Lei masters leave room for friendly competition at 3-day event


POSTED: Friday, March 13, 2009

Brian Choy admits to being a groupie. He wasn't following rock bands, though. His passion was lei making, and he was obsessed with the work of Irmalee and the late Walter Pomroy.

He followed the couple around in the '70s, begging to be taught the art form of Hawaiian lei making. “;I would watch the Pomroys making lei, trying not to be obtrusive by asking too many questions or getting in their way. They generously and patiently shared their lei-making skills.”;

In 1976, Choy entered his first May Day Lei Competition — what would become an annual tradition for 30 years. He has retired from competition but continues to share his lei-making skills.

Next weekend he'll be featured during the three-day “;Celebration of Hawaiian Lei Making”; at the Academy Art Center at Linekona, presented by TEMARI, Center for Asian & Pacific Arts.

Choy said the loss of several master lei makers, including Walter Pomroy, sparked his interest in organizing such an event. “;I realized that many of the master lei makers are in their 70s and 80s,”; he said. “;We would watch and learn from lei makers who became more than just our teachers. They became treasured friends and family. The Pomroys, Marie and Roen MacDonald and hala lei maker Roy Benham are among those people.”;

Following a conversation with Carol Khewok of the Academy Art Center, it was decided that the celebration would mimic the 1995 event “;The Art of Lei Making.”;

“;I am excited about this reunion with my lei-making friends and family,”; he said.

The three-day event features lei-making demonstrations; “;Talk Story with a Lei Maker”; sessions; movie screenings of “;Ka Lei,”; “;Living Masters of Niihau and Kauai”; and “;The Feather Worker”;; exhibits and demonstrations on the use of leis in song, dance, chant and for the pau rider; and lei photography by Minako Ishii and Nathan Yuen. Hands-on activities such as stringing orchid wristlets are also planned.

Another highlight is the “;Iron Lei Maker Challenge,”; between two teams that will be required to make a lei using “;surprise”; materials. The challenge will begin at 10 a.m. March 21, with the winner announced at noon.


Creating a lei garden

Native Hawaiian lei plants require special care:

» Native plants are sensitive to chemical fertilizer and generally require perfect drainage. Most local gardens have clay soil and need to be significantly amended with compost and cinder.

» Most lei flowers require full sun in order to bloom. Many homes in Hawaii have small yards shaded by neighboring houses. Container gardening allows you to move plants to the sunniest part of the garden.

» Sun patterns change throughout the year. Study your garden to determine where plants and flowers will receive the most sun; or where the semishady areas are for ferns and pansies. Be aware that as shrubs and trees grow, they can block the sun from reaching plants below.

» Take a gardening class to truly understand how to best care for your plants.


Ohia lehua: Special needs

» A 6-inch pot or gallon-size ohia is best for transplanting.

» To improve drainage, cut off the bottom of a large (at least 7-gallon) empty plastic pot. Put it into a shallow hole. Half-fill the pot with black cinder, then place the plant atop the cinder. Fill the pot with a mixture of 50 percent cinder and 50 percent potting soil. The ohia eventually will grow into the existing soil.

» Water when the soil appears dry on the surface. Initially the plant probably will need to be watered every day for several weeks; then, every other day. Don't water plants when it rains heavily.

» Plant palapalai or another fern below your ohia tree, but be careful not to dig around the tree, as ohia roots lie close to the surface. Don't try to plant anything other than ferns under the ohia.

Source: Brian Choy