's over 4,000 steps to the top of the Koolau Range on the island of Oahu in Kaneohe. The thing that got me to the top was looking for the most perfect Hawaiian Lehua blossom. [phone rings.]. [interview stops for a brief phone call.]

KM: We are going to resume our recording.

EA: Oh God where was I? [laughs.]

KM: Two-sided quilt, going up the.

EA: Right, I'm going up the mountain and I kept thinking why am I doing this, this is the most ridiculous thing I've ever done in my whole life. I'm all by myself. I couldn't get anybody to go with me and so there I was climbing those stairs. There were big drops on either side of those stairs. But, it was one of those things that I wanted to do in my lifetime. I don't remember exactly when it was, probably in the 70's or early 80's or something. At any rate, I'm climbing those stairs and every time I stopped I thought, 'You know what I haven't seen the most perfect Lehua blossom,' and so I kept climbing. I just knew the most perfect Lehua blossom was probably at the top and sure enough, I did. I found the most perfect Hawaiian Lehua blossom right up there at the top. I took a picture of it and came back and created a quilt that I called "Kalehua Wehe" and it tells the story of the breaking of the surfing taboo at Waikiki Beach. It was a story that couldn't be told on just one side of the quilt. So, I have the princess' head on one side and she has a Lehua blossom in one hand. On the other side, I have a beautiful Lehua lei. Now, when the princess was presented and accepted the Lehua lei that broke the surfing taboo at Waikiki. So, you can see I really needed two sides of the quilt to talk about that. That whole two-sided concept came out of that hike up those 4000 steps to the top of the Koolau range. I have to tell you, to get up there, to put that energy forth, to get up to the top and look out over Honolulu and look out over the Windward side is the most magnificent feeling. You feel like you're in heaven looking down and it was a beautiful, beautiful experience, and then getting home knowing that I had to create that quilt. I looked up legends about the Lehua blossoms and that's what brought that whole thing together. Now I've got a two-sided quilt. Now what am I going to do to hang it? I'm looking and I'm thinking, 'There's got to be a better way then tabs.' I don't like tabs. Ook! [laughs.] If I put a sleeve on it, what side am I putting the sleeve on, which is the important side? They are both important. I thought, 'I have to make a sleeve going through the center of the quilt,' and so I'm stretching again. How can I make a sleeve?


After you appliqué your two sides and you're putting your batting in between that is when you think "Sleeve." The first step is to fold down 6 inches of the top of side I appliqué and split the batt and then cut another piece of batt that is 12 inches deep and as wide as the quilt, I split or separate it and place it over the split batt on the top of the quilt. After that I cut a piece of muslin to fit over the batt (12 inches by whatever). Now I will baste along the top 6 inches to the fold and then turn the piece over and baste the top 6 inches on the other side. Actually, I use the bonded batting. I know any batting can be used you just have to give it some thought. You really don't want the join to show on either side of your quilt. Then, when I quilt it I have to quilt from each side. Now, there is no front and back, there is just this side and that. Oh my, now I'm a poet. [laughs.] It really makes quilting so much fun and so much easier because you are always following the appliqué.


Of course with "In God We Trust" where I quilted the centers separate, that was another stretch. I tried connecting the centers on "In God We Trust" and I couldn't. I mean I did, but it looked strange because it puckered. Puckering is great for kiss'n but not so good on quilts. So the center medallions are floating. Each one is separate and quilted independent of each other and then brought together and it's the flags that keep it all together. I think when you're quilting--I'm doing a lot of run on sentences aren't I? [laughs.] At any rate, when you're quilting, the joy for me is always to take the blinders off and to never ever have limitations. Never say I can't do that. My mother always said, 'There is no such word as can't, some things just take longer.' You can always go one step further. You do one thing, now lets take it and do another thing and you're never finished stretching your abilities. There's always something more that you can do. With "In God We Trust," I did some embroidery too and I had never done embroidery before. I did it and I loved doing it. It helped to accentuate parts that I needed accentuated and it just, it was a real fun, fun thing for me to do.


