Recently I returned to an ongoing series of illuminated endemic Hawaiian birds using metal leaf and inspiration from old manuscript art. Illuminated manuscripts, intricately illustrated books, were very painstaking work hundreds of years ago. With no automation, you can imagine now expensive and difficult it would be to procure pigments and metal leaf. Even the parchments and the glues that supported the work was something that must be made by hand with hours of time. This type of decoration was reserved for only the most important books.
I am using elements of old illumination in conjunction with these small birds as a signal that these native birds, such as the tiny ‘Akepa, are treasures. They are worth celebrating and depicting with care and time, and I hope to make them familiar to you so that if you ever see one, you will know what an amazing gift it was to see one in person. I chose celtic birds as part of the old manuscript motif in the ‘akepa painting, because I love the idea of showing birds in ancient pattern and in modern representational painting style in the same piece. Adorably enough, these two ‘akepa are painted exactly life size, and both the male and female bird fit on a tiny 5 by 7 inch canvas! The birds are only 4 inches long (10 cm)! The Maui ‘akepa may already be extinct, and the tiny Hawai’i ‘akepa birds need to be protected so that they will not disappear as well. I would love to inspire support for conservation of their rare habitat in the upper elevations of Hawai’i island. Wild ohia forests are rare and beautiful and well- worth protecting. The vivid ‘akepa are a spectacular part of our native upper elevation forest, and as a bonus, the males are said to possess the most orange plumage of any bird type in the world.
Below is another illuminated Hawaiian bird, the i’iwi. They can be seen shyly flitting through the treetops at Volcano National Park. You can hear their metallic calls better than you can see their vibrant red-orange feathers and black wings because they are constantly on the move. Those beautiful salmon-pink curved beaks are the result of co-evolution with lots of curved flowers, including lobelia. Here I have placed the i’iwi with mamane, a yellow pea-like flower cluster on a small lacy-leaved tree. I painted this bird with egg tempera, the traditional medium of long-ago Europe. I usually prefer oil paints, but I wanted to work with tempera this time to create the gem-like glow of the red feathers in translucent tempera layers.
The other two illuminated birds were painted a few years back, Above is “Illuminated Pueo”, the Hawaiian owl. A rare sight indeed, I have twice been graced with sightings of these incredible birds. They are magical to see in person. I found the most adorable small owl manuscript, and I spent time with a size 00000 brush to add this and many other minuscule details to my piece. I also really enjoyed the whimsy of the asterisk-like stars and the Dr. Seuss-like tree designs that I borrowed from other manuscripts.
Lastly, “Illuminated Apapane” was my first illuminated Hawaiian bird. With their brilliant red feathers, they are one of the most commonly seen native birds on Hawaii Island, and such a dazzling sight with the classic lipstick-red of their feathers matching the red of ohia blossoms. I love seeing and hearing them at Volcanoes National Park!
Hopefully someday you will see all of these birds in person and be able to appreciate how rare and beautiful they are.
One of the pieces I have been working on the most lately is an allegorical figure of healing and renewal.
The strength of a human soul is not unyielding steel
It is the resilience of wildflowers, fragile petals in the sunlight
At summer’s end, drifts of bright flowers sway like waves
Autumn sows and wilts, faded remnants scattering, preparing
Winter follows, freezing the bare ground
Yet beneath the frost, small seeds of hope sleep
Time must quietly nurture them from stillness to growth
Unfurling lacy green tendrils, then buds, then blossoms
The sun and the flowers have returned
Sowing, Resting, Growing, Blooming
This is the rhythm of nature, of endurance, and of life.
I chose my flowers for this piece very carefully, weaving together my botanical obsessions by selecting a variety of plants known for healing properties or Victorian flower language meanings, with a few that have personal symbolic meaning. For example, I chose crocuses and the snowdrop for a heart ready to thaw. In cold climates, these flowers are always the first burst of color to emerge in spring, often through skiffs of snow. Their bright colors meant spring would soon follow. I have always felt immense joy when I first see them. I also love the lotus for its ability to grow beautiful flowers from the mud.
