Hawai’i Volcanoes News Release
August 14, 2003
Park’s Kupuna Committee Makes Cultural Choice
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park will display a new painting of the Hawaiian goddess Pele at the soon-to-be remodeled Kilauea Visitor Center. Yesterday, the park’s Kupuna Committee, a long-standing cultural consultative group, chose an oil painting by Hawai’i Island artist Arthur Johnsen from among 140 statewide entries.
Last March the Park invited submissions from Hawai’i artists "who, by virtue of their whole life experience" felt able to portray this important Hawaiian deity. The overwhelming response created what appears to be the single largest collection of Pele portraits ever juried at one time. After a full day of intense review and discussion, the Kupuna Committee decided that Johnsen’s oil portrait best represented the deity’s deepest cultural meanings.
O’ahu born Johnsen moved to Volcano Village in the 1970s where he experienced earthquakes and fountain eruptions. A Puna resident since 1989, he also witnessed the destruction of Kalapana and the beach at Kaimu, and has watched lava flows from his Kehena home since building it in 1992. Johnsen says that knowing his house can be taken by the volcano at any time makes him "feel closely connected on a very personal level."
Johnsen’s painting shows the fiery goddess striding through the forest. "I show her with a staff in one hand to represent her as a destroyer, and cradling an egg in the other, representing regeneration and the fact that new life springs up from lava," he said.
In addition to the honor of displaying his painting on the summit of Kilauea, Johnsen will also receive $8,000. Many of the park’s 2.6 million annual visitors will get their first introduction to Pele from Johnsen’s portrait. "This painting will be a wonderful addition to our exhibit," said park Superintendent, Jim Martin. " 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."
It’s important to have a powerful exhibit about this Hawaiian deity at the visitor center, said Jim Gale, the park’s Chief Interpreter. "To Hawaiians this place is the sacred home of Pele. We need to help visitors appreciate that."
Gale also noted that since the 19th century, artists have attempted to portray the power of Kilauea and Mauna Loa. "This deity is one they have always tried to capture on canvas," he said. "Now we have an early 21st century rendition."
The new painting is part of a program to enhance the park’s interpretive exhibits, including those now being built for the remodeled Kilauea Visitor Center. Funding for the collaborative artwork project comes from Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, the Volcano Art Center, the Mountain Institute, the Hawai’i Tourism Authority, and the Ford Foundation. The park, working with its Kupuna Committee, will also commission an outdoor sculpture to be built in front of the visitor center. The rock and/or wood sculpture will express the idea of wahi kapu—sacred places—as it relates to Mauna Loa and Kilauea.
The public is invited to view many of the submitted Pele paintings at a Volcano Art Center show, Visions of Pele: The Volcano Deity of Hawai’i, from August 23 to September 28. Paintings will hang at the Art Center’s gallery, the Volcano House Hotel and the Thomas A. Jaggar Museum. The exhibit’s opening reception will be at all three locations from 2:30 – 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, August 23.
Shirley Kamimura, left, and Mitsie Maeda listen to an audio program to go with interpretive exhibit with artwork by John Dawson at the renovated Kilauea Visitor Center at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. BARON SEKIYA-WEST HAWAII TODAY
Kilauea Visitor Center gets $750,000 facelift
BY BETSY TRANQUILLI
WEST HAWAII TODAY
At Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, big things usually happen with a bang.
But Monday, the park’s biggest event in years wasn’t a sudden eruption, but rather a slow rumbling that gathered steam, hit a few roadblocks and final became reality.
After five years of careful planning, thousands of hours of field work and a collaboration of hundreds of experts, the park celebrated its grand reopening of the renovated Kilauea Visitor Center.
The 1,700-square-foot center, which the park boasts as the busiest visitor center on the island, recently underwent an extensive $750,000 renovation to the interior, adding an array of new exhibits explaining the ecological and cultural habitat of the almost 330,00 acres of federally protected land.
Most of the displays were professionally built on the mainland — but underwent constant consultation with Hawaiian elders and the area’s top biologists, ornithologists, entomologists, botanists and volcanologists.
"We wanted this to be the springboard to get people excited about some of the aspects of the park," said Jim Gale, chief of interpretation for the National Park and the project’s leader. "It’s a palette of arts and crafts. There are exhibits to touch, smell, see, hear. It’s a feast for the eyes for people to enjoy."
The biggest addition to the space was the original artwork and photographs commissioned for the center. The centerpiece exhibit was Arthur Johnsen’s portrait of the Hawaiian volcano goddess Pele, which was selected by the Kupuna Committee as the center’s focal portrait out of over 140 entries.
"It really flowed out easy," Johnsen said of his painting, which depicts Pele flowing downslope in a blaze of orange and red swirls towards the sea. "In the beginning I envisioned it more elaborate, but eventually I simplified it into just her."
Another featured multimedia exhibit was John Dawson’s mural depicting the flow of life from the summit to the sea. The mural, separated into six portions, took Dawson and a team of artists almost two years to complete and required weeks of field work to study every plant and animal illustrated.
"This is the first project I’ve done where I got to see the original plant before I painted it. Usually I have to rely on photos," said Dawson, who has done artwork work for organizations including National Geographic. "The best part about it is it’s here. I live in Hilo and I can just come up and see it whenever I want. It’s great to see it being enjoyed."
On the Net
– Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: http://www.nps.gov/havo/
– Daily eruption update: http://hvo.wr.usgs.gov/kilauea/update/main.html