Public art often generates a better understanding of communities and individual lives. It also helps create community and a sense of place, as well as engages civic dialogue.
Such is the case of noted sculptor Sean Lee Loy Browne’s latest art piece, Pupukahi i Holomua Kakou (United We Grow), at Kohala Elementary School in Kapaau.
The newly installed bronze sculpture represents a pair of hands united in harmony and forming the outline of a poi pounder. It symbolizes the spiritual and physical nourishment of each student. The joined hands also represent the school’s extended community, including the teachers, staff and parents who unite to collectively nurture and sustain the students’ growth, Browne said.
Along the sculpture’s base are two plaques revealing the history of North Kohala, told through thoughtfully selected images. There are voyaging canoes, the northern star, Upolu Point with the Alenuihaha Channel, mahiole (feathered helmet), a colt, guitar and poi pounder.
The sculpture was celebrated Tuesday during a special dedication, complete with short heartfelt speeches, a maile lei ceremony by Kahu Tom Fernandez and entertainment by Hope and John Keawe. The school’s students, teachers and staff also performed songs and an oli.
With every gaze upon the sculpture, Principal Danny Garcia asked the 415 students in pre-kindergarten to fifth grade to think about how they can be pono and assist others. Using the example of kalo (taro), he shared how the extraordinary power of many can be cultivated and make a collective difference.
Browne reflected briefly on the wonderful experience he had working with the school and complimented the students’ talents. He hopes the sculpture served as a reminder to the students that they can do anything and all they need is heart. He also told them to always be proud of where they’re from.
Born and raised in Hilo, Browne is a graduate of Kamehameha Schools - Kapalama. He received a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Redlands in California and a master’s of fine arts degree from the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
Browne also studied stone carving in Italy and Japan under a Fulbright Fellowship.
Named a Living Treasure by Honpa Hongwanji, Browne’s work can be found throughout the state.
He is the sculptor of the statues of King Kalakaua and Prince Kuhio in Waikiki, as well as the mahiole in front of the administrative office building complex at Kona International Airport.
Before the ceremony, several attendees spoke about the importance of the Art in Public Places-Artists in Residence Program.
A collaboration between the Department of Education and Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, the program provides opportunities for students to work directly with professional artists commissioned to create a site-specific work of art.
Garcia said Kohala Elementary applied for the Artists in Residence Program in 2010 and was one of four schools selected in 2011.
Explaining his school’s philosophy, Garcia stressed how the arts play an essential role in providing each student with a well-rounded education that meets the needs of the whole child.
Guided by the foundation, Kohala Elementary’s art advisory committee determined the site and style of artwork for the campus.
The committee also selected Browne from the six artists interviewed, Garcia said.
The school worked with Browne on the artwork’s concept.
A major source of inspiration for “Pupukahi i Holomua Kakou” was the cheerful mural showing brightly colored hands sprouting from grass, which was painted on the wall of the school’s office roughly seven years ago.
Other influences were the school’s thriving garden and the community’s vibrant history, Garcia said.
Kohala Elementary received a $75,000 grant for the commissioned sculpture and to implement an integrated arts-in-education program, said Trisha Lagaso Goldberg, the foundation’s project manager. Browne, now considered a hanai teacher by many at the school, spent 10 days and at least 40 hours doing various art exercises with students.
Garcia said it took about a year to complete the work.