Interpreting Damien in art


POSTED: Sunday, October 11, 2009

Those of us outside the Catholic community can only begin to imagine what it's like for Hawaii congregates to witness the canonization of Father Damien De Veuster. The Belgium-born priest arrived in Kalaupapa, Molokai, in 1873 after volunteering to serve as pastor to Hansen's disease patients quarantined there for life.

Yet the lessons of Damien's commitment extend beyond the scope of the Catholic community or Hawaiian history lessons. They're showing up in unlikely places, proving that great work by good people transcend time and place.

Case in point: the Honolulu Printmakers' Father Damien art exhibit, on display at downtown's Cathedral Gallery. The show features the works of 23 invited printmakers who each offer their interpretation of Damien. Some of the artists have familial ties to Kalaupapa patients, making the show especially meaningful for them.

But others, such as Gina Kerr, are only now pondering Damien's contributions on a deeper, more personal level.

“;I'd been thinking about this for four or five months,”; says Kerr, whose work is the sole abstract piece in the show. “;My thinking was about how permeable God's spirit was (in Damien). So my image is less about his coat and hat and more about the creator infusing him and keeping him steady.”;

Up until this project, the artist says her knowledge of Damien had been “;marginal.”; Her research comprised reading books and watching films, and what she came away with was how productive the priest was, even after he contracted Hansen's disease.

“;Even in illness, he was fixing the roof. I thought, 'This guy never stops.' He was not contemplative or scholarly—he was a doer. I thought about what it would take to emulate a guy like that,”; Kerr says.

“;The project allowed me to explore not just a big piece of Hawaii's history, but also what it would take to adhere to a commitment like this. Despite the loneliness and isolation, he was able to stay strong. Now, I have a (different) respect for what the Catholic church is doing for him. It's nice.”;





        » On exhibit: through Nov. 3

» Where: The Cathedral Gallery, Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace, 1184 Bishop St.


» Gallery hours: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays to Fridays; after 5 p.m. Mass Saturdays; and after 6 a.m., 7:30 a.m., 9 a.m., 10:30 a.m., noon and 6 p.m. Masses Sundays (Mass runs 45 minutes to 1 hour)


» Call: 536-7036


» Also: Another Damien art show, “;Kalaupapa; Keep In! Keep Out!,”; monoprints by Maria Lee, is showing through Oct. 31 at Pauahi Tower, Bishop Square, 1003 Bishop St. Call 545-7500.


Themed portfolios hone artists' skills

Each year, Honolulu Printmakers members each produce portfolios centered on a theme. This year, the focus is Father Damien De Veuster.

“;As a whole, I think the variety is wonderful,”; says Laura Smith, Printmakers executive director. “;I think that's one of the neat things about themed portfolios. You get so involved with your own print, you forget there are other opinions out there.”;

Portfolios support the printmaking concept of multiples, Smith says.

“;The portfolios really make printmakers better technicians. It allows you to hone your skills. If you make 10 or 20 impressions, they should pretty much all look the same. If you only print one, you haven't really encountered,”; she says. “;That's one of the joys of printmaking.”;

Multiples allow commercial artists to sell more of their work and, in a group like the Printmakers, enables artists to trade with one another or donate their prints.

This year, a Damien canonization committee will receive a set of all 23 prints, and the Printmakers always retain a set. Plus, each artist has granted reproduction rights to the commission to benefit Damien-related programs.

Joleen Oshiro, Star-Bulletin