DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Albert Nishigaya creates his evocative miniatures of a Japanese rural village from bits of bamboo, driftwood and pebbles.
A retiree finds latent talent for creating art to place with plants
One thing leads to another, one stick lies atop the other, and so on, and that is how villages come to be. Even small ones. They start not with a plan, not a detailed blueprint or site analysis, but with a glimmering dream, a vision that takes form and weight.
‘ORCHIDS FOR EVERYONE’
» On display: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and tomorrow, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday
» Place: Kalani High School gym and cafeteria
» Admission: $2; seniors and children free
» Featuring: Exotic orchids, "oshibana" art, "ikebana," bonsai, plant sale and garden shop
» Call: 265-9498
Consider Albert Nishigaya, retired from Hawaiian Airlines, puttering away in his near-vertical home built into the steep slopes of Palolo Valley. After a lifetime of making airliners comfy for visitors, he decided that he wanted to raise orchids. He was good at it. Banks of orchids and small plants fill his yard.
To show off his orchids in a show, he decided to dress them up with a hand-crafted plinth, the colors of the wood suggesting a Japanese "furo." He discovered that he was good at that, too. He visualized vignettes, captured moments of village architecture and exquisite craftsmanship.
Nishigaya kept building, honing his skills. Relatives and friends were amazed. Late in life, Nishigaya revealed a latent talent for miniature craftsmanship that borders on the artistic.
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Nishigaya arranges his tiny village with the same care and balance of a flower arranger.
"None of us had any idea he had this talent until he started making things," says his wife, Jane. "And now they're all over the house!"
Nishigaya's orchid and bonsai vignettes, placed together, create a miniature Japanese village to be displayed at this weekend's Kaimuki Orchid Society Show and then taken apart, likely forever. Nishigaya is giving away many of his early pieces. He's not satisfied.
"Look here," he says, showing off a wooden plinth, a miniature furo that would support a potted plant. "Nails, there" - vaguely embarrassed - "I used little nails when I first started out. Asian woodworking uses pegs and dowels, so that's what I do now."
IS YOUR ORCHID AILING?
Workshops at the orchid show will include repotting classes throughout both days. Bring one plant for repotting.
Nishigaya has only been doing this for a few years, and now that he's in the swing of it, his imagination is several steps ahead of his fingers.
"While I'm working - sanding, carving, polishing, whatever - I'm planning the next piece in my head. What does the building look like? How is it put together? The color, the texture? Or I'll find a piece of driftwood and study it, look at it for a couple of hours. It will tell me how best to use it. I want to work with the piece, not against it."
One current project, a piece of burned driftwood, is stuck vertically in a pot. White dots on it turned out to be miniature seabirds, and suddenly the charred slab of wood was a towering lava cliff. "I'll put white sand around the base, of course," said Nishigaya. "Yin-yang."
Nishigaya has a bin of evocative driftwood, containers of polished river stones, bits of shattered lava, sheets of bamboo matting and other materials. It's a holistic process. His pieces use natural color and texture, often in contrast, an organic play of silkiness and grit.
If the miniature buildings strike a memory chord, you might have seen them before in a samurai epic.
"Oh, I'm always looking at the buildings in Japanese and Asian movies," said Nishigaya. "By now I have a pretty good sense of what a traditional Japanese village is supposed to be."
His pieces, Nishigaya said, aren't supposed to tell a story, and they're not precise miniatures of Asian architecture. They're supposed to be evocative and suggestive. You read into them your own stories, you own memories.
Jane says Albert has resisted the notion of selling the pieces.
"When you do it from the heart," he said, "you're just glad when people look at them and enjoy them the way you do. It's about sharing."