Frank Otremba Family History
From time to time I hear from descendants of the great 19th Century cabinetmakers and it is always fun to hear their family stories. This one is from the great-granddaughter of Frank N. Otremba, a highly-skilled Hawaiian cabinetmaker from the period who is noted for his Koa wood furniture and plaques.
My great grandfather arrived in Hawaii in 1882. He was born in Rauden Germany in 1851. He studied woodcarving in Italy. He had a shop in town and it was there that he started making those koa plaques. They are in many island homes and have now been hanging on walls for almost four generations. Most people are very reluctant to sell them. He was a favorite of King David Kalakaua and was commissioned to do much work for him. Many of those pieces are in museums around the islands. He had three children. Hedwig, Frances and Arthur (my grandfather). I hear he was a very kind soft spoken man. His two daughter received advanced degrees (very unusual for the times) and taught school here in the islands. The family has a very sparse (but treasured) collection of his work. Most of his work was sold by him to support his family. The one plaque that I grew up with was a mango one that my dad found when he was walking to school in a window of a furniture shop. The family scraped together the money and bought it….it was 50 dollars. In my dads retirement years he took up the craft…using my great grandfather tools. Two of my dads plaques are now hanging in the state senate chamber here in Hawaii.
I am always on the look out for some of his work but it is quite pricey and very scarce. I am told that a few plaques have turned up in antique stores in California and the general west coast area. I would also guess maybe even the Las Vegas area as many Hawaii people have relocated to that part of the country. Good luck on your search. I can tell you it is great to have gown up here among all this wonderful beauty.