He Mo`olelo (Quilt Stories). In this section I share details of the "story" of each quilt that I have designed and made. Each story can be rather lengthy-- just scroll down until you find the title of the quilt you want to know more about! Mahalo for your interest.
Design and quilted by: Ric Stark
Fabric: 100% cotton, hand dyed by Ric Stark
Batting, 100% polyester (Quilters' Dream)
Dimensions: 105" x 105"
Completed, May, 2019.
During 2014 as I quilted madly (start to finish in 14 months) on “He Po`ai Aloha”, my quilt honoring the Queen’s song, “Sanoe”, I spent time leafing through The Queen’s Songbook. I was captivated by the song immediately preceding “Sanoe”. “Pipili ka Ua i ka Nahele”, composed early by the Princess, describes a trek into then remote uplands of Palolo Valley. As described in the songbook, today Palolo Valley is a populated valley, a kind of suburb in the edge of the city of Honolulu. In Liliu’s day the valley itself was remote, accessible only partially by carriage. But the inner valley and area known as Waioma`o was far removed, requiring riding horseback to reach the “supreme happy stillness that surrounds me.”
“Pipili ka Ua i ka Nahele” is an early example of dual themes in the Queen’s song compositions. First, in its form the song employs an unconventional style by using the same melody for the chorus as for the verse. Second, Lili`uokalani loved to compose her songs as a way of sharing (usually secretively) the theme of love song. Using the metaphor of “lililehua” (chilly lehua) and “Waioma`o” (green water), the Princess vividly describes her intimate experience in nature to tell a tale of unattainable and secretive love.
Of course, the Princess was an accomplished equestrian— a requirement of any Hawaiian royal of her era. How far and deep into Waioma`o Lili`u rode we are not told in the tale of “Pipili ka Ua i ka Nahele”. The trail and the stream carry into the deep recesses of the valley and ascend steeply up the windward slopes, finally ending at the summit of Ka`au Crater on the crest of the Ko`olau. How far did Lili`u ride? Did she arrive in Ka`au Crater? We don’t know (as far as my search has carried).
Yet the association between Lili`u’s travel and the majestic vistas of the Waioma`o summit are incontrovertibly connected. ….which brings us to the second tale of “Ka Lehua Papa”.
Spring 2015, May— the Hawaii Quilt Guild’s annual quilt show at Linekona, the annex of the recently renamed Honolulu Academy of Arts. As “He Po`ai Aloha” was sharing my story of Sanoe with its admiring public, I also spent some time sharing with a young man on Oahu, who was learning Hawaiian quilting under the instruction of Aunty Gussie Bento.
Bryan was attempting a new craft with eager energy and clumsy fingers. However, Bryan had another passion, in which he was skilled and accomplished. He is an avid hiker.
When I shared with him my ideas for a new Hawaiian quilt about Palolo Valley and Waioma`o stream, Bryan lit up.
“Do you know Waioma`o trail?”, he queried.
“I once drove to the back of Palolo Valley. But, no, I never hiked in the valley of Palolo.”, I replied.
He continued with intense energy. “I have hiked the trail— from its start in the back of Palolo Valley up the steep trail to the summit. It’s a wet, muddy and steep trail. It takes about three hours to reach the summit of Ka`au Crater. But there on the summit you walk into one of my favorite sights in all of Hawaii, the lehua papa.”
Bryan continued, describing this distinct and unique species of lehua. “Lehua papa grows only on the narrow, summit ridge of the Ko`olau— no other place. It grows as a short, stunted shrub. Its leaves are tiny, deeply-grooved and leathery. To survive on the harsh, windswept environment of the summit, this `ohi`a evolved into a distinct species with characteristics unlike any other lehua. It’s my favorite plant in Hawaii and I often hike up the Ko`olau so that I can spend time with the lehua papa in its cool, windy, misty home.”
He had me— I was hooked! And in that exchange, I envisioned a quilt and I knew that my next project would weave together a Queen’s song with a precious and little-known flowering shrub, Ka Lehua Papa.