My hope is that this image will be a invitation to introspection and renewal. It’s a long process after a hard winter for the earth to thaw. It takes even longer for bones to knit, and longer still for grief to run its most painful course. Time will mend. I know each person will bring their own meaning to this piece, and I hope it can soothe the sorrows we all carry with us and make us remember to put them aside for a moment. Take a deep breath. How are you feeling? Do you need a rest? Do you need to take a moment to meditate or pray or relax? Is there something you need to release or forgive? What could you do to take care of yourself today?
The public is welcome at the upcoming reception at Linekona Gallery. I would especially like to invite anyone reading this blog – that’s you! – to come if you can. You are welcome to brings friends or family. It’s like an open house with a short opening speech. There will be refreshments and lots of amazing artists. I saw the intake day and this is a truly GREAT show! Check out the list of participants on the invitation:
The painting I have in this show is entitled “Forever in the Blink of an Eye”
You walk with your Dad on the trail through gnarled ohia trees
As I walked with my Dad under cottonwoods
Miles and years distant, yet so close
We grow one after another in timeless tree rings,
Seedlings to saplings, soaring, sheltering our shoots
In an endless life cycle
Each growing gradually.
A tree stands in place of a seedling
And a woman instead of a small girl
Forever in the blink of an eye
This painting was the one that kept my sanity during the healing of my ankle break. I had some very surreal moments of complete immersion in the painting process. This painting transformed my understanding of art as a tool for healing. I feel like some of that intensity shines through in the final painting.
I am glad to announce that I have a new presence in a Downtown Gallery (since May 2019), and it’s an excellent space that benefits the entire Oahu art community, so I would like to tell you a little about it. This new space is a much needed addition to Oahu’s art scene. For a couple of years, some of Oahu’s large community display venues have been closing. Organizations such as Windward Artists Guild, Association of Hawaii Artists, and Pastel Artists of Hawaii (among many others) have been struggling to find a good place to hold displays of their artwork in the aftermath. Member shows are a major function of every art guild, allowing for artists to share and strengthen their display skills, as well as supplying an audience that allows new artists to emerge, and established artists to build recognition and branch out to new locations they may not have shown in before. These non-profit guilds are an important element of the art world here on Oahu, but their intended goals are only possible if there are good venues where the public can see the work of the art guilds.
Imagine the excitement when a new venue popped up this spring in Historic Downtown Chinatown area. It is Downtown Art Center located at 1041 B Nuuanu Ave, in Honolulu. It is now part of one of the most artistically active parts of Oahu. Near Arts at Marks Garage, Hawaii Theater, Artists Lofts, and a few galleries as well, the gallery is in the First Friday Art Walk zone, and one of the major goals of the center is to allow non-profit groups the display space they need.
Downtown Art Center has a beautiful space where non-profit art organizations can hold shows. Shows have been running on a monthly basis since March of 2019. Every First Friday, Downtown Art Center presents a new artists reception for monthly group shows. There are free guitar/ukulele music concerts every Tuesday at lunch noon – 1pm, and an open watercolor session where artists can bring medium sized work to a group setting and work together, benefiting from the inspiration of what other artists are creating on Thursdays. It’s off to a great start!
partial view of Wendy’s wall at Downtown Art Center for September 2019
Since about May, I have been helping with the website and social media. Thus, I am for the time being, an artist in residence at DAC. This means I have a significant number of works for sale at Downtown Arts Center. Please feel free to visit 11:30 am – 3:30 pm Monday – Friday. One of the best times to visit is on the first Friday of each month from 6 – 9 pm for First Friday Art Walk. In the main area, the artists from the monthly community arts show will be there to greet visitors.
Hauwahine Guardian of Kawainui<br/>
18 X 36<br/>
Oil on Panel
Hauwahine is a shapeshifting Hawaiian diety who protects Kawainui Marsh, the largest open wetland of Kailua. In the stories of Hauwahine, she watches over the area, alternately appearing as a beautiful Hawaiian woman, or a huge lizard/dragon creature called a mo’o to charm or threaten humans as needed to cultivate positive behavior. Stories of mo’o taught values of community and sustainability such as sharing food generously, caring for the land, avoiding overfishing, and paying attention to seasonal water safety. Here I have taken an age-old technique of narrative paintings, showing multiple forms of Hauwahine simultaneously. She sits in human form on the promontory of her own mo’o form which is depicted as stony grey and covered with lichen, which adheres to both the traditional description of Hauwahine’s mo’o form as well as my firsthand observation of the boulders that inspired this mo’olelo. In the sky, a bird soars over the modern marsh toward the rising sun.
