Pali Long Ago

Pali Long Ago by Wendy Roberts
Pali Long Ago
Pali Long Ago by Wendy Roberts
Pali Long Ago, oil on canvas, 36 x 60 inches

This painting is one part research and one part imagination. I wondered how the Pali Scenic Overview would have looked before people came to the island. I chose some plant families I think are very beautiful and found a couple of plausible species that would have been possible to grow at the correct elevation on the Koʻolau Mountain range (the mountain range of the Pali Overlook). Since I was actively doing research for the painting, “The Lost Forest of Oʻahu” when I designed this concept, I chose a few birds that are no longer on this island, but they used to live in the higher elevation forests here. I placed all the plants and birds together in the foreground. This painting includes Iʻiwi (a juvenile and an adult), Oʻahu ʻAkepa, and Lesser Koa Finches.

detail: Iʻiwi (adult left, juvenile, right)
Detail: Lesser Koa Finches and Oʻahu ʻAkepa

Next, I thought about the Pali themselves. I took off anything I could clearly see was introduced: Norfolk Pines, Ironwoods, etc… and added some of the hardy grasses, stunted ʻōhia, and lush Uluhe Ferns I see at the summits of high elevation hikes. These are plants that can take the wind’s wrath and make it possible for more delicate plants to grow further from the cliffʻs edge. I “re-planted” the forest below with native canopy of ʻōhiʻa and koa trees etc… taking inspiration from the rare pristine native forests of today. I removed the beautiful manmade reservoir from the Hoʻomaluhia area since that was constructed relatively recently.

Detail: ʻōhiʻa trees lend their gray-green foliage to the forests

It’s not perfect I am sure, but the result is a lot closer to the way it would have looked back then. The birds and plants would have been more spaced out. Most birds tend to be territorial, but this is imagination-land, so I abbreviated the spacing. I might have missed the removal of a few introduced types of plants here or there, or added a native plant in a slightly wrong area, but it made for a beautiful composition and it definitely was enjoyable to see the various elements come together into one scene.

"Pali Long Ago" by Wendy Roberts detail of the jagged Koʻolau mountain that looms over the lookout point.
Detail: the jagged Koʻolau mountain that looms over the lookout point with ʻōhiʻa lehua (blossoms) in front of the range.

Sometimes I see things that I have painted come true – like turtles near Kaʻaʻawa Beach (so rare!) after I had painted them as a plausible but imaginative addition, or a flower in bloom that I noticed was present, but it wasn’t blooming when I painted it. To see the flower or the turtles later, looking very similar to my rendition is always exciting. I wish I could jump in a time machine and see how accurate my educated guesses were in this painting. Was it like this? Which plants were really growing there on the lookout area? Were the birds I painted visiting the area? What is different? This is one of the most fun things art can do; to piece together an artist’s idea of how the past might have looked. I loved looking at painting of dinosaurs when I was a child, and thus I have ended up painting my own version of this genre (because birds are just small, modern dinosaurs).

If you are on Oʻahu, this painting will be showing at Pauahi Tower until March 11, 2023.