Fine Art Hawaii is not just for visual art. Some of Hawaii's finest jazz musicians have performed at the gallery in Restaurant Row. The Maier family relaxes around the piano. Fran Maier, left, Mihoko Maier, Sara Maier and Steven Maier are surrounded by Mihoko's abstract paintings.

Family portrait

The Maiers make a business
out of their passion

By Lyn Danninger

A family of artists, each with their own ideas and styles of painting, would seem to make for some interesting conversations, if not plenty of competition.

But the Maier family, who not only paint together but operate Fine Art Hawaii in Restaurant Row, are more cooperative than competitive. Before opening the gallery, the Maiers' art work had been featured at other local galleries. Steven Maier had also owned a gallery on Maui where he met his wife, Japanese-born Mihoko.

The individual artists in the Maier family are Fran Maier, now 81, daughter-in-law Mihoko, son Steven and 11-year-old granddaughter Sara. All paint with their own distinctive styles.

"It's a very supportive environment. We don't criticize each other's work," said Steven, whose focus is pop art and who paints under the name Sonny Pops.

The gallery also carries works by other artists, in particular, its Hawaiian classics collection, a portfolio of limited editions on canvas which recreate images of some of Hawaii's pioneering artists.

As Sonny Pops, Steven Maier's whimsical brand of pop art revisits classic Hawaiian images as well as familiar pop art subjects. His works range from re-takes on classic pop art images such as Andy Warhol's Coca-Cola bottles and Marilyn Monroe to tongue-in-cheek recreations of familiar Hawaiian figures and scenes.

Sara Maier and grandmother Fran Maier, both painters, are in the Hawaiian Classics section of the family's Fine Art Hawaii.

"It's meant to be light hearted, both the classic pop art and Hawaiian pop. I'm really the low man on the totem pole. My wife is the best seller and then my mom," he said.

Maier's mother, Fran, long a fixture in Hawaii's art world, has been painting all her life. She opened and ran a gallery in Arizona for many years before moving to Hawaii four decades ago. Her gentle impressionist works have been featured in galleries as far away as Japan.

For Mihoko, considered a prodigy in Japan where she first began painting as a child, music is the guide for her abstract art.

"Jazz is my inspiration," she said. "I even take music lessons from my friend Azure McCall," the renowned local singer.

So taken is she with the musical form, Mihoko creates her art while listening to jazz, translating what she hears into her paintings.

With a piano in the gallery, the Maiers welcome local jazz musicians to perform on a regular basis.

The artistic talents of the Maiers' daughter, Sara, first came to attention by accident one day when she was painting in the gallery after school.

"A lady came into the gallery, noticed her painting and asked how much she wanted for her painting," Steven said. "Not knowing what to say, she said $25. The lady then said 'would you take $50?'"

"So far we've sold four of her paintings and we weren't even trying," he said.

While it's too early to say what style of art Sara will eventually embrace, or whether she will even grow up to be an artist, right now she seems to be following in her mother's abstract footsteps, Maier said.

"She's a lot like her mother. She wants to be a painter and also to be a singer," he said.

Maier said he is only too well aware of the ups and downs of operating a gallery -- especially in Hawaii. In 1991, he opened another gallery at Ala Moana Center.

"It was a week before the Gulf War started. We got crushed like a small bug," he said.

A strong economy won't by itself guarantee success in the art world, Maier said.

"Even if the economy is booming, it's still a risky business," he said.

To broaden the gallery's reach, the family is planning a trip to New York City later this month where they will exhibit 38 paintings at the Super Bowl of all art shows, the International Art Show, which this year is having its 25th anniversary.

Maier is hoping that his family will capture the interest and the attention of those who visit the show.

Art dealers come to the show from all over the world, and for three days it is open to the public.

"What we hope is we get picked up by some major galleries there," he said. "That will be the ballast to keep us afloat during bad months."

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