After learning several mo‘olelo (legends) from kumu (Hawaiian teachers), a pattern emerged in my mind. There is a keen observation of rock forms that usually informs the lore of each area, so imagine the “chicken skin” moment when I saw the huge rock that forms Hauwahine’s favorite promontory, Na Pohaku Hauwahine (Boulders of Hauwahine), is shaped like a giant lizard or dragon head! I tried to make my painting reflect the scale of the massive rock. I had seen portrayals of Hauwahine as a lizard at max 8 feet long or thereabouts, but this pohaku (boulder) was seeming to indicate a GIANT lizard, much larger than the usual artistic depictions. You may also have noticed, if you live in Kailua, that this painting does not depict the kamani trees on the pohaku. I chose not to include them in this particular painting even though I am very happy that they are growing there and seeding out to the areas below the promontory of Na Pohaku o Hauwahine. The decision to exclude the kamani trees was a largely visual choice. I felt like the outline of the mo‘o would get obscured by the trees, so I chose to omit the foliage and leave the mo’o clearly visible.
The depiction of a white fairy tern, a bird no longer living in Kawainui area, is the aspect of my painting that piques the most curiousity to those familiar with her story. The initial oral identification of the bird as a fairy tern was from a caretaker of Na Pohaku on the day we were shown the mo‘o rock. I do not remember his name, but he seemed to know the mo‘olelo of Hauwahine very thoroughly. He told me she could turn into a bird. When I asked what sort of bird she took as her form (because as an oil painter who LOVES to paint birds, this was wonderful news!), he said it was the Manu o Ku, or white fairy tern. I have been able to find the chants about her either turning into a bird or calling a bird or a flock of birds to cast a shadow and block out the sun as a warning, but not the written evidence that it was a fairy tern as of yet. Hauwahine’s relationship to birds is mentioned in the story of Hi’iaka’s visit to Kailua. There are three versions of this chant by different authors over a considerable span of time, and much like any story which is loved and retold by multiple authors, each one is different, but one of the elements of this mo’olelo is Hauwahine’s ability to send a bird (or a flock of birds) into the sky to darken the sun. In one version of the chant, her relationship to the bird is left vague, allowing for the possibility that she might also in this tale have shapeshifted into a bird. In these chants, no specific bird-type is mentioned. In one of the chant versions, the open wording means she might also have been in the company of other guardians who were shapeshifting into a bird or flock of birds. Plural and singular in Hawaiian language is often determined by context. Oral history often carries details like this without making it to print as well, so my next step will be to ask a local kumu. I am intrigued and have spent quite lot of time tracking down the chants and stories of Hauwahine, learning a lot in the process.
Here are some of my favorite resources I have seen during my time of research:
A wonderful video created by the school children of Kamehameha School (this is my favorite Hauwahine story!): https://vimeo.com/122069365
Although I haven’t found my conclusion yet on whether a fairy tern was one of the birds of Hauwahine, it is not an unreasonable idea. The fairy tern seems an unusual bird if you consider the area in modern times. They have been extinct from Kailua for a long time and Kawainui is freshwater. The beautiful fairy tern is a saltwater-feeding and coastal bird. However, they nest inland, as far in as the mountains! If you consider the nesting habits and the natural history of the area, it becomes quite plausible. Most of Coconut Grove was filled in by manmade means in the 1930s, and the flow of water has been cut off since the levee was constructed, leaving Kaelepulu stream almost dry. In ancient times, Kaelepulu would have been brackish near the ocean, its waters winding through the freshwater fishpond of Kawainui all the way up to the springs and waterfalls of Maunawili. Without the land filled in by human intervention, Kailua’s coast would have been much closer to Kawainui, and the land would have had more water flowing as well. The fairy tern would likely have lived along the coast of Kailua not far from the marsh, and nested inland, often flying over the marsh. We see the nesting behavior inland in our Honolulu populations. I am still researching the mo‘olelo of Hauwahine, so there will likely be an update on this point, but I find it highly likely that Hauwahine would have been able to summon assistance from a fairy tern at some point in the history of Kailua’s changing wetlands.
