Mollie Hustace, director of Isaacs Art Center; Upper School art history teacher

Mollie Hustace, HPA upper school art history teacher, Isaacs Art Center

Mollie Hustace has been inspiring HPA students for 25 years and Isaacs Art Center visitors for 15 years. A nurse and public health worker by training, she discovered the positive balance that art provided while working with the SSI-Disabled Children’s Program and the Honolulu Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. She received an A.B. in human biology from Stanford University; a Masters of Public Health from the University of Hawai‘i; and became a docent and lecturer at the Honolulu Museum of Art before making her way to HPA. During summers and weekends while teaching at HPA, she completed the interdisciplinary masters of education at UHM College of Education. Her thesis focused on meeting national and state fine arts standards in a rural art gallery—our own Isaacs Art Center. This became the foundation for the center’s community arts program, which offers museum-based curriculum for island students.

If you could be one piece of art in Isaacs, which one would you be and why?
Lei Queen Fantasia by Madge Tennent, 1934—a colossal oil painting created from two canvases sewn together (artistic determination meets the challenge of limited material!). The compelling wahine (woman) wearing a white lei po‘o (head lei) is surrounded by her friends, her colleagues, a hui of lei makers, working independently while enjoying the camaraderie of their artistic pursuit. Thematically, Madge captured the strength and grandeur of Hawaiian women and all women. Artistically, she composed a powerful scene of “rhythm in the round,” a circle of dynamic women built from curvilinear abstract shapes, whirling textures, and brilliant gem colors that all resolve at a distance.

It’s pretty unique for a K-12 school to have its own art center. What do you most enjoy about your work?
I’m passionate about engaging visitors and students in the stories of art and sharing diverse insights and interpretations. The narrative about the rescue, restoration, and new purpose for our historic 1915 school building still amazes me and provides an ongoing lesson for students and clients alike.

What fostered a love of art and art history for you?
I grew up in San Francisco, so early trips to museums like the de Young and the Legion of Honor were inspiring. From high school through university, I visited art museums wherever I went: from the Metropolitan, Whitney, and MOMA in New York to the Sistine Chapel and the Uffizi while studying at Stanford-in-Florence. Also, my brother was an artist who studied at Andover and brought home paintings inspired by Edward Hopper, Richard Diebenkorn, and Henri Matisse among other avant-garde artists, and these fueled evening-long discussions of art. My father was an engineer whose first job was building the Golden Gate Bridge and who later worked on many other iconic landmarks, including the St. Louis Gateway Arch. He supervised fabrication of “The Picasso,” an untitled CORTEN steel sculpture, but didn’t fully understand it until we engaged in a discussion about cubism and the influence of African sculpture and masks. Engineering and art merge!

How does studying art history inform studio art or other subjects?
Art history at HPA has inspired students to pursue architecture, art restoration, design, graduate studies in art history, and other fields. The interdisciplinary nature of art history—combining concepts in archaeology, engineering, architecture, visual arts, and even performance arts—expands our understanding that art is created within a cultural context. In art history, we find a specialized version of world chronology that gives us insight into the aesthetics, politics, and religions of any culture, past or present. And for our studio artists, of course, the inspiration they draw from historic artists and their iconic works proves invaluable.