With humble gratitude I acknowledge that I have received a treasured gift-- this ability to design and to create these beautiful Hawaiian kapa. The mana (life force) and the aloha, which pulse through me and which manifest in the creation of these wonderful quilts, are truly gifts to me. Rather than owning credit for creating these works of art, I more accurately give thanks that I have the privilege of birthing these Hawaiian quilts.
Since working on my first kapa, I have said, “I am not really the artist creator. I hold pencil to paper; then I hold needle and thread. And through my fingers these Hawaiian kapa are born.” I truly recognize that my role is something more passive than that of artist. These kapa have a mana of their own. As designer and quilter, I am privileged to be the medium, through which these awesome kapa emerge and find their being.
It IS my responsibility to execute the precision and perfection of my workmanship. I know this through the experience of my quilting. As I sit and work in the long thousands of hours of stitching, I hear almost a continuous streaming in my mind of the simple instructions, which were shared by Aunty and by my other teachers. “Stitch always toward your heart.” “Small, even stitches.” “Focus on loving thoughts for the quilt and for the person, who will receive it.” “Do your best work-- at least 10-12 stitches per inch.” “Straight down the pali with your applique stitch, then just into the edge of the fabric.” “Bring your needle straight up and down with each stitch. Feel the needle scratch your finger and then turn back up.” These simple, matter-of-fact instructions were spoken to me a few times by Aunty. Yet they perpetuate themselves in my mind and they take on a mantra-like force in my work.
The tradition and history of Hawaiian quilting, although incomplete and somewhat inferred, is well documented. I will not attempt to contribute to that knowledge base. I do, however, choose to highlight a couple aspects of Hawaiian quilting, which bear relevance to my own work.
First, Hawaiian quilting is truly one of the exemplary art crafts, which manifest the merging of cultures, Hawaiian merging with malihini (foreign and predominantly American) tradition. My desire to learn Hawaiian language and culture have compelled me to discover some way for me to embrace and to share Hawaiiana. When Aunty sat with me and shared the tradition of Hawaiian quilting, I knew intuitively that I had found my niche. The Hawaiian tradition of making tapa cloth merged with the American missionary tradition of passing the hours with needle and thread. The outcome is an incredulously beautiful art form of the Hawaiian quilt. It is the perfect way for me to express my passion for all things Hawaiian.
Second, the traditon of Hawaiian quilting has been perpetuated in the way of old Hawaii. Knowledge and skills were passed from generation to generation, from grandmother to granddaughter. The younger was “invited” to help tutu. By observing, by assisting with lesser tasks, by absorbing the experience, the youth learned the traditions of the culture. Today, even as the precious heritage of Hawaiian quilting diminishes, the words of local, Hawaiian women is remarkably universal, “Oh, I was taught by my grandmother as a young girl. I had to help tutu. I didn't begin to quilt then. I was too busy with other things. But when I had raised my children and became interested, I found that I knew how to cut and sew my own kapa.”
As a white man, mainland-born, and an “almost kama`aina” transplant to Hawaii, I know that I am most fortunate to have been tutored and taught by my Aunty Vi. Over a time of ten years Aunty instructed and critiqued my work. Aunty taught me in the Hawaiian way. Her words were few and simple, but their impact has grown and blossomed, like seeds planted and nurtured into full flower. I carry on an art form, which powerfully and beautifully expresses the best of the merging of things Hawaiian with things American.