Volcano Art Center (VAC) is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) educational organization founded in 1974 by a band of eclectic and energetic artists. Today, Volcano Art Center continues to operate a successful fine arts gallery showcasing handcrafted art works by over 230 local artists, as well as developing and offering programs for residents, keiki (children) and visitors alike, including the award winning Na Mea Hawai`i Hula Kahiko performance series at the kahua hula in Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park.
Volcano Art Center Gallery is located in the historic 1877 Volcano House Hotel in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and operates under a cooperative agreement with the National Park Service. Centered at Kilauea, home to Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of the volcano, of creativity, of Fire, Volcano Art Center Gallery has been a mecca for visual artists since 1974. This dynamic and powerful environment has inspired the Hawaiian people and their crafts, songs, dances, and legends for centuries. Today, the Kilauea region continues to draw artists, performers, writers, scientists, and educators from around the world to create, reflect, learn and embrace the beauty and power of the natural world.
Volcano Art Center takes its place in history
In 1971 and 1972, a young Boone Morrison, then a photographer and architecture student, along with photographer Franco Salmoiraghi, rented the deserted 1877 Volcano House for wilderness photography workshops. The success of the workshops prompted Morrison to approach Park Superintendent Bryan Harry about using the building on a permanent basis. With the help of Russ Apple (National Park Service Pacific Historian at the time), who had been instrumental in getting the building listed in the National Register of Historic Places as Hawai’i’s oldest visitor accommodation, and a group of Volcano residents interested in the arts, permission was granted in 1974.
The original thatched inn, built in 1866, was owned by three men who had made their fortunes in pulu (soft fiber from the hapu’u fern, used as upholstery stuffing). It overlooked Kilauea crater from about where the pa hula (hula space) is now located. By 1877, just as the demand for pulu was dwindling, Kilauea’s eruptions and lava lakes had gained a worldwide reputation, and the inn was overflowing with visitors who could watch live lava from its porch. The partners hired William Lentz to build them a larger, more comfortable, Volcano House Hotel to take advantage of the profitable tourist market. His handiwork became the first Western-style building in the Volcano area. Doors, windows and building materials were transported from the coast at Keauhou on horseback and two-wheeled carts; and rafters, studs and posts were hand hewn from native ‘ohi’a and naio hardwood.
The 1877 inn that Lentz and his helpers built boasted a central main room with fireplace, six guest rooms to the right of it, and a parlor and manager’s quarters to the left. In 1880, a travel writer from San Francisco reported of Volcano House: “room and bed scrupulously clean, the sitting rooms good, the fare of excellent variety, and the charges quite moderate”.
By 1891, Volcano House was so successful that a two-story addition of fourteen rooms at the south end of the original structure became the main part of the hotel. The main room of the 1877 structure became the “parlor” where a billiard table sometimes doubled as a bed when the hotel was overcrowded.
After ownership had changed hands several times, the Inter-Island Steam Navigation Company took over in 1921 and built a new two-story wing (costing $150,000) to bring the total number of rooms up to 115. The 1877 structure was literally sawn apart and moved to its present location when the new wing was built in its place.
The 1921 Volcano House was destroyed by fire in 1940, leaving this 1877 building intact to serve as an interim lobby, bar and post office while the current Volcano House Hotel was built at crater’s edge. After the old building served as employee living quarters and furniture storage, it fell into disuse and gradually disintegrated. Because it had not been given a proper foundation and was situated too close to active steam vents, an emergency stabilization was required to save it from ruin in 1976. A window was installed at the rear of the building to expose Lentz’ durable, nail-less joinery for visitors to see.
Today the building no longer shelters travelers; it houses the work of nearly 300 Hawai’i artists, concentrating on those whose work is strongly influenced by the majesty of Kilauea.
Volcano Art Center Niaulani Campus Administration Offices and educational facility are located in Volcano Village, nestled within the Niaulani Rain Forest. From the steaming edge of Kilauea to the nurturing wet roots of the old growth `Ohia forest, Volcano Art Center staff, board, artists and supporters know we are blessed to live and work among such beauty, and a place so alive with inspiration and mana to create, regenerate and exhilarate!
Sales of art work in our gallery supports our artists and our Volcano community, along with our cultural, arts education, forest restoration and professional artist development programs.
Volcano Art Center develops, promotes and perpetuates the artistic, cultural and environmental heritage of Hawai’i’s people through the arts and education.
Volcano Art Center is Where People, Art and Nature Meet!