The Wood of Kings
At Waikoloa Beach Resort, koa wood items can be found in several retail shops. In the Kings’ Shops, Martin & MacArthur has been one of the best-known names in koa furniture for almost 60 years in Hawai`i. The company uses more than 100 local craftsmen who create numerous koa items including furniture, bowls and boxes, sculptures, framed feather lei and Hawaiian weapons, outrigger canoes, and it most popular item — koa watches.
Owner Michael Tam carries on the company’s proud tradition, using only dead and fallen trees from private ranches in South Kona. The company has created signature pieces for private homes around the world as well as many of the state’s best hotels.
“Koa is a symbol of strength and courage,” Tam says. “Martin & MacArthur is highly-respected as the finest retailer of koa products anywhere.”
Just as koa was associated with the monarchy in Hawai`i’s earlier times, a visit to Martin & MacArthur shows that the wood, when worked by today’s master craftsmen, still has a royal appearance.
Also in Kings’ Shops, Kohala Coast Fine Art carries small koa bowls and jewelry such as rings and earrings.
At Genesis Gallery, which has locations in both Kings’ Shops and Queens’ MarketPlace, visitors will discover how koa is used in art and sculpture. Artist Walfrido Garcia has several distinctive pieces on display, including a “live edge” koa slab with an oil painting gracing its heart; and a koa veneer surfboard, also with a colorful oil painting adorning the front. Genesis also carries sculptures and carvings by artist Craig Nichols, one example of which depicts a whale and a dolphin mid-leap; as well as intricate segmented vessels by woodworker Gregg Smith.
Koa wood musical instruments, which are said to have a warmer tonality than other woods, are found at Queens’ MarketPlace’s Hawaiian ‘Ukulele & Guitar.
And at Olivia Claire Boutique, more than 70 local artists and craftspeople are represented, including Jeremy Bigelow who makes koa salad tongs and chopsticks, and woodworker Bill McMahon, whose koa salt and pepper grinders and other functional objects are among the store’s most popular sellers.
“I got into woodworking some 25 years ago,” McMahon says. “I live Volcano and had some koa trees I had planted on my land. Friends liked what I was doing and told me I could sell my work. At first I made bottle stoppers, then expanded to oil lamps, bowls, things like that. I found a niche in utilitarian art, stuff people can use.”
McMahon says he loves working with all the local woods. “They all have a unique feel,” he says. “But I do use mostly koa. Its colors range from bronze to deep chocolate, and it just has that mystique to it. It’s the wood of the Hawaiian monarchy… the wood of the kings.”