Another fun quilt that I did came about as a result of a call I received, in 1991, I think, from a gal at the City Hall in Honolulu and she said to me, 'Elizabeth, we're thinking of having a quilt made for the police department and I have to have some idea of what a top price would be.' I said, 'Well I envision a quilt for the police department would probably be a Flag quilt.' I had just talked to somebody about doing a flag quilt for me and they wanted $10,000 to do it. So, that was the top price I gave her. And then how wonderful, I received an invitation to submit a design. [laughs.] There were about six people that applied for the commission and they chose mine. When I went in to discus the commission with them, they started telling me how they wanted it to look. I said, 'I designed this. This is the way I perceive it. This is the way I have to make it. If you don't want my design than you are going to have to pick somebody else to do it.' [laughs.] I thought that they had chosen me based on my design. Might have been the price as I came in well under the $10,000. [laughs.] At any rate I insisted on using the design I had submitted. I hired Harriet Yamaguchi to do the embroidery and I hired somebody else to do the quilting for me because I knew that I didn't have the time. Actually, I can't remember who quilted this one but her name is on the plaque beside the quilt. I did all the appliqué, piecing, feather work and finishing on the quilt myself. Part of the criteria for the design was based on certain elements of design that we had to incorporate and they were the various phases of the Justice, or the police department. There were four phases besides the most recent badge, which made it really wonderful. I had the center medallion, which was the most recent police badge and then the first authority in the Island were the Alii/Chiefs and the Alii would design and make their feather helmets so I incorporated a feather helmet into the design. Here is the feather helmet. Then I made the first badge that they had and then the second badge and then at the bottom was the last badge that they had. Look at all of Harriet's beautiful embroidery. It was a wonderful and fun piece to make and it hangs in the police department to this day. It has been on television more than me. [laughs.] It is a wonderful piece and I love seeing it when they give a presentation at the police department in Honolulu.

KM: How did you end up in Hawaii?

EA: Now that's a fun story. I was a stewardess with United Airlines and my roommate and I took our parents and went out to the islands for a vacation. Although Sandy's parents actually joined us on our trip over, my parents came in the next day. I went out to the airport to pick them up and their flight was delayed. United Airlines is the on-time airline [laughs.], but thank goodness their flight was delayed because I went down to the office now that I had time to kill. So, I'm down there and I was kidding with the coordinators. One of the coordinators, Harry Kadokawa, said he was going to fix me up with a really nice guy. I said 'Oh no, no, no. Don't do that. I don't like being fixed up. Thank you very much, but no thank you.' And so, not paying any attention to me, he left a message in Ronald Akana's mail box to call me at the Sea Side Hotel. My husband to be also flew for United Airlines. He was one of the original eight Hawaiian stewards flying out of Hawaii. So, I get a call at the hotel, after getting back from picking up my parents, from this guy who says, 'Excuse me, my name is Ronald Akana, you don't know me but Harry Kadokawa left a note in my box and said I should call you and maybe you would like to go out and have a drink or something.' I said, 'Oh, okay. I tell you what, you can meet me down on Waikiki Beach. I'm a blond in a white, two-piece bathing suit.' I did not tell him that I would be there with my roommate and her mother and father and my mother and father. We are all sitting on the beach and I was skinny as a rail. You wouldn't know it to look at me now but I was skinny. At any rate, I'm on the beach. I had just bought a muumuu to cover up this body thank goodness. [laughs.]. This guy comes up and he lifts up his sunglasses and he goes, 'Elizabeth'. I go, 'Ya'. My girlfriend's mother says, 'Oh wow, that's a keeper.' [laughs.] Oh my goodness. I threw on my muumuu about as fast as I could. I didn't want to discourage him too quickly, right. Oh dear, at any rate he invites me to have a drink at the Hilton Hawaiian Village and I didn't tell him but I didn't drink. I do now [laughs.] but I didn't then and we went to the Village and after an hour of me sitting there playing with this fancy Pineapple drink, I'm dying because I'm hungry and I really wanted a milkshake, he says to me, 'I have to go to a union meeting.' A union meeting?! 'Oh that's nice.' was my only comment. He said, 'Would you like to go with me?' 'Um, okay you're a keeper.' [laughs.] I didn't say that but I'm thinking, 'So maybe I should go to this union meeting. Oh wow, who wants to go to a union meeting? I'm on vacation.' I went to the union meeting. We get upstairs and he says, "My friend Clem Keliikipi is in charge of the meeting. Why don't you go in and pretend that it's your room.' By the way, on the way up I stopped and I'm drooling. [laughs.] I'm looking in this window of this little eatery place and I just looked at him and he said, 'Would you like a hamburger?' and I said, 'Yay and a milkshake.' [laughs.] So, then he bought me a hamburger and a milkshake. With a hamburger and milkshake in hand, I get upstairs to this room up in the hotel, in the Hilton Hawaiian Village and there is poor Clem all set up for the union meeting and I walk in with my hamburger and milkshake and I go, 'Excuse me, what are you doing in my room?' The guy looks at me, 'No, we are having a union meeting here today.' I'm going, 'Well I'm very sorry but not in my room.' I put my things down/ I opened up the closet and I said, 'Here are my things.' He was off over there, he couldn't see the closet [laughs.] and he goes, 'I am so sorry. I am so embarrassed.' He packed up all of his stuff and he's leaving and Ronald is outside laughing like a lunatic. I think at that point Ronald knew that I was the girl for him. I'm not sure why. He was 13 years older than me, but we really hit it off and the next night he took--oh that is another story. We are getting off these quilts.