Beautiful Hauwahine, with her fierce mo’o form is a vivid symbol for taking care of our environment. Land all around the marsh has been developed, but the legend of Hauwahine remains strong. The marsh remains undeveloped and wild, a miracle that is the result of Hawaiians, environmentalists, the difficulties of development in flood plains, and the spirit of Hauwahine working in tandem to keep the land untamed. I hope it will be restored with native flora and fauna, and that someday the white fairy tern population will once more live on the shores of Kailua.
The Wahi Pana exhibit is up right now as I write this – the reception came and went in a blur! I tended the show and gave tours a lot during the first week. I truly thought I would have more time to keep everyone up to date on the status of the exhibit while it was still an “upcoming exhibit”, but it turns out that this exhibit was a full-time job for several months and it ramped up to a fever pitch for me right before the reception as I struggled to finish the vinyl signage and the website, wahi-pana.com. Thus, I sent out a quick social media alert about the reception, but now I want to follow it up here and invite you to the exhibit. Wahi Pana: A Sense of Place is on display until July 5. It is spectacular! So many excellent paintings that display a true connection to the land and the history that make Hawaii unique.
Personally, I will be sitting 2 more times: Thursday, June 27, 2019 10:30 – 1 pm, and July 3, 2019, 1 pm – 4:30 pm. If you are not able to come at those particular times, but would still like to have me show you around, please contact me. There are always artists at the gallery, giving visitors information and adding a personal touch to the display.
You can also view a video covering the overall concept of the exhibit. I dusted off my video editing skills again to create a little overview of the exhibit’s concept.
I have a little clip in the middle.
There were a lot of people involved in the success of this exhibit. I am nervous to begin thanking everyone because I know I may end up leaving someone out, but I really want to write this. I was not one of the speakers at the reception and this would have probably made a lousy speech, and you can’t put hyperlinks in a talk either – so this is a better format anyway. I really have so much gratitude toward so many people! Here goes:
Thank you to our sponsors. Their generous donations of time and services made this exhibit possible. To the Peter Drewliner and the Charles E Higa Foundation for a generous financial gift, Edward Enterprises Printing for donating labor on our beautiful catalog, Chromaco, Inc Fine Art Printing for our awards, Associa Inc, and Insurance Associates, and Kimberly Howsley of Aloha Tuscany Studios for financial support.
Thank you to our educators, Kumu Glen Kila, Kumu Joe Recca, Kumu Shirley Recca, Dr. Paul Brennan, and Kamaka Pili. Thank you to all our online educators – many of whose names are hard to find. If your project is on our education page, it was part of our success. You inspired us with your knowledge of these sacred, important locations.
Thank you most of all to Dawn Yoshimura, the curator of the exhibit. The exhibit would not exist without her. This was her baby and she has worked so hard! I do not think anyone has seen the hundreds of hours she donated to the art community because she was overseeing the entire project and doing a large share of the work herself for 5 months (plus the proposal writing time too!). She was the one who pitched the idea and lead us all the way through the design of the show and all the ambitious side projects: panels, discussions, education, etc… She spent the most time of anyone on this project – and that is saying a lot! Time she could have spent at the easel has been spent in connecting and guiding us all to make something greater than the sum of our parts. This is by far the most detailed, far-reaching, community-oriented art event I have been involved in helping to organize. It was all-consuming for me, and even moreso for Dawn. The care and the time really does show in the final exhibit. Some artists have continued their work on series inspired by this exhibit. The influence from this experience will ripple throughout the islands for a long time…
Thank you to Kimberly Howsley for her help as president of AHA and co-chair. She spent many hours editing, planning, and honing the exhibit, and was especially involved in the panels and extra community events. Thanks to her husband Roger, and friends Richard and Asia Di Antonio (who is serving as interim AHA secretary) for their help with tasks especially leading up to the reception! I apologize where I only know first names, but they were so kind to help us!
Thank you to HoMA Director of Curatorial Affairs Healoha Johnston for selecting the concept, and to Exhibit Manager Marlene Siu for hours and hours of coordination with the museum, for helping us communicate with the museum’s teams of graphic designers and web developers. Everyone in the museum team did a wonderful job of helping us bring this exhibit to the larger community. Between AHA and Museum publicity, a crowd of over 200 people showed up for the reception – HOMAS Gallery (Linekona) was standing room only with many people in the hallways!
