Monthly Archives: February 2012

Martin Charlot’s Aulani Mural

Native Hawaiian woman, styled after contemporary images Charlot found by artists during the time of first contact.

Artist Martin Charlot (Local Traffic Only) spent two years working on a stunning 200-foot mural for the lobby of the new Disney Aulani Resort at Ko Olina. This work of art is a tribute to Hawaiian history and culture; in keeping with Martin’s style, the mural is comprised of many tiny scenes woven together into a large masterpiece, imbued with multiple stories and layers of meaning. Martin’s work on this mural is another chapter in the Charlot family’s history with Disney: In the late 1930s, his father, muralist Jean Charlot, “wrote one of the first serious critical essays about animation as an art form, claiming that animation was a continuation of the great mural traditions of Europe and that Disney animators were the masters of this art form.” (Source: Aulani Fact Sheet)

Pacific Edge Magazine did an article on the art of Aulani and included a lovely photo that gives you a great sense of the scope of Martin’s mural.

We asked Martin to share his thoughts on the experience of working on the Aulani lobby mural:

There is always a little magic in the process of landing a mural job of any size. This was a large mural job, so it’s fitting that Disney, with all their association with magical wonder, brought it to me.

Working with the Disney team was very gratifying for me. My father, Jean Charlot, lectured to the Disney artists when he was a young man and made lifetime friends. I enjoyed meeting these artists when we would visit them in rare trips from Hawai‘i to Hollywood when I was a child. Hugging the tentacles of the octopus that battled with Capt. Nemo was the ultimate in cool to me.

Now, here was my chance to work with my generation’s Disney team. The Disney Imagineers hired me as an independent artist and, after the content of what they wanted in the mural was agreed upon, they left me alone to create.

We were in complete agreement on half the mural. I wanted the entire painting to depict the Hawaiian culture before Captain Cook discovered the islands, but Joe Rhode, who headed the project and had hired me, was set in his desire to have the makai (ocean) side of the mural reflect modern Hawai‘i.  Working with your client is what you do when you are a muralist, so I found a way to bring the past and present together in this single work.

Time was the very real pressure that ruled my artistic output. I had miniature canvases on which I had planned to design the mural composition. But when all 24 full-size stretched canvas panels were delivered to my studio, I felt a click go off in my brain. It was like a stopwatch ticking, telling me there was no time for sketches of the mural composition. Meeting the deadline meant painting every day from morning to night, no time to sketch, no time to doodle, just paint and paint again. Every day was an artist’s dream: to be free to do my thing, painting, over and over again. That meant trusting my instincts, running on automatic every day. I loved it.

Forty years of living in the Islands left me with years of images, years of memories. I knew what each tree and fern felt like.  In Fiji, I had hunted wild boar with spears; on the Big Island, I had hunted them with a camera and rifles. The first panel I painted depicted ancient Hawaiians catching birds and hunting boar.

I had a list of pre-Captain Cook Hawaiian work occupations, what men did and what women did, and as I painted them into the mural I would check each ancient responsibility off the list. There were easily enough tasks to cover a mural three times the size of the Aulani work.

My hope was always to give the viewer the sense of living in another time. I studied drawings and watercolors by artists who saw and painted Hawaiian culture from life. I stared at every little squiggle, wanting to know what it meant. One interesting thing I noticed: The Hawaiians were very fashion conscious. The women’s hair styles at the time of first contact were very short,  and bleached in the front; men were very creative with mohawks and half beards. You’ll see some of these stylish folk in the mural.

As friends from Hawai‘i would visit me at my Burbank studio, I would photograph them for the mural so I could paint their likeness in, as I did with my Local Traffic Only composition, which hangs in the Kaneohe McDonald’s. I also relied on my collection of photos from my years in Hawai‘i to populate the painting with real faces.  Image by image, I stitched together the full mural.

And that brain clock was right on: I finished the Aulani mural, after two years of work, just one week before it had to be sent to Hawai‘i for installation.

I hope you enjoy it. Look closely when you visit it; there’s always something new to notice.

With Aloha,

Martin Charlot


Look Forward to These Don’t Look Back Readings

Don’t Look Back anthology editor Christine Thomas and nationally best-selling Big Island novelist Darien Gee (aka Mia King) will appear at multiple Big Island book signing events at the end of February for the new collection of modern mo‘olelo Don’t Look Back: Hawaiian Myths Made New, featuring their work and that of 15 other Hawai‘i writers. [See their full schedule here]

Why reinvent old myths? Noted Hawaiian language scholar Puakea Nogelmeier explains:

The perpetuity of myth and legend is, and has always been, paralleled by a lively tradition of distilling, retelling, and recasting the epics and grand tales in completely new, often abbreviated, contemporary forms. These recast stories are themselves brand-new and sometimes spontaneous productions. With themes and dynamics drawn from the classics, the characters are often contemporary and may barely reflect the original heroes and gods, the settings are intentionally familiar, and the issues and actions are intentionally current. The myths, in their “classical” forms, connect the common roots of human society from times ancient to today, while the recastings make the longevity of those attitudes, principles, and ethics immediately relevant.