Some time later Bryan made another trek up Waioma`o trail to gather and bring back samples of lehua papa. He gave them to me— they were even more captivating and precious than he described. I immediately stored them in a small plastic container, resting on a carefully folded piece of Hawaiian fabric. I still have them today. Dried, withered and turned dark brown, they retain all the qualities that make ka lehua papa so unique. Whenever I show the quilt, I bring out and share the precious gift of Oahu’s unique and rare `ohi`a.
I faced some unique and difficult challenges with quilt design for Ka Lehua Papa. I always try to draw and quilt incredibly vivid, realistic images of my plants and flowers. I want the viewer to “smell the flowers” when they gaze on my quilt. With lehua papa it was particularly those tiny, deeply grooved veins in the leaves which blew me away. Now, I can quilt tiny and with detail. But there was no way I could quilt an entire kapa with such intimate detail.
So I compromised. The central piko of the quilt is a lei of lehua papa— quilted with life-size leaves. And then the body of the quilt portrays giant, grossly-enlarged leaves with the details of the veins quilted into the leaves. Embellishing the many lehua blossoms (They are the same size as all other lehua blossoms!), I spent several months embroidering each blossom for added impact.
The outer quilt border is again a different and unique “lei”. I drew and quilted my image of the majestic Ko`olau— with my impression of Ka`au Crater in each corner. I struggled with the drawing and almost hated what I had created as I quilted the outer border. On the day I finished the binding I lay the quilt on my bed, backed up to gaze and muttered aloud, “Silly man! What was wrong with you? It’s exactly what I intended and wanted!” Another of the Queen’s many lesson for me, onipa`a (steadfast, persistent)!
In an odd and unplanned aside, in mid 2018 as I was finishing Ka Lehua Papa, I made a decision to leave Hawai`i Island after 15 years and to return to Honolulu, so that I could un-retire and return to work as a physical therapist in home health. Querying through apartments on Craigslist, I spied an efficiency apartment in a home in Waioma`o. What! And, yes, I spent six months living, working and finishing my quilting of Ka Lehua Papa on Waioma`o Road, a half mile from the road’s end and the trail beginning.
At the very back of Palolo the valley divides, splitting in two between a steep, towering crater wall that juts up like a giant tooth in the middle of the receding slopes. Ascending the valley floor, Waioma`o Road with its stream veers off to the right and continues another mile into the crowded homes of the valley’s floor. “Lililehua”. “waioma`o”. How could any words better capture the magical, mystical beauty of that quiet country in the middle of a city? And the wind and the rain! Almost each and every morning, usually between 4:30 and 6:00 a.m. the cold night wind sweeps down off the Ko`olau, driving a sharp, cold, slanting rain onto the valley floor. As so many small and isolated wahi (place) in Hawaii, Waioma`o holds its own unique spirit voices. And no one has ever captured them so poetically as our Queen in “Pipili ka Ua i ka Nahele.”
I have searched literature and asked kupuna for any song or verse with mention of lehua papa. I have never found one. Not even the Queen’s song makes mention of it. If you read this and know of one, I would treasure to connect ka lehua papa with the Queen with any mention in the old words of the kupuna.
Design and quilted by: Ric Stark
cotton, hand dyed by Ric Stark and Kathy Lukens
Batting, 100% wool
Dimensions: 94" x 94"
"He Po`ai Aloha"
represents my most complex work to date-- both technically and in "he mana`o", (thought, spirit of intention).
As with all of my quilts now, this quilt is dedicated to Queen Liliuokalani. The quilt commemorates the Queen's song, "Sanoe", which poetically is a secret love conversation between water lily (the female) and ka lehua (the male). The song score of "Sanoe" is quilted meticulously into the border!
"He Po`ai Aloha"
(Encircled with Love) is the title of a 2000 presentation of Nalani Olds, in which she toured the islands and shared a talk story/ song presentation to promote the long-anticipated publication of
"The Queen's Songbook". "Sanoe" was co-composed by Queen Liliuokalani and Elizabeth Achook, who was Nalani's great grandmother.
