Art of the Aloha Shirt: Keoni of Hawaii, 1938–51
Take a virtual tour of this exhibition, on view in the University Art Galleries at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. Enjoy!
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
- January 28–April 19, 2020 J. Wayne Stark Galleries
College Station, TX booked
- June 16–August 11, 2020 Temecula Valley Museum
Temecula, CA booked
- January 28–May 25, 2021 Del Rio Council for the Arts
Del Rio, TX booked
- June 16–August 11, 2021 Museum of Art Fort Collins
Fort Collins, CO booked
- September 1-October 20, 2021 Mabee-Gerrer Museum
Shawnee, OK booked
- November 10, 2021–January 7, 2022 Oxford Performing Arts Center
Oxford, AL pending
- January 28–May 25, 2022 City of Lake Charles
Lake Charles, LA booked
- June 16–October 20, 2022 Washington State Historical Society
Tacoma, WA booked
- November 10, 2022–January 7, 2023
- January 28–March 16, 2023
- April 6–May 25, 2023
- June 16–August 11, 2023 Renton History Museum
Renton, WA pending
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
3 crates/ 1,100 pounds
The exhibition is fully insured by ExhibitsUSA at no additional expense to you, both while installed and during transit.