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Star-Bulletin Features


Sunday, June 2, 2002


GALLERY
On View In The Islands

art
Elroy Juan said the shapes and patterns that adorn the water gourds symbolize different elements of nature. The darkened triangles represent raindrops in the wind, while the lined triangle patterns depict palm fronds. Together, the patterns tell a story.



Gourds cultivate
art of dedication


By Joleen Oshiro
joshiro@starbulletin.com

The ancient art of gourd decoration is suited to a man like Elroy Juan, who lives the lifestyle of a past generation. When he's not farming his land in Pauuilo on the Big Island, he's throwing his net to catch his family's dinner. Or he's growing and designing Hawaiian water gourds much in the same way it was done centuries ago.

"He's got the patience and genetic memory to do this stuff," said artist Georgia Sartoris, his partner in the art form.

Sartoris, who has a background in ceramics, said she was looking for a new media "and it found me," when Kaimiloa Crisman gifted the duo with genetically pure Hawaii gourd seeds and taught them the dying techniques.

"The gourds are a complete collaboration, with my art background and his farming abilities and Hawaiian cultural interests," Sartoris said.

art
This gourd features a design depicting the ocean.



The entire process, from germinating the seeds to having finished pieces of art, takes a painstaking 18 months. Like tending to an infant, the first nine months is spent nurturing and protecting the gourds as they grow. The seeds must be planted at least a quarter mile away from other crops, lest they self-hybrid, and must be protected from rats, fruit flies, slugs and too much wind or rain, which bruises the fruit. Juan builds trellises for the gourds to grow upon; if the fruits lean on the ground, they become misshapen. After being harvested, Juan keeps the fragile crop "inside the house with me."

Juan and Sartoris begin the decoration process by cutting a hole below the stem of the fruit and emptying it of its seeds. Then they etch designs on the fruits with knives and peel off a thin layer of skin where they want the dye, made of ingredients such as kukui bark and achiote seeds, to be absorbed. The artists have a three-month window to complete this process "if we're lucky," Juan said. "If it rains too much, the skin rots faster." If the gourd gets too dry, the fruit won't take the dye.

It takes the artists about eight hours to design and dye each gourd.

"We are as close as we can be to traditional materials and techniques," Sartoris said. "We use traditional designs as the starting point of the design, but go on to create original designs rather than copy old ones."

"Hue Wai Pawahe: Water Gourds by Elroy Juan and Georgia Sartoris" is on exhibit through Friday at the Pacific American Gallery, 925 Bethel St., Suite 100. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday. Call 533-2836.


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