He Mo`olelo (the story)
The Hawaiian word for “story” is he moolelo. Literally, this translates as “lizard speech”. In keeping with the Hawaiian concept of story telling the word acknowledges that the true nature of telling a story implies a wandering, winding and turning of words, as the teller weaves his/her tale.
Such a word is fitting for the telling of story of “He Po`ai Aloha”. In summer of 2000 I was living in my home in Volcano village on Hawaii Island. I was completely engrossed and engaged in my newest passion, Hawaiian quilting. I had recently “passed the first tests” of my Aunty Vi. I had made pillows with nice even stitches and rows of echo quilting. I had achieved Aunty’s target of “a nice even 11-12 stitches per inch with half-inch rows, just like my grandmother Kaliko taught me.” With this accomplishment Aunty had given me permission and I was now in the middle of quilting my first kapa moe (bed quilt).
Word came to us that summer in Volcano that my dear friend Nalani Olds would be giving a presentation at the Mountain View Public Library. Nalani is one of Hawaii’s “living treasures”, so honored in 2006. Hawaiian singer, noted historian of Queen Liliuokalani and director of security for many years at Iolani Palace, Nalani’s great grandmother, Elizabeth Achook, was lady-in-waiting to the Queen. Ms. Achook and Queen Liliuokalani co-composed the song “Sanoe”.
In 1999 Hui Hanai published The Queen’s Songbook, a beautiful book of a collection of some 66 of the Queen’s own compositions. The work was actually begun by the Queen herself. Over the decades of the 1900’s several attempts had been made to finish, but not until the end of a twenty-five year project did publication finally release a formal collection of the Queen’s works.
In 2000 the Hawaii Public Library commissioned Nalani Olds to travel the islands and to promote The Queen’s Songbook with a presentation that combined na mele (song) with he mo`olelo (story telling). In the fashion of the ali`i Nalani toured the islands, making her presentation in small gatherings at local public libraries throughout the state.
It was to one of these presentations that I ventured in August of 2000 in Mountain View. And ohhhhhhhhhhhhh, what an evening it was!! So rich was Nalani’s wonderful weaving of story and song. Chicken skin; tears; inspiration; that sense of knowing that you have been touched deeply in your soul!!! And afterward Nalani and her cousin came to our Volcano house for homemade soup and bread. There I unfolded and shared with her my very first quilt (in progress), “He Mala Pua Loke o ka Wahine Mo`i”.
During the presentation that night I turned to my friend Allan James and whispered, “Allan, there’s a quilt in this story telling!” He looked at me with puzzled look. I nodded and said, “Someday, there will be a quilt from this evening!”
For some thirteen years the mana`o percolated and brewed. I always knew. I often visited the idea and I let various notions and themes weave in and out of my mind. It was at the completion of “He Pua Kalaunu o Liliu” that I realized, “Now it is time to do Nalani’s quilt.”
Various and sundry ideas came and passed. I contemplated a floral pattern with pua kalaunu for the Queen and Nalani’s flower. But repeatedly, when I asked her, she was vague about any favorite, “Oh, Ric, I love all the Hawaiian flowers. Whatever you choose- it will be fine.” And I had just quilted pua kalaunu—two in a row? Not likely.
I considered and even wrote and received permission from Queen Liliuokalani Trust to incorporate the Queen’s monogram into a quilt. But when I finally sat down with pencil and let ke akua begin to draw—well, the notion of incorporating something as powerful and dominate as the monogram simply did not work with a quilt dedicated to Nalani.
What emerged was this lovely yet complex tale of the song, “Sanoe”. Composed by the Queen and Elizabeth Achook the song is known to tell a poetic story of a secret love affair between an unknown lady of high rank in the Hawaiian court and her secret lover. Identities have long been speculated but we may trust that we will never know “WHO”!
Poetically, the song is a secret conversation between water lily (the female) and lehua (the male). What emerged in the quilt pattern is this lively, playful and beautiful dance between the dominate central motif of four giant water lilies, surrounded by tantalizing and dancing lehua blossoms. And in an act of near impossible detail and precision the actual musical score of “Sanoe” is quilted into the border.