KM: Let's get back to quilts. Tell me about how you came to quiltmaking.

EA: By the way, I married Ronald six months to the very day that I met him and we're still married 46 years later. How did I get into quiltmaking? All right, that is a good question. Around 1968 my neighbor and friend, Anita Henry, was working on a quilt. I would make all these comments all the time because I just couldn't even imagine spending all that time on a huge quilt. I was a knitter, okay. I didn't quilt and had never quilted and she is working on this king size quilt and I'm going, 'Are you nuts?' And she goes, 'No, I'm not.' She says, 'Look, I'm going to cut out a pillow for you to work on.' She cut out a beautiful yellow (my color, not hers) on white 22" Pineapple pattern pillow. What do you do with a 22" square thing okay? It is not a floor cushion because it is too small. It is not a sofa cushion because it is too big. Where do you put the person once you put the pillow? Okay, so she cuts out this Pineapple pillow for me and teaches me how to appliqué. I did not do a good job but that is alright, everyone has to start somewhere. Rome wasn't built in a day. When I knitted I had to use needles too sizes larger because I was so uptight. With the appliqué I wasn't. It helped me to relax, to find me, to find something where I could actually meditate. For me, when I am working on something like this every stitch is a meditation. It is like an 'Ohm' because you're mind is concentrating and you are right there with every stitch. It's a way for me to relax. That's why when they give a quilt a name like "Distressing Rain," I question it. I really can't believe that someone could work on something for that long [it took Anita 3 years to finish her king size quilt.] and feel that kind of distress. That would be hard. That's why when you look at these pieces, these wonderful quilts, you feel and see love because that's the basis of every quilt, love. Here all of a sudden I found that little me that was lost inside that the knitting didn't bring out. Now mind you, now, when I knit I can use the same needles that the gauge calls for because I learned how to relax and how to find my 'ohm' in every stitch and it was the quilting that did that. Then after I completed the applique of my very big Pineapple pillow, I found that the quilting was even more fun. I enjoyed every aspect of the art form that Anita had introduced me to. When I would go over and tease her and she was measuring all of her rows of quilting and I said, 'Just let them happen, you don't have to be so uptight that you have to measure everything.' I said, 'Unless after you finish I will come back with my ruler and make sure you have all of those rows straight.' She looked and me and laughed and threw her ruler away. Anita's quilt is the most beautiful thing. She put so much love into it. Anita passed from this life on March 12, 2009. I miss her. She was a dear and wonderful friend. She started me on my path to something that has been my savior for all of these years. I started a little business. Actually we started it together in 1969. Anita was part of that business for only a year or two. We decided to dissolve our partnership but never dissolved our friendship. We started our business with eight 18" pillow pattern kits. Smaller is better. I took the kits to Liberty House and the buyer loved them and placed a big order. We had this wonderful business going. Made real good money. After we dissolved our partnership I branched out and added a full line of 18 inch pillow patterns and full size quilt patterns. Actually, what happened was I had to make all new kit patterns too because I didn't put a copyright notice on the original kits and a needlepoint shop took all of the patterns and made them theirs. I thought, 'You know, they are not unique anymore. Somebody has taken them.' So I created a whole new line of kits.


