A Catholic Church on Maui
Above Watercolor: Kaupo St. Joseph Catholic Church, Maui
The Artist’s Collection

Surprised by Paradise:
A Michigan Artist in Maui

Monochromatic Winter

For years I have been traveling the frozen dirt roads of Michigan’s Isabella County, drawing and painting the farms and fields. I absolutely love the minimalist landscape in winter. The bones of the earth are bare or a snow covered blank canvas. I am energized by the loneliness; the bareness of it.

Painting Winter Grays is the title of a painting depicting a barn in winter
Painting Winter Grays, 2018

The watercolor “Painting Winter Grays” is a study in the subdued colors of a cloudy, snowy day.  This painting was completed in January- a few days before my wife and I had left to  visit my step son who lives in Maui. 

I never considered myself a tourist who needed to go outside of Michigan, a state that has everything to satisfy my aesthetic needs. However this was a trip to visit family and Hawaii would be interesting as long as I could ignore the tourists. 

Michigan Artist Mike Sherman on Maui on About page
Michigan Artist Mike at Kealia_Pond National Wildlife Refuge in Maui

Maui Wow Factor

What would this Michigan Artist’s first impressions of Maui be like? Upon arrival, I immediately felt the warmth and humidity because the Kahului Airport, like many Hawaiian buildings, is open to the outside. However with the tropical trade winds the weather wasn’t stifling like our mid west summers can be. I immediately began looking for my first Maui animal-and to my surprise it was our familiar monarch butterfly floating in and out of the airport! 

I knew that most of the species I would see in the urban areas would be introduced. However it was fun finding old familiars in such an exotic setting like the Northern Cardinal or introduced creatures not from North America; the Red-crested Cardinal is a good example. Anything native like the Black-crowned Night Heron which got to Hawaii on it’s own, was a bonus. 

Pics of Maui Animals:
I’m greatful for modern technology and the quality pictures I brought home that can be used as a reference for my paintings. Although I don’t have a 35 mm SLR, the top of the line smart phones do a pretty good job. Still a telephoto lens is needed get the best shots. Here are a few I managed with a smartphone.

Art Inspired by Maui

Maui is like Ultra HD and Mid Michigan in February is like a fuzzy black and white TV in comparison. After I got back from Maui, Michigan appeared plain and lackluster. Hawaii ruined winterscapes for the rest of that season.  Instead of driving the icy back roads, I stayed in the studio and painted. Here are four studio pieces based on my photos. Click on the paintings for availability. 
A painting of Sugar Beach, Kihei, Maui
Sugar Beach, Maui
Kaupo Palm Sunset
Kaupo Palm Sunset, Maui, Hawaii
a painting of the Maui North Shore: Road to Hana
Maui North Shore
a painting titled Maui color and flora
Maui Color and Flora
Plein air 

As a Michigan artist, painting or drawing in Maui was sporadic. There were so many fun things like mountain climbing, snorkeling, driving the “Road to Hana”, etc, to do with family! However I was able to plan to do some art while there. 

Sacred Grounds: Kaupo Church

Maui Church with Mountains

I’ve been to Maui twice, repeatedly inspired and awestruck at the beauty that was everywhere. However the most isolated place we visited-at least for tourists-had a deep impact on me. We had been traveling on the “Road to Hana” which is a stunningly beautiful drive to a remote town on the island’s north shore. 

After having dinner in Hana, my step son took us on a road (some parts looking like a two-track) that continued along the north shore. Due to the road condition, most vehicle rental companies won’t allow customers to drive it so they have to turn back after reaching Hana. 

 I have always thought Michigan’s Upper Peninsula was remote but this part of Maui equaled the U.P. in lonely splendor.

Maui Road and Pot hole
Reflected Hawaiian light in a pot hole
Hawaiian Church and sunset
Hawaiian Church and Sunset

We didn’t see many tourists after we left Hana and the sun was just setting when we reached Kaupo St. Joseph Catholic Church (see my painting at the beginning of this blog). The gloaming bathed Kaupo in gold that seemed to permeate everything it touched-the church and the mountains bordering the south and the Pacific to the north.

As we got out of the car I circled around the church and found myself in a traditional Hawaiian Cemetery. “These are Sacred Grounds” a sign proclaimed and I had no doubt that they were. Already overcome by the beauty of light and location, I began weeping, thinking of the people buried here and the lives they led with happiness and grief. I thought of their descendants and the obvious love and care they put into this place. Unfortunately there were not enough parishioners left to keep up regular services. 

Sacred Grounds Sign
Sacred Sign
Pinery Cemetery
Spirit Houses at the Pinery Cemetery on the L'Anse Indian Reservation

I also thought about how the people buried here would have strongly identified with my Native American ancestors buried on our reservation’s Pinery Cemetery. Both groups survived heartbreaking oppression and genocide to keep on living and loving despite this cruelty.

I also felt some confusion and guilt. I was a Michigan artist greatly enjoying a Luau and other shades of Hawaiian culture that has been appropriated for our entertainment.  At the Kaupo church all the commercialism was stripped down to reveal the bare essentials of a beautiful culture that despite battling oppression and there own social ills, continues to thrive. 

 Although Maui doesn’t have snowy lonely roads to paint on (except on top of Haleakala once or twice a year), I would like to dig deeper in knowing and understanding Maui: the plants and animals, forests and of course the ocean. In the meantime I enjoy researching Hawaii and its diverse culture and people. 

My stepson who lives in Hawaii will soon be staying with us for a while because the hospitality industry has been virtually wiped out due to the pandemic. I’ll be talking to him about the changes he witnessed in Maui. For a few months he was able to see the island without the tourism and perhaps experienced a little bit of more of the island’s bare essentials.  

I hope this Michigan artist can go back to this paradise when this crisis is over and be able to experience Maui’s people and landscape with even more respect and reverence. I’ll enjoy the touristy stuff for sure but having a deeper agenda is essential. I of course have returned to paint and draw on Mid Michigan’s unpaved roads and am looking forward to exploring them this winter-even with all the ice and snow.

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