Having surrendered to the magical beauty of Kathy Luken’s hand-dyed cotton fabric in “He Pua Kalaunu o Liliu”, I approached Kathy to ask if she would dye fabric for my new project. She rolled her eyes (that original fabric has taken us 6 months to achieve my satisfaction!!) and replied, “I have a better idea. This time I will teach you how to dye your own.” Wow! And we were off and into the Dharma procion dyes! What emerged a couple months later simply astounds me. The color and depth of marbling are 120% of what I had envisioned.
I had envisioned yellow/white on midnight blue. I wanted the blue to become “the sky at midnight on a full moon night”. The yellow I wanted to suggest some kind of impossible unity of “starlight, yellow-pink water lily and the rare yellow lehua”. I still marvel that the fabric does ALL of that and more!
A last bit in the story (completed after the accompanying pictures). Nalani Alua Olds is named after the two younger siblings of Queen Liliuokalani and King Kalakaua. Together, Leleihoku and Miriam Likelike were known as “Nalani Elua”, the two heavens. Nalani receives her name from these two, and repeatedly she would share this with me during the months that I wrestled with this pattern. What emerged was two things—the colors, especially the sky at midnight blue; and the placement of two embroidered stars in the upper right corner of the quilt.
Lastly the title, “He Po`ai Aloha”, is the simple yet complex title of Nalani’s 2000 song tour. “Encircled with Love”, this theme suggests powerfully the mana created by Nalani’s presentation. It also alludes to the style of the presenting, in which Nalani replicated the ali`i tradition of making a public holoholo (traveling) on horseback to journey round the islands and to meet and celebrate in local villages.
As rich as this quilt
may emerge in fabric color and detail, "He Po`ai Aloha" will ever reach upward to pay due honor to our beloved Queen, Elizabeth Achook and Nalani Olds (our own beloved "living treasure")!
Mahalo no, e Nalani! He makamae nui `oe! (Thank you, Nalani! You are our great treasure!)
In 2007 this quilter, Ric Stark, finished the first quilt of a pattern that he made himself, a yellow/green liko lehua with `o`o birds shadow quilted in the corners. That quilt was given to his Aunty Violet Hue, Ric’s kumu kuiki (quilt teacher). Aunty called Ric to her home in Hilo the next week and presented him with this appliquéd quilt top.
She said, “Here! Now we are even. I never like to be obligated to another person!”
This quilt top was appliquéd, using Aunty Vi’s family pattern, by a former student.
Aunty forgot her name. She said only, “She was a student of mine in Hilo. She was a Filipino woman and she did the appliqué in the 1980’s. She got cancer and before she passed, she gave me the finished quilt top. I have kept it all these years. Now it is yours to finish.”
“Ke Kukui o Lanikaula” is a pattern of Aunt’s Ka`aukai family. With family connections to some of the old line of Molokai kahuna this quilt pattern is directly descended from its Molokai roots. It is named for a famous Kukui grove in Halawa Valley in east Molokai.
The legend of Lanikaula is long-standing and real “chicken skin”. Lanikaula was a
famous and most powerful Kahuna in Molokai-- revered by all and rivaled by none. So protective was he of his mana (spiritual power) that he would bag, carry and bury his own feces on a small islet off the shore of the island. In that way no one could steal something of his possession and take to burn it in a sacred fire, thus stealing his powerful mana.
One day Lanikaula’s good friend Kawelo came walking along to visit Lanikaula.
Unseen and unnoticed, Kawelo hid and spotted Lanikaula as he buried his own feces.
“Aha!” said Kawelo. “Now I can steal Lanikaula’s mana.” And he unearthed the guarded bundle and took it home to burn it on his famous, sacred fire.
“Au`e!, said Lanikaula when he learned of the treachery. “Now surely I must lose my mana and die!”
Lanikaula called his three sons to his side. “Kawelo has stolen my mana and surely I must die! My sons, you must bury my bones so that no one can find them and do further harm to my mana. Tell me what you would do.”
Eldest son replied, “Father, I will take your bones under the ocean water and bury them in a sea cave, safe from robbers.”
Number two son spoke next, “I know a secret cave high up the mountain. Let me bury your iwi there.”