Ultimately I sold the EA of Hawaii business because I really wanted to go into understanding and researching the history of the Hawaiian quilts. Do you know that if you listen the quilt will speak to you? They do, but you have to listen, and, you have to believe. Years went by and I did a whole lot of research on the Hawaiian Flag quilt and I was asked to do an article on the Hawaiian Flag quilt for "Quilt Digest II" by Michael Kyle. I thought it needed to be an intellectual piece and to tell you the truth I am really not the intellectual type, [laughs.] but I tried. It is really not my style. Well, I wrote the article and met Michael in San Francisco to hand it over to him. I will never forget, we were at a restaurant and I handed him my finished article. He read it and he just pushed it back across the table to me. He looked me straight in the eyes and said, 'Elizabeth where are you?' And I went, 'Excuse me what do you mean?' [laughs.] And he said, 'You tell a mean story but not here you didn't.' He said, 'You're trying to be someone you're not. I want you to tell me the story of the Hawaiian Flag quilt.' I went, 'Oh you didn't say that.' [laughs.] I said, 'You just told me to write something about the Hawaiian Flag quilts. Well I was trying to be intellectual.' He goes, 'No, no honey, be a storyteller.' I went, 'Oh, okay.' I went home and I rewrote the article and I handed it back to him and he said, 'Now there you are.' I went, 'Oh good you like it.' He called me up about a couple weeks later and he said, 'I just want to tell you something.' 'What's that?' I said. He continued, 'I handed your article off to my editor and he said it was one of the best and nicest pieces that he has ever read. He also said that he had to do very little to it because it was all there.' Michael then said, 'You did a good job, thank you.' I think what happens when you're on a track is that things fall into place. In other words, you lose. It's not that you lose control. It's that you--if you're really there you can lose yourself into this whole thing and you become a part of it. It wasn't necessarily that I was such a good writer; it was that I let everything go so that I became a part of this whole thing and then it all just flowed. That is what you need to do. You need to trust. You need to let yourself go and let the love. When you let the love then it just all happens the way it's supposed to happen. That's what these quilts have done for me. They have always kept me close to my center; my center is my spirit or my goodness, my love. For me, it's my God. As long as I'm there for the quilts, they are there for me always. They have always brought me back and brought me back to center. I believe that's for anybody. When you allow the love to flow... Mealii Kalama, I took a class from her years and years ago and she was a master quilter, she said, 'Every quilt you make is God in expression, and if you share it, God will add to it.' Those are beautiful words, but they're not just words. It's a way of life and so if you let that love then these are the kinds of things that will happen as a result of it. That's why you never have to wear blinders because when you let the love, there are no limitations because there isn't anything that you can't do.


Another funny story. I was called by the fire department in Honolulu and they wanted a Flag quilt. Because I had made the Police quilt, I guess, I was the natural choice. They told me more or less what they expected and so I moved forward with my designing. I decided the piece would be two sided and have extensive embroidery on it. I contacted Harriet Yamaguchi who had embroidered the Police quilt and to my dismay I found out that Harriet had Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and wasn't doing any embroidery work. That meant that I would be doing everything. I know how quickly I don't work so I decided that I had better get started right away even though I didn't have a signed contract. I cut it all out, I did the piecing, the appliqué, and all of the embroidery, I did things that I had never done before and I loved it. It was wonderful, and magically this wonderful piece began to happen. Then, John Clark, who had originally contacted me called and informed that they had hired someone else to do their flag quilt. [laughs.] So, now I have this wonderful piece that just needs to be quilted. I know several firemen in Hawaii but there is one in particular that I probably will give it to. He is very special. Of course I need two or three lifetimes to finish quilting all of the pieces that I have in various stages of completeness. I used to have a lot of help when I was teaching and doing all the things I was doing. Alene Waters and Nina Medeiros did my appliqué for me. They did such beautiful work that I had many pieces done. Those pieces are mostly still waiting for me to get back to them and quilt them. Someday. If not this life time, then maybe another. All of my quilters are gone now and I miss them. There was Kathy Dallas and Darlene Tom and they were wonderful, wonderful people. I know they are quilters in the sky now. [laughs.] They are out there and they are doing the thing they love doing. I don't know what else to tell you. [sister interrupts.]

