Kailua Arts & Culture

Dancers, painmters, sculptors, glassblowers and more--Kailua is filled with art.

It’s easy to understand why so many art students, professors and creative souls have made Kailua their home for decades.

With its small-town feel, stunning beaches and dramatic Ko’olau views, Kailua offers everything you could want in a home–along with the perfect amount of distance for those seeking seclusion from city life.

A young artist explores the medium of paint at Daunna’s Art Studio. Owner Daunna Yanoviak has taught classes there for 48 years. photo: Alex Viarnes

If you walk into Cheryl Flaharty’s Kailua home you’ll see something a little out of the ordinary: pounds and pounds of sand spread over the living room floor. "Right now I’m figuring out how much sand I actually need for the on-stage pieces. The less the better, of course," she says. For the past 13 years, Flaharty’s residence has also been the home of IONA Contemporary Dance Theatre, and the sand is for rehearsing its new show, "Electric Blue." The piece deals with how water connects different cultures, and is inspired by the death of a dance member’s grandmother.

The full production can be seen this spring at the Hawai’i Theatre (April 21-23), but as the sun sets on April 9, the last of four free community shows will be performed at Kailua Beach. "Since that’s where the piece was conceived, and this is our home, I wanted to save it for the finale," explains Flaherty, the artistic director and founder of the company.

Flaherty grew up in Honolulu and after receiving a bachelor’s degree in dance at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, she moved to New York City to learn choreography and start her own dance company. She brought IONA back to Honolulu and says she couldn’t imagine living anywhere else but Kailua. "A lot of people who are big IONA fans live here, so we really fit and belong here."

Sharing the common thread of dancing, Hilary Ann Ka’anohiwaianuenue Stephenson Aipa was born and raised in Kailua, and began formal hula training when she was just three years old. At 22, she started Ka’anohiwaianuenue Hula Studio, teaching modern and traditional hula out of her home. Aipa comes from an extended genealogy of Hawaiian ancestors tracing back to the 1700s and says, "I started the hula studio because we have so many family chants, songs, and family history that we need to keep alive. By sharing all of this through hula, we hope that others will pass it on so that the Hawaiian ways and culture are continued."

Growing up in Kailua, Aipa says, "Everyone I know is from here, and ever since I was little we would just walk to our Aunty’s house or to our formal hula classes in different neighborhoods of Kailua. Now it’s fun because I’m teaching the kids of my childhood friends and sometimes I say, ‘Oh, you dress just like your mother does,’" she says, smiling.

For two and a half years, the hula studio was temporarily relocated to the Kailua Beach Center so that Aipa’s 1950s home could get a much needed remodel. Since January, the hula studio has moved back into her home to the seemingly happy delight of her neighbors. "We’ve been here for a long time, so our neighbors are used to us, and since they can hear the girls singing and chanting in the evenings, they know all of the songs now," she says laughing.

Aipa also designs and hand-screens all of her students’ hula costumes. Four years ago, she decided to start a new venture, Ka’anohi Fashions, a Kailua manufacturing and retail women’s clothing and accessory line, for more casual and everyday wear.

Meanwhile, the Kailua art scene has gained momentum with the opening of three new art galleries and the creation of a community art event.

Meet the artists of Lodestar Collective, from left: Aaron Padilla, Diana Sanchez, Daven Hee, Kc Grennan, Maika‘i Tubbs and Carl Pao. photos: Sheila Sarhangi

Last May, Libby Tomar and respected artists in their own right Jodi Endicott and Linda von Geldern opened The Balcony Gallery to bring contemporary art to Kailua. "There are a lot of artists that live and work here, so if there’s a way to tap into educating people about Kailua arts, and get them to come here as visitors, then all the better," says Endicott.

The philosophy of the gallery is to help artists support other artists. Endicott explains, "If we purchase work from each other, then we lift each other up." For this reason, the gallery doesn’t have solo shows, and instead pairs several established artists with emerging artists.

Endicott and von Geldern are also the energy behind Kailua’s Second Sunday Art Walk, an afternoon mix of gallery openings, original art showings and live artist demonstrations. This is no new concept for von Geldern, as she sat on the Board of Hawai’i Craftsmen, which founded The ARTS at Marks Garage. She says, "Our goal is to turn Kailua into an arts town, and some people say, ‘Oh, like Carmel,’ but we don’t want to be like anything else, we would just like that when people think of Kailua, they think, ‘Oh wow, they have a lot of art there.’" Endicott was also a spark in starting First Friday downtown and loves to see kids at the Second Sunday event, saying, "Children have such wonderful imaginations, so if they see art, you never know where that may lead them in their lives."

Next door, you’ll find Lodestar Collective, an intimate art gallery owned and operated by six young artists. Carl Pao, a UH Manoa art grad, attended a couple of Balcony Gallery openings and kept noticing the vacant space next door. When he finally inquired, he thought the rent was affordable, so he picked up the phone and started calling his friends and colleagues to see if they had any interest in going in on it together. "As an artist you always dream of having your own space, and growing up in Kailua I always thought this would be an ideal place to have a gallery. One, it’s my home, and two, a lot of people are going elsewhere to look at art."

The six artists–Pao, Kc Grennan, Daven Hee, Aaron Padilla, Diana Sanchez and Maika’i Tubbs–specialize in various media ranging from painting and sculpture to printmaking and jewelry design. Grennan says, "We have to organize and work together and plan, so we’re learning that there are definitely a lot of different things in-volved in keeping a gallery running, but it’s totally worthwhile."

You can shop for Island-inspired blown-glass art by Geoff Lee at Island Glassworks.

