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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, August 16, 2003

Fresh face put on volcano park

Advertiser Staff

A depiction of the volcano goddess Pele as both creator and destroyer has been chosen for prominent display at the soon-to-be-remodeled Kilauea Visitor Center.

Arthur Johnsen's painting of the fire goddess was chosen from among 140 entries to grace the Kilauea Visitors Center at Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park as best conveying "deepest cultural meanings" associated with Pele.

Lisa Frien

The Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park's Kupuna Committee picked the oil painting by Big Island artist Arthur Johnsen this week from among 140 statewide entries as best representing the "deepest cultural meanings" attached to the Hawaiian deity. The honor comes with an $8,000 award.

The park announced in March that it was seeking a Pele portrait to update its art collection and reflect the importance of the volcano as sacred to Native Hawaiians.

Park Superintendent Jim Martin said many of the park's 2.6 million annual visitors would get their first introduction to Pele from Johnsen's portrait.

"It will help visitors really understand the place, and give our interpreters opportunities to engage them in conversations about the volcanoes and the way Hawaiians feel about them," Martin said.

Johnsen, born on O'ahu, moved to Volcano Village in the 1970s and has been living in Puna since 1989. He has experienced earthquakes and witnessed the destruction of Kalapana and the beach at Kaimu, and watched lava flows from his Kehena home, which he built in 1992.

Johnsen said that knowing his home could be taken by lava at any time makes him "feel closely connected on a very personal level."

The artist said the painting shows the fiery goddess striding through a lava flow in the forest with a staff in one hand — representing the power to destroy. The other hand cradles an egg containing a human form — an allusion to regeneration. The egg also represents Pele's favorite sister, Hi'iaka, who was created in the form of an egg. According to legend, Pele coddled the egg and brought it with her when she left Tahiti for the Hawaiian Islands.

Once remodeling of the Kilauea Visitor Center is complete, Johnsen's artwork will replace a Pele portrait by Hilo-born artist D. Howard Hitchcock that has been on display since 1966. The Hitchcock painting will be restored and placed in the national park's rotating collection.

The new painting is part of a program to enhance the park's interpretive exhibits. Designs are being sought for an outdoor sculpture to be installed in front of the visitor center to express the idea of wahi kapu, or sacred places.

The assortment of Pele paintings submitted to the park will be featured in the Volcano Art Center show, "Visions of Pele: The Volcano Deity of Hawai'i," from next Saturday to Sept. 28. Paintings will hang at the center's gallery, the Volcano House hotel and Thomas A. Jaggar Museum, with opening-day receptions at all three locations from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m.