Welcome to the Society of Asian Art of Hawai’i, Inc.!

Who we are and our mission

The Society of Asian Art of Hawai’i, Inc. (SAAH) is a nonprofit organization founded in 1974 as the Oriental Art Society (OAS).

SAAH was established to: 1) promote the appreciation and enjoyment of Asian art; 2) encourage the creation, preservation, and collection of Asian art; 3) advocate education about Asian art by offering scholarships to students studying Asian art.

SAAH presents seven to eight free public lecture programs during the year (Sept. to May), wherein experts give illustrated lectures or gallery tours to SAAH members and guests. Additionally, a Guest Speaker’s Forum is occasionally offered to the community at large, featuring an esteemed scholar or expert from the US mainland or overseas. 

Most importantly, the Society raises funds in the form of donations or silent auctions to award scholarships to university students studying Asian art. All these events take place in an informal social setting, with camaraderie, animated discussion among members, and often, refreshments.

Above: Silent Auctions are held once or twice a year as fundraisers for scholarships.

Above: Silent Auctions are held once or twice a year as fundraisers for scholarships.

Our History – from OAS to SAAH

SAAH history goes back to the early 1970s, when a small group of Asian art enthusiasts held regular meetings at their homes to appreciate and discuss each other’s collections. With growing interest and participation, the Oriental Art Society was officially founded on October 7, 1974.

Above: Left: Mrs. John M. Allison (left), the society’s first president. Affectionately known as Toots (Tufts in Japan). Mrs. Allison collected porcelain. Right: Phyllis Bowen holding blue and whites unearthed in Makassar while describing her adventures for OAS members. 

Above: Left: Mrs. John M. Allison (left), the society’s first president. Affectionately known as Toots (Tufts in Japan). Mrs. Allison collected porcelain. Right: Phyllis Bowen holding blue and whites unearthed in Makassar while describing her adventures for OAS members. 

In the first years a low profile was projected, which remained unchanged until a decade later when the society launched programs placing it very much into the public view. Two exhibitions, mounted at the Honolulu Academy of Art (now the Honolulu Museum of Art), and the sponsorship of speakers in the field of Asian art, gave members a new and significant community role.

Those who served as president in the first 15 years of OAS:

1974-76 Mrs. John M. Allison
1976-78 Ms. Phyllis Bowen
1978-80 Dr. Betty EckeMb 1980-82 Dr. Howard Link
1982-83 Mr. David W. Eyre
1983-84 Dr. William Won

1984-85 Mr. Windsor G. Hackler
1985-86 Dr. Ernest Lee
1986-87 Ms. Lila Sahney
1987-88 Mr. Mitchell Hutchinson
1988-89 Ms. Cecilia Doo

Building on the firm foundation established over the first fifteen years of OAS’s existence and mounting two outstanding exhibits, Asian Orientations: Treasures from Honolulu’s Oriental Art Society and Chinese Art in the Palm of Your Hand, the following decade from 1989-99 was a period of consolidation. 

Above: Scenes from the Society’s 1985 Exhibition

Benji Nerio succeeded Cecilia Doo as President in 1989 and was followed by Kenneth Chong (1990-91), William Won (1992-94), Ferdinand (Micky) Micklautz (1994-96), Donald Graham (1996-97), Lawrence Fung (1997-99), and Rhoda E.A. Hackler (1999- ). For a number of years, prior to becoming the president, Micklautz served as treasurer, to be followed in 1994 by Leona Hee, who was succeeded by Harriet Whittaker in 1999. Throughout the entire ten years, Dierdre (Didi) Lau served as the secretary par excellence. Meeting locations gradually shifted from private homes to the Honolulu Academy of Art.

The by-laws committee, headed by Leatrice Fung and advised by Kenneth Chong, revised the bylaws and they were passed on April 9, 1999. They clarified membership rules, the duties of the officers, the payment of honoraria to speakers, and sanctioned the change of the Society’s name from Oriental Art Society to Society of Asian Art of Hawai’i.

In April 1993, an intern program in the Asian art department of the former Academy of Art was instituted by Andrea Gelber, who saw that the University of Hawai’i had no scholarship opportunities for the young art historians they were educating and that the curator of the Honolulu Academy of Arts could use some professional help. A scholarship committee was formed by Andrea Gelber, Bron Solyom, Cobey Black, Don Lichty, Micky Micklautz and Stephen Little. The 1994 annual dinner, which celebrated the Society’s 20th anniversary, was turned into a fundraiser for the new scholarship, a role it has hold ever since. Up to 2007, the interns that were chosen included: Annie Van Aasche, John Johnston, Sandy Ng, Sawako Tekemura Chang, Megan Callan, among others.

In the ensuing decade, the Society continued to thrive. The most noteworthy event was an exhibition organized by members in 2003 in cooperation with the Honolulu Academy of Art, showcasing the Society members’ collections. Chaired by Stephen McClaran, and edited by Rhoda Hackler, the exhibition was accompanied by a glossy catalog titled: Collectors’ Odyssey: Treasures from the Society of Asian Art of Hawai’i. Members authored stories about their objects recounting their journey of collecting. The show was very successful. It attracted over 14,294 viewers. Another high point in the same year was the public lecture organized by Lea and Larry Fung, Shifting Boundaries: how ancient archaeological discoveries revises, reinterprets and rewrites history by Dr. Jenny So of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. The auditorium was packed with audience and those who could not get in were turned away disappointedly. 


In 2006, the Society entered a new phase. It was at a crossroads when the proposal of turning the Society into a nonprofit came along. With Rhoda Hackler and Bill Zanella spearheading legal matters, and Bill seeing the process to the end, on October 17, 2007, SAAH became a bona fide 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization. Meanwhile, the Internship Endowment Fund at the Honolulu Academy of Art was ended, having fulfilled its goal for fifteen years or so. By 2002, the University of Hawai’i had begun a Museum Studies program on the scholarly study of museums and the training of museum professionals. It has since placed student interns in museums throughout the state as well as in mainland museums.

Moving forward, the Society began the Scholarship Program in 2008, offering two scholarships each year, one in honor of Rhoda Hackler, and the other sponsored by SAAH. Today, the Society of Asian Art of Hawai’i, Inc. places utmost importance on upcoming generations by offering scholarships to both undergraduate and graduate students studying within the Asian art field. Scholarship recipients are granted honorary membership and are invited to present their own work and research to the Society of Asian art at their annual end-of-the-year meeting and banquet. Since 2008, SAAH has awarded fourteen scholarships to students.