Fran Asher (FA): I am going to go rehearse.

EA: Okay my darling. [laughs.]

FA: I will be back and then we're going to go to lunch.

EA: Okay, alright, sounds wonderful.

FA: My name is Fran.

KM: Karen.

FA: Hi Karen.

EA: Alright my darling. You have a wonderful one.

FA: I will.

EA: She is a singer. What was I saying?

KM: Tell me about what is your best memory of your quilt experiences in Hawaii.


EA: Oh my gracious. I'm going to tell you a strange story, but it's absolutely true. I had, I went, I was. I will get myself straightened around here. I did some research and what I came up with was that some feather quilts had been given to King Kalakaua on his 50th birthday and so I went to a friend, Mary Lou Kekuewa and asked her if she would consider making a miniature version of the beautiful feather quilt that I had a picture of. Mary Lou said, 'I can't do it for you, I'm too busy but I will give you the name of somebody that will.' To my surprise she continued, 'You've got to promise me that you will not just keep these things for yourself.' Then she said 'I know you and you can make this happen. Go get a grant. Find a museum." All I could say was, 'Okay.' [laughs.] Mary Lou was someone that I admired and looked up to so I was not going to argue. I went and found the gal that Mary Lou told me about and she made this remarkable feathered quilt in miniature. It's this big. [shows size with hands.] What is it 13 [inches.] by 11 [inches.] or something like that. I mean it was really tiny and it's just beautiful. I went to Elaine Zinn, and I said, 'Elaine, how do I get a grant to go do this?' Elaine is a best bud. She is the most remarkable person and she can do anything. She's just really, really a remarkable person. We had actually done several projects together including the Pacific Friendship Fiber Arts Conference and we knew we worked really well together. She said, 'I'll show you. I'm going to write this grant for you, but you have to go and you have to canvass all these legislatures.' I'm going, 'Oh okay, I can do that.' She wrote up the grant for me. I put together a booklet of all of the quilts and how they talked about the history of Hawaii. There were wonderful, wonderful things that were being said through the quilts. I started canvassing all of the legislatures. You go in and you show them all of your material, but I was so impassioned, I just, I loved what I was talking about and so when you do that, when you love something so much it's infectious and so I would go in and talk to these people and they would just sit there, but as you can tell I'm a talker, so there I am talking with all these people and the time would get away from me, so now I have to cancel appointments. When I would call to cancel they would say to me, 'But you will make another appointment won't you?' And I'm going, 'Oh okay ya sure.' And I did. I kept making appointments and I went into this one legislature, oh what was his name off the top of my head, but anyway, I went in and he was the head of Finance and I went into him and again I was very impassioned and he, you could tell that he was right there. He was with me the whole way. He was feeling it. He showed emotion and afterwards he grabbed me and hugged me and he said, 'I was Kahuna.' Now, I wasn't exactly sure what all that meant but it was okay, great, whatever, I'll take that as a positive sign. He kissed me and he sent me on my way and he said, 'You be sure to see so and so, and so and so, and so and so.' I said, 'I'll do that.' I did, I made appointments, went and saw all of these people and did my homework. Okay fast forward to a night where Anita, remember my girlfriend, and I are walking, we walked every night and we're walking around the neighborhood. There were 59 homes and so we walked up and around the block three times and came home. As we were going around past my house I hear my phone ringing. Come on, give me a break. It is 10:00 at night, because we always walked at night late. 10:00 at night. I said, 'I have a feeling I have to answer this.' I ran in the house and it was, I can't remember his name, [Mike McCartney.] our legislature that I had to go through to get all these things started, he said, 'Elizabeth, I've got you $50,000. How does that sound? Will that due for you?' I had asked for $60,000. I said, 'You know what [Mike.], I will make sure that it will work.'