Over on Hamakua Drive, Geoff Lee opted for the solo route, opening his own glassblowing studio in a warehouse overlooking the calm water of Kawai Nui Marsh. Island Glassworks opened in June, and is O’ahu’s only glassblowing studio open to the public. It also won the Best New Business of the Year award from the Kailua Chamber of Commerce.

Lee explains that, in Hawai’i, you either have to be a student at UH Manoa or Punahou High School to access glass-blowing equipment, so his studio is open for rent to qualified artists and offers classes for newcomers. In the front of the warehouse, Lee displays his work, varying from uniquely shaped sake sets and Hawai’i-inspired pieces to bold-colored precious-metal leaf vases.

Energized from the support of the Kailua community, Lee says, "People are just hooked, and that’s why I started this business, because I love blowing glass and I want to get other people excited about it." Lee started his affair with glass at Punahou when he was 16 and has continued with the material ever since, earning a degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and working as a professional glassblower across the country until receiving his MFA in glass at UH Manoa.

If you follow the Hawai’i arts scene, chances are you’re probably familiar with the work of esteemed painters Alan and Birgitta Leitner. Each moved to O’ahu from very different, yet parallel walks of life. Birgitta, a self-proclaimed hippie with a small farm in Northern California and Alan, a Los Angeles-raised city slicker, both intended to move to O’ahu for only a couple of years. Their paths finally merged at UH Manoa when Birgitta decided to finish her BFA and Alan enrolled in the MFA program. They got a studio together on Kailua Beach, which was not an easy transition for Alan.

"I was living in Makiki, right in the middle of this dense population district where you hear people slamming doors and screaming at each other and all of the stuff that you are accustomed to and makes you feel at home," he explains half-jokingly. "And then you come out here to Kailua, and it’s all quiet and rural, with all this beauty around, so it took me a while to get used to it, but I did, and now I love it."

For the past three years, Birgitta and six other female artists have formed the group Seven, presenting their work together once a year in an effort to promote more painting and drawing exhibitions in Hawai’i. (Their next show, "UP", runs until April 9 at the Academy Art Center.) Birgitta’s subjects are pieces from nature–not greenery, but pods and dead branches which she scales up and uses as metaphors. "I see the beauty in the rotting wood or dried pod. It speaks to me and excites me," she explains. "It’s the idea that there’s beauty in things that we wouldn’t necessarily think about, unless you look really closely, like in the richness of the brown, or the way things are cracked."

Students at Ka’anohiwaianuenue Hula Studio. photo: Alex Viarnes

Alan uses alchemy symbolism in his work, which deals with transformation, change and process. Through oils and different viscosities of wax, Alan paints flowers, which he also calls "weeds." "I think about my flowers as not having bloomed yet, they are still incubating or they haven’t come out of the ground yet," he says. "It’s about growth and becoming and having arrived, not having been there."

Ron Kowalke, a former teacher of Birgitta’s at UH Manoa, has lived in Kailua for more than 32 years and has taught art to more than 4,000 students in his impressive teaching career. Within the first hour of a new class, Kowalke, whose wife, Kit, and son, Peter, are also artists, congratulates each student on his or her courage for majoring in art and overcoming the stereotype of the starving artist. "I tell them that artists can make a good living, and I show them how to do that."

Last summer, his personal artwork took an unexpected, yet intriguing turn when he found 20,000 uninvited bees in his garage. "We awoke to a black cloud of buzzing bees directly above my Jetta and the mass was almost the size of my car." The beekeeper gave him a honeycomb frame as a souvenir. Soon after, Kowalke was attending a glass-casting class and remembered his little memento, which sparked an idea for a new project. "I thought to use actual wax honeycomb together with synthetic polycrystalline wax to build a model to be cast in glass." Appropriately enough, one of these pieces made the cover of HiveLights magazine, a publication of the Canadian Honey Council.

Another art teacher, Daunna Yanoviak, of Daunna’s Art Studio, has taught kids and adults, from ages 6 to 80, for more than 48 years. Her students are allowed the freedom to learn any type of media they desire, from batik and pottery to airbrush and painting. She credits her own former art teacher and mentor, Victor Lowenfeld, for bringing her into the art education field.

Yanoviak says, "If we can lead children in that creative direction, it empowers them no matter what they do, because they are using their minds in a different way." With passionate teachers such as Yanoviak, the prospects for Kailua’s next generation of artists look very bright.

Kailua art galleries
Join in the Arts:
The Balcony Gallery

442-A Uluniu St., 263-4434
Tuesday – Saturday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., or showings by appointment.

Island Glassworks

171-A Hamakua Drive, 263-4527
Monday – Wednesday, Friday –
Sunday 9 a.m. – 5.pm.

Island Treasures

629 Kailua Road, 261-8131
Monday – Saturday 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.,
Sunday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Jeff Chang Pottery & Fine Crafts
539 Kailua Road, 262-4060
Monday – Saturday 9 a.m. – 9 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Lodestar Collective
438-A Uluniu St., 262-4606
Wednesday – Sunday 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.,
(Metered parking available at the Lani Huli structure at 25 Aulike St.)

Kailua Second Sunday Art Walk

Every second Sunday of the month, from 2 p.m. – 5 p.m. Stop by
Balcony Gallery for a free map of
participating locations or call
263-4434 for more information.

Daunna’s Art Studio
Art classes available in all medias for ages 6 and beyond. Call 261-1168.

Ka’anohiwaianuenue Hula Studio
A hula studio teaching modern and traditional Hawaiian dance, chant,
culture, and arts. Call Ka’anohi Aipa for class availability at 261-7903.

Island Glassworks

Glassblowing classes for newcomers, and studio rentals for experienced artists. Visit www.islandglassworks.com or call 263-4527.

Windward Artists Guild

To become a member, call Don Johnson at 235-5545 or visit www.windwardartistsguild.org.