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Art commemorating canonization adds Hawaiian cultural elements


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POSTED: Friday, May 15, 2009

Artist Dietrich Varez has used Father Damien as a subject for his art many times.

His most recent work of the “;Canonization of Damien”; has Hawaiian angels holding a maile leaf halo over the head of the priest. It is done in the artist's signature style, a monochrome brown print with detailed Hawaiian plants significant to the Damien story.

“;As an artist, I like the way Damien relates to the Hawaiian people,”; said Varez.

He consulted Sister Mary Dolorine Pires, a Sacred Hearts nun and family friend, for imagery to fit the story. “;He slept under a pandanus tree when he first got to Kalaupapa, and that's in it. There's kukui flower and leaves because that's the official blossom of Molokai,”; he said in an interview. “;I used hibiscus, the state flower; there's an unopened bud which tells us there is more beauty to come.

“;I always put twin taro leaves because they're heart-shaped, very close to the symbol of the Sacred Hearts.”; Damien was a member of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, a religious order,

Varez is best known for his depictions of old Hawaiian lifestyle and legends. Signed silk-screened prints of his pictures, which he carves on linoleum blocks, are sold at the Volcano Art Center & Gallery in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

His earlier visions of Damien showed the priest working with carpentry tools and, in another, giving a drink to an emaciated man. Varez also did large oil paintings of Damien and Mother Marianne Cope, who also served patients in Kalaupapa, which hang in Our Lady of Peace Cathedral in downtown Honolulu.

“;It's not a spiritual thing for me; I'm not a religious person. The Golden Rule is my religion. I like helping people, and that is the kind of man Damien is. I feel that is a good way to be a human, to help people to the point of giving the ultimate sacrifice.”;