This early 20th century painting of Pele done by Hilo artist David Howard Hitchcock hangs in the Kilauea Visitor Center of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Hitchcock said he saw this vision of Pele during an eruption of Mauna Loa in 1899. The park is conducting a competition to select a new image of Pele.

Rendering Pele

Artists gather paints and
canvas in effort to be chosen
as Pele's portrait maker

HILO>> The announcement of a competition for a new painting of the volcano goddess Pele has sparked an eruption of creativity on the Big Island.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has received 250 inquiries about the competition since April, said ranger Joni Mae Makuakane-Jarrell.

The Kona branch of Island Art Supply sold 50 of the normally seldom-used, 4-by-5-foot canvases called for by the competition, said store employee Shirley Spencer.

For the winning painting the park will pay $8,000 -- "a great motivator," Spencer said.

Some entering artists have little or no experience. David L. Hubbard at Island Art Supply's Hilo branch calls them "no-hopers," those who have no chance of winning.

"You can smell a no-hoper," he said. For example, they buy the cheapest paints available. They buy several shades of different colors instead of mixing paints to create a desired shade as an experienced artist would, he said.

And they buy materials that prompt curiosity about their vision of Pele, materials like glitter, Hubbard said.

Big Island artist Laka Morton shows two of his paintings of the volcano goddess.

They've also been buying a substance, not a paint but a "texture medium," called "black lava." The Kona store has sold five times as much of that as it would normally, Spencer said.

At the Kona store, one woman who admitted she had never painted before began buying lots of supplies, Spencer said. Although competition rules allow paintings as small as 3 feet by 3 feet, the woman bought eight to 10 of the largest canvases, Spencer said.

The woman comes in three or four times a week for advice and supplies. "She wants more stuff. More stuff will solve all your problems," Spencer said.

Underlying this fun is serious business.

The new painting will replace one created in the early 1900s by Hilo artist David Howard Hitchcock and donated to the park by his son in 1966.

The painting represents a vision of Pele that Hitchcock saw during the 1899 eruption of Mauna Loa. "Her skin was light because it was fire," he told his son Harvey. But to contemporary eyes, Hitchcock's Pele looks like a Caucasian woman with blond hair.

"The (new) painting is intended to represent the volcano deity's deepest cultural meanings," park officials said in a release. The competition is open to artists who feel qualified "by virtue of their whole life experience." A committee of Hawaiian elders will recommend the selection.

Professional artist Laka Morton, born on Kauai and now living in Volcano village, has a totally different view of Pele from Hitchcock. As images of Pele, he paints massive portraits of Hawaiian women he knew on Kauai.

But painting Pele is a "risky proposition," he says. "What does God look like? No matter what we do, we all have a definite (and different) impression," he said.

Puna artist Gail Duituturaga says a person cannot simply paint Pele. "She allows you to or she doesn't allow you to. There are strange forces," she said.

"Her eyes came really fast," Duituturaga says of her current painting. "Then I started seeing shapes and things and people in it. They just started popping up. There was a pregnant woman flying on the bottom of the painting. I don't know who these people are."

A friend explained to her what she didn't know herself, that the flying woman represents one of the stories about Pele.

Another Puna artist, Karen Mortensen, is creating a picture of "Pele making love to the mountain" using soft pastels, "like chalk," she said.

She's also doing a wall sculpture of Pele which she admits is "pushing the envelope" of competition rules.

Pushing the rules may be in the artistic temperament. Mortensen said she picked a canvas bigger than the rules allowed, but she has decided to cut the bottom off her painting.

The rules require the paintings to be framed, but Morton said frames can cost hundreds of dollars, a large investment when there is no assurance the painting will be picked or will sell, nor that the submitted frame will be used by the park in the long run.

All paintings must be submitted by Aug. 11. They will be exhibited from Aug. 23 through Sept. 28, and all except the one selected will be for sale if artists wish.


Sculpture contest to net
winning artist $38,000

HILO >> While Pele gets the glory, the big bucks come with the sacred places.

Along with Hawaii Volcanoes National Park's competition to select a new painting of Pele, the park is holding a competition to select an outdoor sculpture of wood and stone.

"The sculpture will portray the Native Hawaiian concept of wahi kapu (sacred places) and is intended to give visitors a sense of why Mauna Loa and Kilauea have long been revered by Native Hawaiians," the rules state.

The Pele competition pays $8,000, but the sacred places winner will receive $38,000. The rules are also stricter.

Like the Pele competition, artists must be qualified "by virtue of their whole life experience." Sculptors must present proposal by this Thursday and the proposal must include "ten photographic slides showing the depth and quality of the artist's previous work."

Three semi-finalists will be selected and paid $1,000 to develop their ideas further. Final submittals will be made Oct. 13 and must include a 15 minute oral presentation, according to the rules.

"It's too sacred a subject for me," said Big Island sculptor Randy Takaki, explaining why he will not submit a proposal.


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