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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, November 13, 2006

Sculpture celebrates master kapa maker

By Wanda A. Adams
Assistant Features Editor

It was an afternoon of kanikapila and aloha yesterday at the Hilton Hawaiian Village when master kapa maker Puanani Kanemura Van Dorpe was honored at the unveiling of "The Tapa Makers," a sculpture commissioned by Hilton Hawaii from the artist KaMille.

The dramatic oversized work represents Van Dorpe pounding kapa while watched over by the Lauhuki a me La'ahana, the patron goddesses of kapa makers.

Van Dorpe is known for having engaged in a 30-plus year study of kapa-making, studying all the available sources on Hawaiian bark cloth manufacturing and putting them to the practical test until she was able to reproduce the particularly silky and fine cloth that characterized Hawai'i.

Her husband, Robert, a specialist in cultural tourism, was at her side in documenting her thousands of experiments and spoke for her at the ceremony as well.

Though she has been in poor health and suffered a fall last week, Van Dorpe attended the ceremony propped up on a hospital gurney. The spirits of the family and friends who surrounded her were undampened. After the formal part of the unveiling in the Tapa Tower lobby, dozens surrounded her; they weren't allowed kisses, but they piled lei at her feet, held her hands and wished her well.

Close friend and artist Herb Kane, her neighbor in Captain Cook on the Big Island, and entertainer Joe Recca serenaded her.

Legendary songstress Marlene Sai sang "Waikiki," while dancer Beverly Noa, in bare feet and skinny jeans, danced as gracefully as she did when she was named Miss Hawaii in 1952.

Scholar Rubellite Kawena Johnson stood by, singing along, and even mimed a few kolohe hula movements. Not until everyone had had a chance to greet her did Van Dorpe allow the waiting ambulance to take her back to the hospital where she is recuperating.

Reach Wanda A. Adams at wadams@honoluluadvertiser.com.