On Saturday 22 and 23, a group of artists volunteered to beautify the traffic boxes in Kaimuki. Though I was only able to participate for one day, I was able to finish a very large (6′ X 10′ in all) traffic box mural on the corner of Waialae Ave and 16th Street – right next to a bus stop. It was a great experience and the neighborhood was very supportive and appreciative!
The design process began with a sketch a couple of weeks prior. It’s rough, but you can see I stuck fairly close to the plan, just adding a few more native and Polynesian-introduced plants when I found out that the extremely nice family living close to the box would know and enjoy having more plants on the traffic box. It turned out the neighbor adjacent was an avid gardener and bird aficionado, and they will be looking at this box all the time, so I wanted to make a special adjustment as a thank you to them for their unusually kind hospitality. They even brewed me a cup of tea using leaves from their own garden!
If you look at the box in person, make sure to peek at the back. I painted all the sides – the back was just as important as the front. The back is inspired by the name of this neighborhood – Kaimuki. Ka imu ki means “ti plant oven”. It was an area famous for the many ti plant ovens on its hills. The ti plant was a very important and useful plant to the Hawaiians. It is still in heavy use today as the raw material for hula skirts, lei, and also as a leaf that can be used to cook. Hau, a plant used for medicine and for fiber for tough ropes is also on the back. I painted a lot of taro on the front and sides which is a Hawaiian staple food that is often growing wild in wetland areas. Finally, I painted pickleweed, pohuehue, a small fern that looks like a 4-leaf clover, and a wild pink hibiscus, all plants that preceded human settlement.
The finished piece was accomplished after a very touching Hawaiian blessing. I felt the power of the ceremony followed me throughout the day, inspiring an unusually productive painting pace. I skipped lunch to race the sun, moving around the box as the shade moved. I enjoyed talking to various visitors throughout the work day, especially meeting a lot of the neighbors. This area really has strong community feeling. Despite the major road, the neighbors know and care about one another. Many have lived there a long time. I was treated exceedingly kindly all day long – countless shakas, “mahalos!”, and nice comments from passing cars, and neighbors offering juice or chocolate milk, etc… I cannot thank the community of Kaimuki enough for the aloha spirit they showed during this process. It was very heart warming and made me really want to do this project justice!
I am very grateful to Jennifer Noel (the organizer), Bill Brizee, and Tracy Brilhante for getting me involved with this project and helping to make it all work. Thank you to the Kaimuki neighbors who were so supportive and grateful for the project. They made all the artists feel like a million dollars! Thank you to the following photographers who kindly posted photos of native birds and flowers online in creative commons like Flickr Commons and Wikimedia Commons to allow for accurate reference photos for this project: Dan Clark, David Eickhoff, Forest and Kim Starr, John and Karen Hollingsworth, and Rick Obst. Without the lovely photos I could not have made the various Hawaiian Moorhens and plants as believable. Mahalo nui loa to all. I hope the traffic box will brighten the area and be something the neighbors enjoy seeing.