Thank you to William Zwick for hours spent in painting and hanging the exhibit with Dawn. You two chose a great color of green and I can see the square feet of paint and hours you spent to perfect the exhibit. Every piece is in harmony in its place with its neighbors.
Thank you to Martina for the gorgeous flowers! Your time and aloha really shone through the beauty of the arrangements and lei. The lei I wore at the reception is the most beautiful lei I have ever worn! It was memorable and extravagant! The artist participant lei were unique and wonderful! I have mine hanging in a tree so the Pele’s hair can grow.
Thank you to MaryAnne Long for being our emcee, for helping to communicate with the art community via many email blasts, for helping us get an article out in the Midweek Voice, for all your help at the reception, and for hours of editing help on various written materials. You are so multi-talented!
Thank you to Jui-Lien for a beautiful graphic design contribution. She took the logo and the composite images I created and gave them a cohesive unifying color scheme that inspired everything we did after that initial poster design. Beautiful work! Aslo, she helped us with publicity to a degree I could not have duplicated.
Thank you to Jessica Orfe for her tireless help with promotion – placing posters and postcards, and early design work too! As mentioned, the crowd we drew was thanks in part to your energy and enthusiasm.
Thank you to James Hsu for keeping track of a flurry of treasury activity and writing out who knows how many reimbursement checks for the many details of this exhibit in a timely fashion.
Thank you Liz Corbin for spearheading the refreshments – it was elegantly done! Thank you Adriana Franc, Frances Wong, Barbara Sumida, Linda Umstead, Beth Anderson, and Marilyn Luipold for assistance with the refreshments and cleanup on a hot day where all the punch was gone by the end of the reception!
Thank you to Joe Kingston for the beautiful live music! It’s always a pleasure to hear you play!
Thank you to the 45 other artists for your excellent work! I can tell there was a lot of thought and intention placed into the work you created. It is a very special exhibit because you each took the time to read the prospectus, participate in the process, and follow all the guidelines. I know some of the requirements must have seemed arbitrary before the show, but at least for me, seeing the results hanging in the gallery, I am glad Dawn had the foresight to create the small touches that add a cohesive look to the overall exhibit. Thank you all for sitting the show as well. Your time is truly appreciated! I know it’s a long list, but I want to go ahead and name the participants here with the link to their art on the wahi-pana.com site.
We appreciate our AHA artists Edd Harnas, and Liz Corbin, who have also volunteered to help sit the show with us in solidarity. We managed to fill all the time slots thanks to our generous artists!
As many names as are here, it is not everyone – especially if you were on the museum teams for the facility, security, parking or the graphics/publicity team. I wish I could list you all by name. I know it took time to write the blog, compile the articles, submit copy to chase down third party publicity, to list it on the calendar, to fix the lighting in place for the gallery and the hall, to make sure the gallery is secure each day and every night. There is a whole crew of extremely kind maintenance, exhibits, and security teams who help us with physical logistics. The parking team saved us many headaches by being willing to help us with our passes. Thank you everyone, truly! Without all the collaboration, this would not have all come together. This was truly a huge community effort in which every stroke from every paddle has helped us approach the destination! Mahalo nui loa!
Waikiki through time: On the left, rural 1800s Waikiki as depicted in the painting Diamond Head, Waikiki Beach, and Helumoa by Charles Furneaux blended with a modern photo courtesy of Christopher Chappelear, Composite image by Wendy Roberts
Now that the busy holiday season is over, and Punahou Carnival has come and gone, it is time to focus on spring and summer display plans. This spring and summer are going to be very exciting! Fellow artist and good friend Dawn Yoshimura created a thought-provoking exhibit concept for Association of Hawaii Artists (AHA), and also a second excellent concept for Hawaii Watercolor Society. Amazingly, both ideas were accepted by Honolulu Art Museum, and thus, HWS will be busy working on their exhibit, while a group of us from AHA are working on our exhibit, simultaneously bringing these two beautiful ideas to fruition. Having both proposals accepted is quite a honor and an accomplishment for Dawn. Now she is putting her energy into making the AHA exhibit a reality.
