|Story by Janice Crowl
Illustration courtesy Marian Berger
If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, artist Marian Berger has seen it reflected in the pupil of an ‘i‘iwi. “I love details — the feathers, the oranges, reds and yellows,” she says, explaining why she painted a close-up view of the native bird. “I wanted people to have a really personal experience, make them wonder.”
Berger’s watercolor is one of many memorable pieces celebrating the living treasures of Hawai‘i in an annual juried arts exhibition devoted to the native flora and fauna of the Big Island. The exhibit, called Hawai‘i Nei (“this beloved Hawai‘i”), features over 170 works by artists of all ages, all residents of the island of Hawai‘i. Since its launch in 2009 Hawai‘i Nei has featured works by well-known artists such as John Dawson, who has created a number of stamps for the US Post Office, and native Hawaiian bird photographer Jack Jeffrey.
Both artists and scientists serve as judges, which encourages artists to be thorough in their research and accurate in their rendering of native species. “We want people to investigate what’s in our backyard,” says Colleen Cole, partnership coordinator for Three Mountain Alliance, which co-sponsors the exhibit. “Instead of putting on a slideshow or leading a hike, we want to invite artists to reach people in another way.”
The exhibit aims to build awareness of native species with proceeds benefiting ‘Imi Pono No Ka ‘Aina, an environmental education program serving about four hundred children annually. This year’s exhibit, November 2 through 29 at the Wailoa Arts and Culture Center in Hilo, has two themes: Hahai no ka ua i ka ulula (“the rain follows the forest”), which highlights rainforests, and ‘Ala La (“the rising of a new day”), about the effort to save the ‘alala, or Hawaiian crow, from extinction.
“The support from the artist community is amazing,” says Cole. “All of this is original work, and we have big-name artists in every show, but I love the kids’ art and the amateur art, too. There was one entrant who thought she had no talent, but when her work sold she was in tears. The next year, she received one of the top awards. Through Hawai‘i Nei she discovered she’s an artist, and that’s exciting.”