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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Volcanoes Park seeks new portraits of Pele

 •  Teens learn to appreciate art

By Christie Wilson
Advertiser Neighbor Island Editor

If Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park has a public face, it is that of Pele, the revered volcano goddess said to inhabit the Halema'uma'u fire pit in Kilauea.

Artist Herb Kane says it is appropriate to visualize Pele as a female form because "she has the woman's role of creating, of giving birth to new land."

Courtesy Herb Kane

But what does that face look like?

Hilo-born artist D. Howard Hitchcock — who said Pele appeared to him during the Mauna Loa eruption of 1899 — depicted her glowing face surrounded by hair of swirling flames, and fingers dripping with fire, in a painting that has hung at the Kilauea Visitor Center since 1966.

With Hawaiians reclaiming access to significant cultural and spiritual sites in the park in recent years, Superintendent Jim Martin said it's time a new generation of artists offers its vision of the most famous of Hawaiian deities.

The park is seeking paintings to represent Pele's "deepest cultural meanings," and is offering to pay $8,000 for a painting to be chosen with the help of a committee of kupuna.

A separate art initiative will award a $38,000 commission for a sculpture representing the Hawaiian concept of wahi kapu, sacred places, as it relates to Mauna Loa and Kilauea.

The subjective artwork will share space with the scientific when the park's Kilauea Visitor Center is refurbished during the next seven months. The visitor center, built in the early 1940s, hasn't been updated in almost 30 years. Missing from its exhibits are the volcanoes' cultural association with Native Hawaiians as well as recent scientific discoveries, Martin said.

Information for artists

For more information on submission rules, call Joni Mae Makuakane-Jarrell at (808) 985-6013 or visit the park's Web site at www.nps.gov/havo.

Pele has been an elusive subject for well-known Big Island artist, scholar and author Herb Kane, who has done four portraits of the volcano goddess in his long career. A photo mural of Kane's Pele paintings can be seen at the Jaggar Museum within the national park.

He said it took several years before he was able to complete his first portrait.

"Every day I would draw a face and every day it would go in the wastebasket, until one day I seemed to feel she wanted me to do this," he said. "That sounds spooky and I'm not that kind of a guy; I'm very practical. The pencil seemed to move itself and all of a sudden there she was. I said, 'Sweetheart, that's you.'

"Inside of a couple of hours, I had a portrait done in oils."

Kane, one of Hawai'i's Living Treasures, said it is appropriate to visualize Pele as a female form because "she has the woman's role of creating, of giving birth to new land."

Each of his portraits is a little different, he said.

"Interestingly, she was a changeling," Kane said. "She could take the form of an old woman or a young girl at will. She could be very gentle and loving or very fierce. She is the supreme personification of the majesty and power of the volcano."

The Pele painting chosen by the park will replace the 7-foot-by-4-foot Hitchcock version prominently displayed near the visitor center's fireplace. The older painting will be restored and made part of a rotating art collection, Martin said.

The archives include many other paintings, mostly landscapes done in the late 19th century when visitors first started coming to the park, he said. The works include 12 others by Hitchcock and a smaller number by Jules Tavernier and Charles Furneaux, who were painting at about the same time.

"It's great to have them in the collection," Martin said, "but the park collection represents the past and we have nothing contemporary. We would like more of a continuum."

There are no sculptures in the collection.

With the presence of the Volcano Art Center in the historic Volcano House Hotel and other influences, officials have come to realize "there are other ways to look at our resources other than through a microscope or a camera lens," said Martin, who has been at Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park for 18 years, the last eight as superintendent.

As part of the visitor center renovation, the interior will be gutted to accommodate new displays and to expand the bookstore.

Seven new exhibits will explain the park's geology and natural history, such as the formation of the Hawaiian Islands and how life arrived here by "wind, wings and waves."

"We'll have new exhibits with all the things we have found over the years. The old exhibits are not giving accurate and complete stories," Martin said. "More exciting things are being found."

The cost of the project is between $750,000 and $1 million.

The purchase of the artwork is paid separately through a collaborative project of Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, the Volcano Art Center, The Mountain Institute, the Hawai'i Tourism Authority and the Ford Foundation.

Painting submissions must be delivered to the park on Aug. 11.

All of the submissions will be exhibited in a show called "Visions of Pele, the Volcano Deity of Hawai'i," Aug. 23 through Sept. 28 at the Volcano Art Center Gallery.

Renderings or scale models of proposed sculptures must be delivered on July 17. Finalists will receive a $1,000 honorarium, with more detailed design proposals due Oct. 10. The winning sculpture will be dedicated at the Kilauea Visitor Center in August 2004.

The sculpture must be made of native materials such as stone or wood, but koa is not allowed because of its scarcity.