I am involved with the AHA exhibit, a prestigious curated show for AHA which will give local artists a chance to show their love of the beautiful islands we live on. Working with Dawn, and AHA’s new president, Kimberly Howsley, we drafted the initial prospectus and associated plans for the upcoming event and exhibit for AHA. The title is: Wahi Pana: A Sense of Place. “Wahi pana” is a special term in Hawaiian. It roughly translates to “the pulse of a place”. It’s quite an amazing imagery. Perhaps the most intimate marking of time we each experience is the pulse of our own hearts. To extend that intimate, universal sense of time to a specific special location is to extend the bounds of our bodies and our senses into the natural world surrounding us. To me, it shows the beautiful reverence for nature that is present in the names and sayings of the Hawaiian culture and language. The important things that happen over the course of time add to the mana or energy of the place. To know the story of a location is to develop a deeper understanding of the feeling you might get when you step into a certain part of the island.
Pali Outlook 1800s to Modern Day: Pali Highway is one of the arteries for modern traffic moving to and from Honolulu and the windward side. It was once a path for Hawaiian villagers and later farmers to bring food by foot and later by cart from farms on the rural windward side over to Honolulu. Vintage photo courtesy of Kailua Historical Society, modern photo and composite by Wendy Roberts.
The Wahi Pana: A Sense of Place exhibit will consist of a historical education session for all artists on a selected location (the are 1 – 3 locations per Hawaiian Island). Over the weekend of March 8 – 10, artists will be meeting in a limited selection of special historical areas to create art on site. This will foster community and more richly illustrate the way different artists experience the same places. The resulting art will be curated to assure quality with a desire to show the diversity of work created by artists living and working in the islands now. Dawn’s underlying question is whether knowing the history and lore of a specific location will enrich or change the appearance or focus of art done on site where artists can feel the energy of the area and remember the stories they have been told. She is an ardent plein air watercolor painter, and it is inevitable root that her concept grew from. This habit of painting regularly outdoors is widespread among a variety of media (oil painter, pastel artists, etc…) especially here in Hawaii where the weather allows for painting outside year-round. The art in the exhibit will not all be paintings and drawings. Other media can be adapted to be created at least partially on-site, so hopefully we will have a variety of lovely 2D and 3D pieces with a palpable sense of place. The show will center on the feeling that stems from first-hand observation and familiarity with the artist’s chosen location. I suspect for many artists the educational segment really will deepen the sense of these locations being unique, and special to history. In turn, perhaps the locations will be more meaningful to the artist as well.
As of this writing, on February 3, 2019, there is a website (wrangling the website will be one of my biggest contributions to the show). It is destined to grow with time into a more comprehensive and information-rich part of the exhibit. Right now, it is mostly geared toward artists, spelling out the concept and presenting the prospectus and calendar. We are trying to spread news of this opportunity throughout the islands. As time goes forth, the site will transform into an online catalog and documentation that augments the exhibit for visitors to the gallery. The address is: www.wahi-pana.com. I will certainly mention it again in the months to come, and expect to be posting a few updates on Instagram and Facebook as the events unfold. Hopefully one of my pieces will be part of the exhibit as well.
“But I’m never gonna lose your precious gift
It will always be that way
Cause I know I’m going to find my own peace of mind
On the wind
Spread your wings
I’m beginning to see…”
– excepts of the lyrics from “New Horizons” by the Moody Blues
This song is the inspiration for this painting and has always been a favorite of mine. My Dad listened to the Moody Blues a lot, so these songs shake loose childhood memories for me. I was missing my Dad when I came up with the idea for this painting and I wanted to spend some time with music that reminds me of him. This song makes me feel grateful for him. He gave me so many precious gifts – his time, his patient listening, sound advice, and love. I chose a series of photos from the ridge of a mountain that I took on a hike a couple of years ago as my starting point. The colors in photos like that are never right – it’s a ghost of what it really looked like. That’s the amazing thing about a painting. You can adjust the painting so that the colors are more like the human eye perceives them. I wanted to capture the feeling of standing on the mountain looking out toward the ocean, surrounded by beautiful rare plants and birds.
