rediscover the hui

A towering Norfolk pine tree stands guard over Kaluanui, which houses the Hui No‘eau Visual Arts Center. The Hui (as it’s often referred to) exudes a quiet elegance as it sits on 25 acres of history and natural beauty surrounded by dreamy vistas of the ocean, Haleakala and west Maui mountains.

Nearly a century old, the upcountry Maui estate was home to Ethel and Harry Baldwin and designed by famed Hawaiian architect, Charles William “C.W.” Dickey. Dickey would eventually help define quintessential Hawaiian architecture with key functional elements—a roof with extended eaves, wall spaces for free-flowing trade winds, and spacious lanais—all of which are evident at Kaluanui.

While Harry was a prominent figure in politics and business, Ethel’s focus centered on community and the arts. She was a silversmith, a painter and, in 1934, founded the Hui No‘eau with a collective of 20 friends and art aficionados. They organized creative gatherings and hosted artist lectures laying the foundations on which The Hui still operates. In the 1970’s, Maui Land and Pineapple Company leased the land to the center until 2005 when the community successfully raised the funds to purchase the estate.

“We have one of the last estates open to the public,” said managing director Caroline Killhour. “Visitors can come in and learn about the history. We have displayed letters of how the school came to be. All of our exhibitions and some lectures are free. If you’re a couple and someone wants to go golfing, the other can come to the studio for a class. We can arrange for a picnic lunch and guests are welcome to have a self-guided tour or we can provide the tour for you.”

Upon entering through Kaluanui’s graceful arches, a vibrant poster board catches my eye: 2010 Youth Art Exhibition. Inside the gallery was a collection of mixed media pieces produced during summer camp. Colorfully designed whale tails, masks and clay figures, and a paper collage menagerie were among the works shown. For three months, students from all age groups would rotate around three studios a day and dabble in anything from ceramics, jewelry making, drawing, painting, photography, digital design and other mixed media.

The Baldwin house dedicates much of itself to a multi-purpose art room, a photo studio and media lab. The photo studio has a dark room, enlargers and the only black and white film developing facility on the island. What used to be a garage is now a printmaking studio. Ceramics kilns have replaced horses at the old stable where open shelves of the earthy wares reveal charming nuances the closer you look.

That afternoon, Lauren Harris, a ceramics student, was putting in studio time. A native of South Africa, she currently works at the Paia Contemporary Gallery and has rediscovered her passion for ceramics through the class.

“I love it so far,” said Lauren, who stood next to a dozen lovely white bowls, pitchers and teapots waiting to be glazed and fired. “It was a little bit just for fun and now I kind of want to make teapots. I’ve studied the Japanese tea ceremony for a while and so I love that whole tradition. I might just do an independent class.” In addition to year-round classes, returning students are welcomed to pay a small studio fee where they can access the space and materials at their leisure with the assistance of a monitor.

Further in the outskirts is an open pasture with horses. Remnants of a sugar mill, one of the oldest on the island, stands not too far from the most majestic monkey pod tree, its vast shade perfect for any creative endeavor. The garden boasts 70 species thoughtfully catalogued in their Latin, Hawaiian and common names, some with added personal anecdotes from the past 70 years or so. Red ti plants line the front of the jewelry-making studio. A row of Italian Cypress stands behind Jake Bonnell’s Fire Dance, a minimalist sculpture of a figure with its arms outstretched next to slender, intertwining flames. I would notice its reincarnation in the printmaking studio where I was introduced to the artists-in-residence.

When we finally reach the studio, Favianna Rodriguez is holding something that looks like a jumbo baker’s pin. She is rolling over a dark sheet of paper to make a poster, one of the many created during her two week stay at the center. She returns to California the next day, but at the moment, she is preparing for the evening’s panel and slide show. Bonnell’s masterpiece is now translated into a dark silhouette of a woman by a fire against vibrant oranges and greens. The text on the side reads, “You are Powerful.” Bold, abstract, and peppered with socially relevant messages, her posters share a wall with her students’ as she spoke of inspiration.

“When I realized that art could be transformative and give people a voice and allow them to talk about what is most happening in their community, that’s when I really wanted to get into the most accessible way of making art,” she sums up in one breath. “And for me, that was making posters about subjects like urban rights, defense of Mother Earth, women of color, corporate America and how powerful they are, and health care—all the most important issues that we are tackling as a society, I make art about it to make a statement.”

Raised by immigrant parents, Favianna’s artistic talents were sparked by free community workshops in her neighborhood. She is a self-taught and highly accomplished traditional printmaker and digital media designer, and a driving force in artistic, academic and community organizing circles.

“A good part of the art-making process is first awareness of where you are and what issues are local to you that are actually global in nature,” said Favianna. “For example, seed monopoly is a huge worldwide problem. The fact that Monsanto [Seed] is here on Maui makes the people of Maui much more able to make change. It’s important to know what you can do locally that can have global or national repercussions.”

In another two weeks, a second artist, New Jersey-based Orlando Reyes, would have also graced the Hui’s artist cottage. With humble beginnings as a graffiti artist, Orlando studied Fleming oil painting and impressionism and founded the 58 Gallery. He fulfilled his residency while also in the middle of a permaculture project in Hana where he was weeding out invasive African tulips and replanting crops.

“It was about taking back the land that was misused and depleted of nutrients by old agricultural ways and finding new crops to grow on it, and with that being able to build a cooperative out there,” said Orlando. “It became a pertinent issue, being here and doing the hands-on thing and realizing that there is no local food co-op. The inspiration I get from Maui is that there is still this movement toward making things happen at a local level.” He hopes that artwork and outreach will create dialogue to propel this local food movement.

Both artists would lead intensive teen and adult workshops delving into ways art can inspire social change, as well as marketing, gallery administration and portfolio reviews. The month-long program culminated in a group show featuring works by both teachers and their students.

And as the conversation drifted from Monsanto’s seed monopoly, and how it relates to the challenges for the local food movement on Maui, to corporate media monopoly and how that connects to unclear news and often  unhealthy media images for our children; the irony hasn’t escaped me. This historic estate whose founders’ legacy has shaped much of Maui’s agricultural and political landscape is now the same space that is nurturing its young minds to build a more sustainable present.

Freedom of art and expression is, indeed, a beautiful and powerful thing.

November Guest Artists:

Sat, November 20 to Sun, November 21

Luana Coonen • Plastics for Jewelry

Luana Coonen’s works are inspired by and incorporate natural materials alongside precious metals and plastics. She enjoys teaching, exhibiting art jewelry and running a small jewelry business. Her work can be found across the country. Using familiar tools, students in this workshop will learn to work with a variety of plastics, such as polycarbonate and acrylic in the form of sheet, tubing, and rod. Students will explore cutting, sanding, and finishing as well as more advanced methods of forming, bending, joining plastic to plastic, and incorporating plastic with metal. The focus of this course is to create samples rather than finished pieces. Classes are from 10am-4pm and the fee is $125, plus $25 for supplies.

Sat, November 6

Mavis Muller • Basket Weaving from Nature

Mavis Muller is a migratory artist; when she is not creating and teaching in her studio overlooking the mountains and glaciers of Alaska, she is touring and gathering materials and inspiration. She exhibits her basketry nationally in galleries and museums and brings thirty years of experience into her teaching. She will collaborate with each student as they create a unique, one-of-a-kind hand-woven basket using locally gathered natural materials such as grass, hibiscus, agave, and palm. Designed for beginners, this class will encourage creativity as students discover the many basket possibilities (including cornucopias—just in time for Thanksgiving!) The class is from 10am-4pm and the fee is $94, plus $15 for supplies.

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