Haruo Uchiyama has a big dream. As a master craftsman specializing in wood carving, he is a man of considerable talent with decades of experience, which allow him to create exquisitely life-like bird sculptures. But it’s not just the accuracy of his pieces that make them so inspiring; it’s the thoughtful selection of his subjects and his obvious passion for endangered wildlife that make his artwork truly unique. Currently, his attention and skill are focused on a new subject: Hawaii’s forest birds, namely the Honeycreepers. And his big dream is to create a set of carvings depicting these amazing birds for Bishop Museum that can be shared with the people of Hawaii through our exhibits and educational programming.
It should come as no surprise that these birds captured Mr. Uchiyama’s imagination. No other closely related group of birds exhibits anything near the diversity found amongst the 57 different species of Hawaiian Honeycreepers. By comparison, Darwin’s finches radiated into just 14 species. Within the Honeycreepers, one can find an example of every known songbird bill shape, and even a few shapes that have no known equivalent within the world’s 10,000 species of birds! The Honeycreepers are an extraordinary example of adaptive radiation and a uniquely Hawaiian biological treasure.
Sadly, more than half of these birds have gone extinct since the arrival of humans, and the ones that remain are in danger of vanishing as well. Destruction of habitat, invasive species, and introduced diseases have all contributed to their decline. But the future is not entirely bleak; habitat rehabilitation and captive breeding programs offer hope for these critically endangered species.
Conservation efforts aimed at saving Hawaii’s forest birds require public awareness and support, which is why Mr. Uchiyama’s carvings would be such an invaluable addition to the Museum’s educational toolkit. Because their populations are so small and their habitat is so limited, many people will never see these birds alive in their natural setting. Bishop Museum’s exhibits, like the recent Lele O Na Manu, which had an impressive array of mounted Honeycreepers on display, offer glimpses of these birds, but only for a limited amount of time. The feathers on the mounted specimens are damaged when exposed to light, so the Museum must keep them safely stored in sealed cabinets most of the time in order to preserve them for future generations.
Mr. Uchiyama’s sculptures, in contrast, can be kept on exhibit indefinitely, and would provide visitors with continuous access to life-like Honeycreepers. If he completes his project as planned, the Museum would be able to display a male and female representative of every Honeycreeper species known to science. This would be an unprecedented opportunity to share this remarkable story of avian evolution with people from all over the world.
And it should be noted that these carvings are the result of rigorous research; Mr. Uchiyama has spent weeks measuring specimens and making detailed drawings in the Museum’s Vertebrate Zoology collection so that he can carve and paint his creations with the utmost accuracy. He also studies photos of live birds to inform the posture and color of his final product.
And unlike the Museum’s collection of mounted specimens, the sculptures are meant to be handled and touched! In his native Japan, Mr. Uchiyama has pioneered the art of “touch carving”, which he developed while working with visually-impaired students. He realized that these students could hear birds singing, but had a difficult time imagining the different shapes and sizes of the birds.
Just as braille connects them to written language, Mr. Uchiyama’s carvings connect them to the form and function of birds. But even students who are not visually-impaired appreciate and benefit from the additional tactile experience they receive when examining these works of art.
Mr. Uchiyama is in the early stages of this project, and has already provided three carvings to the Museum. One of them is featured in the museum’s Hulia ‘Ano exhibit, which is currently on display in the J. M. Long Gallery.
Support This Project
To make a donation in support of Mr. Uchiyama’s sculptures for Bishop Museum, visit our website at www.BishopMuseum.org and use “Honeycreeper Carving Project” as the gift designation. Or, contact the Bishop Museum Development Office at (808) 847‐8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted: 19 April 2017
Written by: Molly Hagemann, Vertebrate Zoology Collection Manager