But youngest son won his father’s favor when he spoke, “I will bury your iwi right here under the tree roots of your favorite Kukui grove.”
And so it was done. Lanikaula’s son buried his father’s bones in the Kukui grove in Halawa Valley. Since that time the legend of Lanikaula and his famous Kukui grove has grown all the more powerful in legend and its mana. Even today, often a Kukui nut from this famous grove will bleed red when split open-- still impacted by the blood and bones of Lanikaula in his final resting place.
Over a ten-year period, in which Ric studied and learned his Hawaiian quilting from Aunty Vi, there were many and frequent family gatherings. Often stories were shared-- from the kupuna to those younger ears, who would listen. Aunty’s older brother Masa and older sister Chioko (Peggy) and Aunty Vi herself would take turns sharing stories of their youth in Puna and stories of family legend.
Their grandmother, Kaliko Ka`aukai, was a woman of quite some importance. The elder shared stories of Kaliko. In fact, this was the woman, who taught Aunty Vi the craft of Hawaiian quilting, when Aunty was a young girl in Kalapana. A story, which impressed Ric, whose knowledge of Hawaiian family lineage is indeed lacking, was of an occasion, when the family visited Honolulu. On Sunday Tutu Kaliko gathered the family and they visited Kawaioha`o Church. Aunty described that when the family entered the church, everyone grew silent and turned their gaze. As Kaliko and her family walked forward down the center isle, everyone rose and bowed their head as Kaliko passed each row.
Fact or story? Ric has no concrete evidence. But the family legend of kahuna connections to Molokai certainly molds itself to this family quilt pattern and the legend of Lanikaula. The mana of this quilt is simply undeniable. Yes, Hawaiian quilts are beautiful. But some special mana is palpable in “Ke Kukui o Lanikaula”.
This quilt has been a special companion of Ric since he received it and did the quilting in 2008. It is the most tangible physical gift that he has from his kumu, Aunty Violet Hue of Hilo. Aunty passed in April, 2012. She passed her own mana and knowledge to her favorite student (“my hanai son”, she called Ric!).
Now it is time for the quilt to go. The gifts shared and passed forward by Aunty Vi are immeasurable and intangible. It is time for the quilt to find a new home, an `ohana to love and nurture in the spirit of Lanikaula, the Ka`aukai `ohana and Aunty Violet Hue.
Ke Kukui has such powerful meaning in Hawaiian tradition. Meaning “light”, Kukui not only represents the primary source of candle light of the old Hawaiians. From its meaning Kukui is always associated with knowledge and enlightenment. It signifies the giving and the receiving of knowledge and tradition. It carries important kauna (hidden meaning), connotating enlightenment, the passing forward of spiritual knowledge and power.
This quilt will indeed become an important and influential member of its new `ohana!
He Pua Kalaunu o Liliu
The Crown Flower of Liliu
by Ric Stark, maker of Hawaiian quilts
Can there be anyone in this world, who loves and appreciates Hawaiian quilts, who would not list the wonderful kahili/ fan/ crown quilts as among their favorites! From my earliest viewings, some ten years before I began to quilt, I absolutely adored and treasured these quilts. When I began to learn Hawaiian quilting from Aunty Violet Hue in Hilo in 1998, I knew from the outset that a kahili/fan quilt would be one of the first quilts I would make-- when I got good enough at the craft to do the quilt pattern justice!
In 2002 I designed my first quilt pattern with the help of teacher #2, Luika Kamaka. I was hooked on quilt design! After I finished the quilt top which Aunty gave me in 2007, I vowed, “From now on I only quilt patterns, which ‘have been given to me from above.’”
By 2007 I was ready. I bought some perfectly-square-woven cotton from a mainland purveyor. I had spent some six months working on the pattern and I thought I had it ready to go. I cut the appliqué from 9 yards of cotton at $15.00/ yard. I basted it to my nine yards backing material. And I began the challenging reverse appliqué in November of 2007.
