Art of the Aloha Shirt: Keoni of Hawaii, 1938–51
Explore the history, artistry, and production of Hawaii’s enduring fashion statement, the Aloha Shirt. This exhibition of sixty objects, including original textile artwork, production sketches and swatches, advertisements, and vintage shirts tells the story of an early innovator, John “Keoni” Meigs, in an industry that has left an indelible mark on fashion in the United States and the world.
Although many claim authorship, the exact origin of the Aloha Shirt remains uncertain. The patterns of Polynesian tapa cloth, the colorful and bold floral designs of Tahitian pareau, and the sheer Japanese fabric used for making kimonos are often cited as some of the early stylistic influences of the shirt. Sometime in the late 1920s to the early 1930s, when Hawaii’s economy began to shift from an agricultural to a service-oriented economy and tourists started flying to Hawaii in ever-increasing numbers, the emphasis of the island clothing industry shifted from the production of work clothes to sports and casualwear. Combining the young islander’s love for colorful clothing with the tourist’s desire to bring home keepsakes of their holidays on the islands, the Aloha Shirt enjoyed massive popularity, particularly after the conclusion of the second World War.
In the history of the Aloha Shirt, there has been no more innovative merchandiser nor better self-promoter than “Keoni of Hawaii.” John “Keoni” Meigs (“Keoni” is Hawaiian for John) was a self-taught painter whose talent became known to the early shirt manufacturers in Honolulu. In 1938, he created his first designs, concentrating on Polynesian tapa patterns inspired by the originals he had studied at the local Bishop Museum.
One of the most innovative Island fabric artists, Keoni is credited with creating as many as three hundred Aloha shirt designs. In Meigs’ words, “In a sense, Aloha shirts put Hawaii on the map. The first thing people did when they arrived was make a beeline for a department store to buy one. A lot of kooky things were designed, but I always tried to be a purist when it came to using motifs from Hawaiian sources.”
Art of the Aloha Shirt is curated by Dale Hope, a Hawaiian native and second generation veteran of the garment industry who authored the definitive book on the subject, The Aloha Shirt: Spirit of the Islands, in 2000. Much of the work draws from the collection of Dan Eskenazi, which offers viewers the opportunity to see Aloha shirts from a designer’s perspective, as well as excellent vintage examples of the finished product.
Art of the Aloha Shirt: Keoni of Hawaii, 1938–51 is touring September 2018 through August 2023. The dates below reflect seven-week exhibition periods. Dates are subject to change; please contact MoreArt@maaa.org or (800) 473-3872 x208/209 for current availability.
September 1, 2018–January 7, 2019
National Museum of the Pacific War
Fredericksburg, TX booked
January 28–March 16, 2019
City of Carlsbad, William D Cannon Art Gallery
Carlsbad, CA booked
April 6–May 25, 2019
Temple Railroad and Heritage Center
Temple, TX booked
June 16–August 11, 2019
Museum of the Red River
Idabel, OK booked
September 1–October 20, 2019
Wilbur D. May Museum
Reno, NV booked
November 10, 2019–January 7, 2020
Save 50% off rental fees.
January 28–March 16, 2020
J. Wayne Stark Galleries
College Station, TX booked
April 6–May 25, 2020
June 16–August 11, 2020
Temecula Valley Museum
Temecula, CA booked
September 1–October 20, 2020
Kansas City, MO booked
November 10, 2020–January 7, 2021
Lihue, HI pending
January 28–March 16, 2021
April 6–May 25, 2021
June 16–August 11, 2021
September 1-October 20, 2021
November 10, 2021–January 7, 2022
January 28–March 16, 2022
April 6–May 25, 2022
June 16–August 11, 2022
September 1–October 20, 2022
November 10, 2022–January 7, 2023
January 28–March 16, 2023
April 6–May 25, 2023
June 16–August 11, 2023
Fifty-five objects, including original textile artwork, production sketches and swatches, advertisements, and vintage shirts
Custom-Designed and Built Crates
Dale Hope, author of The Aloha Shirt: Spirit of the Islands (Patagonia)
ExhibitsUSA, Mid-America Arts Alliance, Kansas City, MO
Out-of-Region Rental Fee
In-Region Rental Fee
Number of Crates/Total Weight
approximately 4 crates
The exhibition is fully insured by ExhibitsUSA at no additional expense to you, both while installed and during transit.