KM: You can fill it in.

EA: He continued 'We're in session now. I'll ask for more, I'm not sure I can get it. I know I can get you the $50,000.' I went, 'I'll take it.' [laughs.] I thought, 'Don't look a gift horse in the mouth. Take what you can get when you can get it, otherwise you might be up this creek without a paddle.' I went back out and we finish our walk. I was still stunned because what are the chances. Then I had to go give testimony for my project. I had all of these booklets made, it cost me $200 + to have all this printing done, colored pictures with the quilts and all of the information, the history and how it all pertained to the islands and so on and so forth. I had to have everything in the hands of the legislators by 10:00 a.m. but my testimony wasn't scheduled until 2:30 P.M. that afternoon. So rather than drive all the way home to Kaneohe, a 30 minute drive, I decided to relax at the Mission Houses. I walked over to the Mission Houses Museum and was sitting outside at one of their picnic tables when it happened. I'm sitting there and now here's the strange part, a little voice in my head says, 'Go home.' Have you ever argued with the little voice in your head? Well you shouldn't. But I did twice. I said, 'No, I'm not going home. I need to relax before my presentation.' Finally, the third time I decided that I should listen and so I got in my car and headed home to Kaneohe. Now, I just had to ask, 'Why am I going home?' I had no clue why it was important for me to go home. I said to my little voice, 'Okay, I'm going home. Why am I going home?' And the little voice said to me, 'To get your quilts.' Oh, why didn't I think of that? And, the little voice says, 'Don't worry, I thought of it.' [laughs.] I got home and quickly gathered my quilts and went back and gave my testimony. There were five testimonies for various projects ahead of mine which turned out to be a good thing as four of them had Hawaiian quilts in them that I could refer to. It was written. It was written somewhere. Somewhere in that great beyond of ours, it was all written down and all I was, I was being used. [laughs.] I was a ploy. At any rate, I went in and I gave my testimony and Brian Tonaguci was the head of the committee that was doing all of this and at the end of my testimony he said to one of the legislatures, 'Aren't you going to ask Elizabeth any questions?' And the legislature said, 'Hell, no. We'll be here until midnight.' I thought, 'Oh my God once again I have talked too much. Why can't I get over that? [laughs.] Why can't I stop talking? Oh I've blown it. I really thought that I had blown it.' Even though, Mike--Mike was his name, even though Mike said, 'No, we'll get you the money, don't worry about it.' I just knew that I had just overdone it, overkill. At that point, thank goodness it was at the end because I fell apart, I started to shake. I thanked them, I went back, I'm folding up my quilts and Ed Robello was there from Hawaii Public Television and he said to get in touch with Holly Richards who was their executive producer and when I did call when I got home and Holly said, or not when I got home but the next day, and Holly said, 'You've got to get in touch with Elaine Zinn.' I said, 'What does Elaine have to do with this?' And she said, 'Just call her.' It was that Elaine had already made a proposal to do this Hawaiian quilting show for Hawaii Public Television and Elaine said, 'I'm fighting for you but they want a Hawaiian.' And she said, 'But if I have anything to do with it, it will be you.' Once again, the whole thing, I really had nothing to do with it. [laughs.] It was all part of a greater plan and all I was doing was playing my part. And, once again, these wonderful, wonderful quilts were there for me and taking me along with them. I received the $50,000 from the state and created the exhibit called "Reflections of Love" for the Lyman House Memorial Museum in Hilo on the big island of Hawaii. I also got to do the how-to and intro's for Elaine's wonderful TV series for Hawaii Public TV. I'm going to cry. My quilts, my wonderful Hawaiian quilts, they were there for me and they always have been. The quilts always have been.

KM: I think that is a great way for us to end.

EA: Okay. [laughs.]

KM: I want to thank you so much for taking time out of your day and doing this interview with me. You were wonderful.

EA: I want to thank you. You've put up with a whole lot of my stories and I appreciate it.

KM: I love your stories. We are going to conclude our interview at 11:45.

Collection



Citation

“Elizabeth Akana,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 24, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/10.