By July 2008 I was half way finished with the appliqué and I was eager to show my work to my third, important teacher, Dierdra McElroy, when I joined her for class at Quilt Hawaii 2008 in Keauhou on Kona side of Hawaii Island. On the first day of the festival I arrived plenty early for registration. I gathered my materials, showed up way early for class, Didi’s “Tahitian Applique” and pounced on her as she entered classroom to set up and prepare.
Warm greetings and hugs exchanged, I spoke urgently, “Didi, please! I need your help with my new quilt! May I please commission an hour of your time and secure time for a consultation on my new kahili/fan quilt?”
Didi laughed, “Ric, you may have my time, but I will not let you ‘commission me‘. Let’s meet tomorrow during the lunch hour and we will look and talk.”
The following noon I brought out my appliqué and we stood, eating our sandwiches, while we looked and discussed the new project, especially in light of what I was learning in Didi’s appliqué class. An hour later, decision made and clear, I folded up $500 worth of fabric and six months of work and gently put it away for ever. In light of what I was learning and my discussion with my teacher, nothing short of starting over would be “Kunia i ka Nu`u!” (Strive for the summit!)
In the ensuing months several significant and pivotal changes occurred in the new quilt.
I could not find anywhere a squarely-woven, balanced cotton fabric in the new colors that I was determined to use! In the end I commissioned Kathy Lukens of Waimea to hand-dye a beautiful cotton fabric in the regal, antique look that so distinguishes “He Pua Kalaunu o Liliu”. I made seemingly minor changes to the quilt pattern, which once applied, significantly enriched and improved the pattern design. In the final outcome $500 of fabric and six months of lost labor were a pittance to sacrifice for the beauty, which was born to become “He Pua Kalaunu o Liliu”!
Earlier in 2007, as I was moving to begin drawing and designing my kahili/fan quilt, I had a fortuitous phone conversation with Nalani Olds, singer and noted authoritarian on the history of Queen Liliuokalani. Nalani’s dedication to the Queen comes naturally enough. Her great grandmother, Elizabeth Achook, was a lady-in-waiting to the Queen. Elizabeth and the Queen co-composed the famous song, “Sanoe”! Nalani comes to her position with entitlement!
I spoke to Nalani of my intention. “Nalani, I think you will remember my first Hawaiian quilt, which was a rose garden pattern, made for my mother and dedicated to Queen Liliuokalani. Well, I am preparing to design and quilt another quilt, made and dedicated to the Queen. And I want to do one of my very favorites. I will design my own kahili/ fan/ crown pattern.”
Nalani has been so excited and tremendously encouraging and supportive of me in my quilt work. She eagerly encouraged me and contributed to my efforts. During that early phone conversation, Nalani made a seemingly side comment, “Ric, you do know, don’t you, that the Queen’s favorite flower was “he pua kalaunu”, crown flower.”
Like a lightning bolt it struck me. Okay, Hawaii has little lightning and when it does lightning, it almost always courses laterally across the sky. There are rarely lightning bolts in Hawaii. But the metaphor of an Iowa boy is difficult to erase. Sorry, but I got struck by lightning!
In a flash I knew that somehow I would design and incorporate he pua kalaunu into my kahili/fan pattern. Nothing like it had ever been done? That only further challenged and inspired me. I simply knew in that moment when Nalani spoke, that I was being gifted with the mana`o (idea) for an awesomely new quilt design.
Drawing and perfecting the pattern took some six months of nearly agonizing drawing and re-drawing and countless revisions. I tried several small sample pieces to test various elements. Especially the pua kalaunu buds in the outer border were troublesome and seemingly impossible to bring to life! But as ALWAYS happens, one morning I awakened with that peculiar lightness in my na`au (my gut). I rushed to pick up pencil and paper. And three hours and two pots of coffee later, there is was, “He Pua Kalaunu o Liliu”.
I put down pencil, stood back from my chair and gazed at the finished drawing. Tears welled up and water began to flow freely down the side of my cheeks, as I heard that inner voice in my heart from the Queen, “Now, that Ric! is a quilt pattern fitting to bear my name!”
