By Darrell A. Hamlin
The conservator’s dilemma is the central drama of Glenn Wharton’s The Painted King: Art, Activism, and Authenticity in Hawai’i. Grounded in professional expertise which presumes that a valued yet deteriorating object is possessed of an identifiable nature, conservators are guided by a core value to preserve objective essence through a restoration of the creator’s original expression. Success is achieved by employing the historian’s commitment to contextualized facts, a scientist’s technical skills of chemistry and engineering, and the subjective magic of the arts. Yet what if the object—in this case a 19th century sculpture of King Kamehameha I in the North Kohala district of the island of Hawai’i—has become so layered with local meaning that restoring the original appearance threatens to erase cultural heritage? Which values prevail, and who decides? This is the conflict Wharton works to resolve, and The Painted Kingdetails his efforts to balance professional ethics with the accidental activism of community purpose, illuminating a process that citizens and experts can apply to a broader range of public problems.