Working from the ground up


POSTED: Sunday, January 04, 2009

ONE thing you learn right away upon talking with Marie McDonald is that she is industrious. The retired arts educator, who spent most of her career at the City and County of Honolulu, is an accomplished writer, an avid reader and self-educator, a farmer and, as is evident on this page, a talented pracitioner of the cultural arts.

In 1990, McDonald was awarded the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship as a Hawaiian lei maker, and her 1985 book “;Ka Lei: The Leis of Hawaii,”; is a respected source on the subject. Another 2004 book with Paul Weissich, director emeritus of the Honolulu Botanical Gardens, titled “;Na Lei Makamae,”; was voted the top book published in 2004 by the state's librarians and educators.

One of McDonald's latest projects is a stunning collection of kapa on exhibit at the Honolulu Academy of Arts. “;He Ho'ala Ana/An Awakening”; showcases some 25 works.

McDonald considers her various interests the results of her background and education, which includes a maternal lineage that traces back to the Mahoe Hawaiian chiefs and a paternal line leading back to the prominent Adams family of New England. McDonald studied art at a women's university in Texas, and today she still enjoys decidedly Western artistic pursuits, such as oil and watercolor painting.

She also loves lei making, flower arranging and creating kapa. These projects start out on her land on the Big Island, where she's settled since retirement, with the rearing of plants that provide some of the materials she uses for her floral work, kapa and dyes.

“;I work from the ground up,”; she says. “;I got a source for wauke trees and I planted them from the root.”; After about 18 months, the tree bark was mature enough for McDonald to begin her kapa work. She continues to beat kapa daily.

“;I experimented with the bast until I felt I had reached the stage to make usable pieces. Caring for the trees is part of the determination of getting a good couple of pieces.”;

McDonald says much of the learning she's acquired on kapa making has come through reading. She also trades information and watches how others work.

“;I developed my own methods, based on tradtional Hawaiian methods. It's taken a lot of practice and a lot of mistakes before I reached the point where I thought I could do good work,”; she says.

McDonald's experience with dyes came from her early work in batik and other art forms.

“;Oh! And the Easter eggs,”; she adds. “;When I was working for the city, there were no funds (for store-bought dyes), so I experimented to make natural dyes. I had the kids help me figure out what worked.”;

“;He Ho'ala Ana”; continues through Jan. 18 at the academy. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays. Admission is $10, $5 seniors and military, children free. Call 532-8700.