“’He Pua Kalaunu o Liliu’ is an original quilt design by Ric Stark, a variation on a familiar and popular old pattern theme, ke kahili a me ka peahi (kahili and fan). In old Hawaii the yellow feathers of the mamo and the `o`o birds were used to create kahili (feather standards) and peahi (fans), which flanked the thrones (seats) of the ali`i. Using cotton fabric, hand-dyed by Kathy Lukens of Waimea, Hawaii, this quilt features these symbols of the Hawaiian monarchy, combined with he pua kalaunu (crown flower), the favorite flower of Hawaii’s beloved Queen Liliuokalani. This quilt honors the perpetual love and presence of our beloved queen-- a relationship, which does not diminish with time.”
The above paragraph accompanied this quilt, when it was honored to be exhibited in April, 2012 in Paducah, Kentucky. “He Pua Kalaunu o Liliu” was juried and exhibited in the American Quilter’s Society Annual Quilt Show and Contest in Paducah. (For one who might not be familiar, this quilt show I like to make analogy to having your dog win entrance to the Westminster Dog Show or being an actor, nominated for an Academy Award.) Having a quilt accepted for display at Paducah is indeed the highest public honor to which a quilter can aspire!
In April 2012 I went to Paducah, where I spent three days in quilt appraisal classes at the National Quilt Museum, while my mom, my brother Jeff and friend Joan Niles, stood by my new quilt in the Convention Center and answered questions of viewers. Jeff bragged on Mom, “Ric, she stood there for an hour, telling people, ‘My son made that quilt!’”
So excited had we all become about this beautiful quilt! A whole living room full of friends had gathered for drinks and pupus back in Hana on the afternoon of the Paducah awards’ ceremony on the night before the show opened. Everyone in Hana sat, waiting for the phone call from Ric to announce whether he had won a blue ribbon or the coveted “Best in Show”! (No lie! We were certain of some honor!)
Well, Ric learned a tough lesson in humility, when he placed the phone call, shortly after the awards ended. “Hi, guys! Oh, I am on speaker phone, no less! Well, I….. Guys, our quilt did not win any award.” I had to repeat myself three times before friends quieted and accepted the news. I learned so much that week-- primarily, that the honor of Paducah REALLY IS all about “getting there”!
I have almost digressed. The pivotal event and yet another life-changing moment for me came later-- after the show was ended. On the last day of the Paducah show I left early to drive 250 miles north to spend precious time with my mom in Charleston, Illinois. It was during that solo, quiet four-hour drive that some of that mystical magic occurred. I drove on a sunny, early spring afternoon. No radio. No distractions. I had spent four days, studying and learning and participating in an event, which by that time had become my single, focal goal for more than seven years-- “getting a quilt juried into Paducah”! As I drove in apparent silence, the inner voice became steadily louder and more persistent. I heard in my heart a voice, “Ric, will you accept a mission of designing and creating an entire collection of quilts, all dedicated and honoring our beloved Queen Liliuokalani?”
I tried to dismiss it. “Yeah, right, Ric!”
But the voice would not be silenced. It persisted. It grew louder. It demanded an answer!
“Ric, will you accept the mission of creating a collection of quilts, dedicated to and honoring Hawaii’s Queen Liliuokalani?”
Finally I could no longer “dismiss” the voice. I argued, “Not me! I’m the white man from Iowa. I barely qualify to make any Hawaiian quilts. Why on earth or in heaven would you choose me? I am not worthy or fit to receive such an honor!” I realized this was not play. I WAS being challenged. And the challenge frightened me and made me shiver to the bone! I had to pull in to a rest stop and get out of the car. I remember walking toward the public shelter building with a numbness in my feet and a tingling down my whole spine. I was sweating and breathing heavily.
“Ric, will you accept the mission of creating a collection of quilts, designed and dedicated to honor our Queen Liliuokalani? Answer. It is offered to you! Yes? Or No?”
I am driving down the freeway toward Mom’s home again. I am weeping openly and uncontrollably. It is almost difficult to keep focus and attention on the road.
And the voice will not relent, “Ric, will you accept the mission……..?”
“Okay! Yes, I accept!” I sobbed aloud to answer a voice, which only I could hear and which had reached a thunder pitch volume inside my head. “Yes! I will make the Queen’s quilts!”
