story by Genevive Bjorn
photo by Chris McDonough
Under the palms by Pa‘ia Bay, a band of artists—hippies, really—decided to take a chance and sell their work to tourists on the beach during Christmas in 1981. Within a few weeks, they had sold everything. Inspired by their success, they did something uncharacteristic of artsy hippies: They formed a business cooperative, leased a retail space and started a guild. “At first, I resisted becoming a corporation and wondered, ‘Why do we have to go through all that baloney?’” says Sandy Vitarelli, a founding member who is still active in the Guild. “We didn’t know if we would even last a month.” But with artists eager to join, few art galleries on the island and growing demand, the business flourished. Today, the Maui Crafts Guild is a cornerstone of the Maui arts community.
As in the early days when she sold pottery on the beach, Sandy has remained true to ceramics. She throws exquisitely detailed pots using a method called “high-fire scraffito,” known locally as “the Vitarelli style.” By layering and scoring the clay, Sandy creates decorative pots with raised, high-contrast images that reflect themes of Island life. “Over the years, the Crafts Guild has encouraged people like me who are interested in staying in the arts to take it seriously,” explains Sandy. “It is a place where people who put their heart and soul into art can make a decent living.”
The Crafts Guild is Maui’s only art gallery owned and operated wholly by local artisans. Its members, who currently number about forty, do it all: They run and clean the store, serve in leadership roles and somehow find the time to make all the art: whimsical fish prints, dream-like collages and silky-smooth woodcarvings. The selection includes ceramics, jewelry, fabrics, glass, prints, hand-made paper, woodwork and musical instruments at prices ranging from a few to a few thousand dollars.
Maui’s growing economy has brought the Guild both success and challenge. This year, amid competition from other galleries and skyrocketing rent, the Guild celebrates its 25th anniversary. HH