When I hear this song, it evokes a feeling similar to the way I feel on the summit of a mountain. To be in the upper elevations of the mountains is to gain a physical perspective that tends to inspire inner perspective. I wanted to work these emotions into my painting. The soaring bird in the distance is a tropic bird, and when I watch them glide, it fills me with the same mix of emotions as this song. When I first saw white-tailed tropic birds, they looked mythical with their long white tails almost glowing in the sun. They fly with effortless grace, using the updrafts of the mountain to lift high into the air. Is it possible to watch them without daydreaming about what that would be like to travel on the wind?
Dad always used to say that one of his biggest wishes was that we could go together on hikes in the mountains he loved, but he was quadriplegic, and he couldn’t hike on little paths on the steep mountainsides. Instead we would go on drives with his wonderful little electric wheelchair-type vehicle into the less developed roads of the time, up to the mouth of the canyon. He showed me how to stay still and watch for animals like otters and muskrats at the edge of the rivers. We used to watch squirrels and birds together and pick wild plums. We could not drive very far with the battery power he had on the chair at that time, but it was amazing the things he could find in such a small radius.
Now I wish we could go on hikes in the mountains of Hawaii together. I want to show him the plants, flowers, birds and waterfalls. I want him to be able to see this view in person that I have painted because I know he would appreciate it fully. He used to tell me about the caves and rocks he found during hikes when he was young and I would wish so much to find them, but of course it is impossible to give directions in the days before GPS in wild mountain range. His stories revealed to me that the mountains are magical. Anything could be hidden in the valleys and boulders. He taught me that the mountain was a place of beautiful secrets. I was given the freedom to hike deep into the mountains, even though he wasn’t able to go with me. As long as I told my parents which part of the range I was going to hike, I could walk up the street and onto the trails of the mountains within minutes. He understood my need to wander, to find my own amazing places. I found many beautiful sites; the hillside with multicolored dragonflies, the patches of wildflowers, a small waterfall, a particularly secluded bend in the river where I loved to sit and think, the craggy little cave that always contained interesting animal bones, the valley where the deer would gather in huge herds and I could peek over the rise to see them without them noticing me. It all seems like a fairy tale now, but it remains a cornerstone of my deepest self.
Now I find new treasures in a new climate; the largest breadfruit tree I’ve ever seen growing in the wild with branches that look like mature trees, the most lovely ridge view where the water is many shades of vivid blue, the best places to see certain kinds of birds, places where there are tiny frogs that fill the air with beautiful sounds, groves of ginger that have naturalized and grown tall as a forest, thickets where I can pick and eat wild guavas until I am full, a tiny stream with wild Hawaiian raspberries and a nearby spring, huge bird’s nest ferns as big as a person, and lava tubes covered with vines. There are scenes worthy of a painting on every hike!
If a hike has a summit, like this one did, I look out over the land below, and I still feel the same way I did as a teenager. I am filled with a sense curiosity about the future, I think with gratitude about the past, and I am in a place of perfect contentment at the present, looking out over the miles below. It is a timeless state of mind, fleeting yet infinite.
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.
Florals have been on my mind over the time since I last blogged. I have been splitting time between small pieces and large works. All my small works lately have been either indigenous florals like these:
Dreamy Hawaiian Floral, Oil on Panel, 9 X 12
Yellow Hawaiian Floral, Oil on Panel, 9 X 12
Golden Orchids, Acrylic on Gessobord, 5 X 7
Yes, Gessobord is spelled strangely to protect copyright. I always feel like a kindergarten kid typing it out, but I swear it is the company’s trademarked name, not my poor spelling skills.
I have been working away on a large portrait and a massive landscape as well. They should be done before the end of the year. Here’s a sneak peek of the portrait:
I wrote to my email subscribers that this would likely be the completed eye, but the very next day I proceeded to paint another coat and covered some of it to blend it in with the new flesh surrounding it and now I am even happier with the way the face is shaping up – It goes to show I never know which pieces will actually be retained because a painting is a sensitive balance of relationships between the various pieces. This is still kind of fun to share as an in-progress tidbit. The landscape I will wait to show until it is done. It shouldn’t be too long of a wait at this point. I hope to unveil it at my upcoming solo show at Kalapawai Cafe in Kailua in October.