And as suddenly as that earlier flash of lightning, the voice calmed and finished quietly, “Maika`i! Mahalo, e Ric!”
If this story is sounding a bit fantastic, well listen on! I am NOT an artist by trade. I have never taken a drawing class. I could never draw stick figures in my home physical therapy exercise programs. I simply HAD to use commercial drawings to instruct my patients!
Yet I am “given” the gift of these quilt patterns. Each and every single pattern follows a similar evolution. I am presented with an idea. Then the idea percolates. I spend days or weeks or years in this percolating mode. It is nothing less than a struggle, a turmoil deep within my na`au (gut). I liken it to a woman giving childbirth. And suddenly I awaken one morning with the inspiration to begin. I take up pencil and paper. And the pattern .flows almost effortlessly into being.
But we are not finshed. I was living in Hana at the time of Paducah. Two months after my return from the mainland, I moved back to build a house and live on my own land in Ka`u on Hawaii Island.
During my last year in Hana, I had been unable to contact my Aunty Vi. Her phone would ring endlessly, but never any answer. I wondered. But I had no way to know.
It was in July, 2012, one month after I returned to Big Island, that I drove to Hilo to discover Aunty’s house empty of her and evidently rented to some new party. I had no number or way of contacting Aunty’s sons. I only remembered first names.
Finally, I searched the internet. I pulled up a record from Hawaii County. It was a death certificate for Violet Grace Hue of 118 Kilauea Avenue in Hilo, Hawaii. The date of death was April 27, 2012. My Aunty, my kumu, passed on that day when I heard the voice and was offered the mission, which now consumes and directs all of the energies and focus of my life!
I agree! That’s chicken skin! And the mission? The work continues. There will be a “quilt biography” of Queen Liliuokalani. Like “He Pua Kalaunu o Liliu”, each of the three successive patterns that I have drawn are each simply a divine gift. I hold pencil and Ke Akua draws the quilt pattern. I hold needle and thread and God births these awesome and beautiful creations, which perpetuate the living memory and the ever-enduring legacy of Hawaii’s beloved Queen Liliuokalani.
Thank you, Queen! Thank you, God!
by Ric Stark
Early in 2015 Sally contacted me. With her long interest in quilting and having seen my quilt work, Sally was interested in commissioning a wall hanging quilt for her newest home in Hawaii Island.
A lover of the art of quilting, Sally confessed that she was not experienced in commissioning quilts and had no direction for design or quilt pattern. She simply wanted a beautiful Hawaiian quilt for a wall in her new home.
I questioned her with a few possibilities— then drew and presented two drawings of Hawaiian quilt. This quilt, “MakaI”, rose out of the passing information back and forth. One of my suggestions was a hibiscus quilt— I had promised my teacher Luika Kamaka that I would create a hibiscus quilt in her honor.
Sally replied with a request, “Could you make a yellow hibiscus quilt?” Sally explained that in the fall of 2014 she had sat up all night long, holding and comforting their beloved 14-year-old Golden Retriever, Makai, as she passed. In the middle of the night Sally gazed out the sliding door onto the lanai. A yellow hibiscus— long neglected, unwatered, forgotten and nearly lost potted plant— had bloomed. There in full bloom during the night, the yellow hibiscus was blessing Makai and Sally during this time of passing.
In that moment I knew I had Sally’s quilt. “Makai” has three elements of significance:
The central motif is Hawaii’s yellow hibiscus— one of five endemic hibiscus and the state flower.
The border lei features “Ke Koki`o”, the simple white hibiscus with beautiful, pronounced red stamen. This variety of hibiscus is often described as “the native Hawaiian hibiscus”. It would, of course, have been familiar to Hawaii’s Queen Liliuokalani. In choosing to represent this element, I hold true to my personal mission that all of my quilts will be designed and dedicated to the life and legacy of the Queen.
In the corners of the quilt I have quilted arms in a posture of loving embrace. And using photographs of Makai, I have shadow-quilted four images of her precious golden retriever.
May you long remember and hold dear your memories of “Makai”!