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Hawaiʻi ʻŌʻō

August 13, 2014

While I was working on Disney’s Aulani I studied Hawaiian culture, ecology and geological formations of the islands. When you’re an artist and story teller it’s vitally important to understand your subject. While I am not Hawaiian, I very much put myself in the place of Kama‘aina (resident local). I became fascinated by native Hawaiian birds while working on designs for Hale Manu (house of birds) retail store. I ended up painting quite a few extinct Hawaiian birds for friends while I worked there (sadly there were several I didn’t photograph). The store itself is decorated with over 40 hand carved and painted wooden birds. The pieces of art hang from the ceiling and are perched on casework. Above the birds are 3 HUGE canvases painted with native Hawaiian flora, symbolizing the birds natural habitats. The coastal and sea birds in the store are set against the ocean, which you can see if you just look out the windows. It’s a very neat space and I hope if you’re in Oahu and see it, you’ll think about habitat conservation. In fact, if it’s still there, there is a hidden Mickey” bird poo behind the counter under one of the large birds. hehehe. Team clean kept scrubbing it off… probably because it legitimately does look like a bird poo.

This particular bird I painted- called the ʻŌʻō has been extinct since the mid-1930’s. The bird was hunted liberally by native Hawaiians for their plumage. Feathers were a huge part of Hawaiian ceremonial and cultural heritage. The ʻŌʻō’s plumage was used for ʻaʻahu aliʻi (robes), ʻahu ʻula (capes), and kāhili (feathered staffs) of Hawaiian nobility. If you look at this bird, while it’s fluffy yellow feathers are remarkable in color… they’re not in great quantity. It probably took a LOT of birds to make a cape. There were small differences to the species of ʻŌʻō on the islands of Hawaii. The one I painted above lived on the biggest island in the Hawaiian chain, Hawaiʻi. Though they were hunted extensively and this largely let to their extinction. It is also theorized that an avian malaria wiped out the remaining population. :(

6×6 acrylic and gold leaf on mansonite panel.