Our Historic Building

Nourishing Art on Lana’i

By Joana Varawa, artist
When the award-winning Lodge at Ko’ele was under construction in the late ‘80’s, John Wulbrandt, an internationally recognized muralist, was hired to enhance the décor at the resort. He saw that the involvement of local artists would bring life and energy to the project. Via flyers posted around town, a group of interested artists was gathered, and under John’s direction embellished The Lodge with varied works of art. He taught them techniques of stenciling, faux wall graining, and texturing, and invited and supervised wall art of local subjects. 
Working together they made the walls look like burlap, defined each room door with a native flower, ran a line of stenciled birds and deer around the floor and ceiling of the Great Hall, and created framed paintings and drawings of hula dancers, pineapple fields, native landscape and petroglyphs. In a grand effort, the artists assisted in painting the ceilings of the entrance hall and music room with exotic flowers and a compass rose and poem that placed Ko’ele, “In the center of the world.”
When they finished this astonishing project John felt that the accumulated energy should not dissipate, and he organized the Lana’i Art Project and found an empty old plantation store for artists to continue their work.
I remember that first empty space, termite sculpted bare walls, old windows, but light and room, and no need to worry about paint getting on the floor; a perfect messy place to nurture art. It was there that I sold my first painting, a big bright orchid bought by “someone from Chicago.”
From that early beginning, The Lana’i Art Center, incorporated as a non-profit community organization, has metamorphosed into a vital volunteer organization that offers classes in art and ceramics via its Kid’s Art Club to Lanai’s children, (the only art currently available to them), and a spectrum of classes and activities for adults. The Center maintains that first paint-spattered place as a renovated light filled gift shop and gallery to show and sell the work of local artists. 
It has not always been easy, but the early sponsorship of David Murdock, CEO of Castle & Cooke Resorts, who provided the space rent-free and made significant contributions to the center, helped it along. Other grants, notably from the State Foundation of Culture and the Arts and Maui County, assisted in keeping the doors open and the single staff person paid. Now the grants have largely dissolved and the Center continues to seek contributions and funding from those who understand that art serves a vital spiritual need for all of us, and must continue to be nourished.
As director of the Center in the mid 90’s I organized an exploration of Trees via art for Lanai’s school children. Taking simple supplies into the 3rd and 4th grade classrooms we painted trees, any kind of tree, to open the kids’ eyes to the beauty of our forest trees. Then with stapler, and little else I covered the walls of the gallery with the kids’ work and invited them and their parents to come look. What fun to see them find their painting and show it to their mom or dad. What beauty in the vision of trees seen through their eyes!
We held parties and openings, renovated the buildings with new windows, roof, repairs and paint with the assistance of a grant from Maui County. We held – and hold – classes in silk painting, textile art, jewelry and ceramics, oil painting with off-island artists, woodworking, papermaking, flower arranging, basket weaving, prose journaling and poetry, and almost anything that a teacher can be found to supervise. Free movies were held in Dole Park, weather permitting, and innovated programs encouraged photography and public speaking for school children.
All in all, John’s initial effort flowered into hundreds and hundreds of wonderful works of art, and into the deep satisfaction that producing art offers to the artist. There is no substitute for beauty. We welcome your contributions and help.