This Beautiful Mural in Mō‘ili‘ili has a Surprisingly Disastrous Story Behind It

Thieves couldn’t stop a collaboration of artists and business owners from creating a bright spot in McCully.


Moiliili Mural

Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino



When PhotonWorks Engineering broke ground at the corner of McCully and Algaroba streets late last year, it installed a temporary wooden wall around the site. Rather than leave it blank and open to random graffiti, company founder Tim Johnsson and senior project manager Jeff Lang put out a call for artists to create a 250-foot-wide mural on the wall.


Two talented groups responded. One Little “Island” Artist Collective, a team that includes Ann Haugum, Jessica Lynn Fowler, Deanna Gabiga and Chloe Tomomi, proposed a lush landscape with rolling waves and fluffy pink trees; artists Adair Hill, Eric Strauss and StoreKeeper pitched a pattern of interconnecting lizards inspired by M.C. Escher’s tessellation lithograph “Reptiles.” (Mō‘ili‘ili was originally named Ka Mō‘ili‘ili, after an ancient Hawaiian legend about Hi‘iaka, sister of volcano goddess Pele, who destroyed a gigantic evil mo‘o by turning the lizard into pebbles and burying them under a tree by Kūhiō Elementary School.)


Johnsson and Lang liked both concepts and asked for a mashup: landscape on one side, lizards on the other. The artists agreed—but, on the first day of painting, disaster struck. One of the artists using an airbrush powered by a compressor and a generator went into the site to get a new can of paint and, when he came out, someone was loading the generator into a van.


Moiliili mural

Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino



“The van door was open, one guy driving, two in the back. They grabbed the generator but [the artist Storekeeper] grabbed the handle and it turned into a tug-of-war,” recalls Hill. “The driver started going and the stakes got higher as the van sped up and they took off.”


The thieves got away with the generator. Later that night, someone broke into the site and stole the compressor, saws, drills and all the tools. “Right on day one, we had this incredible misfortune,” Hill says.


But the setbacks didn’t stop the community. Hawaiian Rent-All, which owned the generator, forgave the cost of the stolen machine (and even returned the artist’s deposit). In turn, PhotonWorks replaced all the stolen equipment, which included new art supplies and tools for StoreKeeper. “It brought him to tears, he said he felt like a kid on Christmas when he saw it all. He said he never had such nice things before,” says Hill.


The piece at 939 McCully St., now finished, is scheduled to be up for the next 12 to 18 months, through construction of the new building.