Kailua: Portrait of a Place

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Photo by: Mark Arbeit

Geoff Lee

Geoff Lee opened his glass studio, Island Glassworks, in Kailua in 2004. Tucked between an upholsterer and a muffler shop, his boxy concrete space opens out to the wet greenery of Hamakua Marsh. It’s the only Oahu glass studio open to the public, and as well as doing his own work here, Lee offers classes and rents the studio to other artists. After he and his wife moved to Coconut Grove to be closer to his studio and shop, Lee found his work changing. “You can’t help but be influenced by how mellow it is,” he says. “I’ve picked up those Lanikai blue [hues] and have been working from the colors of the water.”

For a working artist with a budding family—Lee and his wife were expecting the arrival of their first child as this piece was being written—Kailua is the perfect spot. Lee grew up in Hawaii Kai and his wife is from Haleiwa. Kailua has the friendly small-town feel of the North Shore, something they both value. “Whenever I ride my bike around Kailua, I wave to people,” Lee says. “Surfing at Flat Island you always see someone you know. My wife and I love it here. Neither of us wants to live anywhere else.”

Photo by: Mark Arbeit

Dorothy Faison

Dorothy Faison paints in a room at the back of her house, jars and brushes perched on shelves and ceiling rafters. The wilds of a rambunctious yard and an artifact-filled house peep in through doors and windows. Faison’s imagery hints at narratives and histories that have kept her attention for decades. “The work all has to do with that deep connection to nature and instinct,” she says. “You become a mix of everything you see and experience.”

Although Faison started life overseas, her family came to Hawaii in 1968, when she was 13. They settled in Kailua in 1970. “It’s the first hometown I’d ever been in,” Faison says. After graduate school, she came back to raise her own family. Since 1997, they’ve lived in her mother’s house, the same house Faison lived in as a child. She loves knowing the histories of neighbors, stories as looped and curved as her own. “I like that continuity of community. “Kailua’s away from the mainstream, but it has a center,” Faison says. “I don’t want this to just be a bedroom community. I’d like to see mixed-use housing, commerce and more walking spaces. And I’d love to see all the waterways opened and the marshes restored.” She adds, “This is a different place. It’s getting better and better.”

Photo by: Mark Arbeit

David Smith

Printmaker David Smith still lives in the Aikahi house his parents bought in 1963. They moved in the same week as Kennedy’s assassination. Smith has spent stints in Micronesia and London, but Kailua is his place: “It’s home!”

Nearly every corner in Kailua conjures a memory. When Smith was a kid, working-class families mixed with Rothchilds and Duponts who owned beachfront properties. “It used to be beachfront Kailua was a dilapidated shack followed by a mansion followed by a normal house, then another dilapidated shack,” Smith says. “Even as a kid, I knew that was special.”

Smith creates his art at the Honolulu Printmakers’ studio in Honolulu and his job doing television production means a daily commute into town. But, he says, “As soon as you come through the tunnels or around the Makapuu side, the big-city agitation eases. You can feel that subtle change.” Smith’s stone lithography and photo etching centers around invented narratives that don’t necessarily have any connection to Hawaii, yet the Island landscape impact. “I’m an absolute freak for color,” Smith says, “and that’s got to be influenced by the blues of Lanikai and the white sand beaches. I love skies and there are no high-rises in Kailua to block it.” Smith values Kailua’s sense of community. “I can still drive down before sunrise,” he says, “park at the beach with a cup of coffee and I’m almost the only one there. There are just the regular retirees and locals who run or walk every day. And everyone says hello. We’re not Waikiki.”