The contemporary tales in this collection are presented as chants of celebration, arias of advice, and revelatory refrains, composed in resonance with the tempos and scales of stories long known and legends long told.

— Dr. M. Puakea Nogelmeier, foreword to Don’t Look Back

You won’t want to miss hearing these women read their captivating new takes on old stories. Here are short teaser excerpts from each of their tales to whet your appetite:

Darien Gee is the nationally bestselling author of Friendship Bread, as well as several other novels written under the name Mia King. Her books have been selections of the Doubleday, Literary Guild, and Book of the Month Club book clubs. Her second novel, Sweet Life, was nominated for a Ka Palapala Po‘okela award for excellence in Hawai‘i books. She lives with her family in upcountry Waimea on the island of Hawai‘i.


Inspired by the Legend of Pele’s Exile

There are variations to the story of how Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes, came to Hawai‘i, but a common one holds that she was exiled from Tahiti by her parents, who were concerned about Pele’s ongoing battles with her older sister, the water goddess Namaka o Kaha‘i, whose husband Pele had seduced. Contemporary folklore talks of Pele’s ability to change her form, and sightings of Pele as a beautiful young woman, an old hag, or a white dog abound, usually before a lava flow and as a test of people’s goodness and values.

 “Pele in Therapy” is a loose translation of Pele’s exile to Hawai‘i and her own awakening that occurs as a result. I entwined several Pele myths, both classical and contemporary, to create a modern view of the goddess. While I am loath to say that any deity would be in need of therapy, it is not inconceivable that the opportunity to “vent” might be welcome, especially when you consider that this particular goddess reigns over an active volcano.

* * *

When I open the door, there’s a striking young woman on my doorstep, her dark hair pulled away from her face. She’s wearing a sundress, but you can see the outline of her body through the thin fabric. Her figure is so perfect that I can’t stop staring. I have a weakness for dessert, for chocolate in particular, and I know I’ve let my body go. Normally I wouldn’t care, but being in Hawai‘i has made me envy youths with their flat stomachs and perfect breasts. And their butts—they have no cellulite. I can’t even remember life before cellulite.

The woman is muttering under her breath, twisting a loose strand of hair around a slender finger. I want to say she’s in her twenties but I can’t quite place her age.

“Can I help you?” I ask.

“I don’t have an appointment.” Her face is dark.

“That’s fine. I happen to have an opening…”

“I’m having a bad day,” she continues, forlorn. “I saw your sign outside. Find your inner goddess or something?”

“You mean ‘Discover the Goddess Within’?”

“Close enough.” She steps into the condo before I have a chance to invite her in.

I offer her water or tea but she shakes her head. We settle in the living room, which is more spacious and comfortable with the small changes I’ve made. The woman’s forehead is puckered in a frown.

“My love life,” she says. “It’s on the rocks.”

“I see.” I nod and clear my throat. “I should mention that there’s a ten percent discount if you pay for your session in cash…”

She ignores me. “I think he’s in love with someone else.” She lets out a heavy sigh and the whole room seems to sigh with her. “He saw me in a moment when I didn’t look like this…” She gestures to her body, her perfectly made-up self. “…And he fled.”

She now has my full attention. Men!, I want to spit out, but instead I nod sympathetically. “I understand.” I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to always look so beautiful. People start to expect it, and the minute you have a bad hair day, their illusions are shattered. I pick up my notebook in an attempt to look like I’m doing something. I write the day’s date, the time, and realize I don’t even know her name.

“I’m Katherine,” I say. “And you are…?”

[Click here to read more from PELE IN THERAPY by Darien Gee]

* – * – *

Christine Thomas, editor of Don’t Look Back, was raised in Kailua and born in Honolulu, where she again resides, after earning a B.A. in English from the University of California at Berkeley and a master’s in creative writing from the University of East Anglia in England, as well as other stints living and working across the U.S. She has worked for more than fifteen years as a freelance features and travel writer and book critic and has taught creative writing and literature at Punahou School and to undergraduates across the country. Her short fiction has been published in anthologies and literary magazines in the U.S. and in the United Kingdom, and her current work-in-progress, To Lose is to Win, features inter-generational short stories spanning the globe.

PLACES OF ENTRY by Christine Thomas

Inspired by the Legend of Halemano

Halemano dreams of a woman named Kamalalawalu—the daughter of two high chiefs, raised under a strict kapu—but upon awakening can’t remember her name. He falls so deeply in love that he won’t eat or drink, becomes very ill, and finally dies. His sister, the sorceress Laenihi (who can transform into a fish), arrives at Halemano’s bedside at their grandmother’s house and brings him back to life. When Laenihi learns of the mysterious dream woman, she tells Halemano all about her, her favorite brother, and their beloved dogs.

I discovered the myth while doing research for my first novel at London’s British Library, which has a surprisingly ample Hawaiiana collection. About three-quarters of the way through my draft, I came upon “The Legend of Halemano” and realized its strange echo of my story. I hadn’t intended or ever thought of rewriting a myth, but there it was—an ancient tale to which my contemporary one was unintentionally connected. In retrospect, this discovery was the first seed of this collection, so I wanted to include a portion of the story to reveal how I unknowingly inverted the original myth.

* * *

Pua taps on the redwood door of Kai’s room, and then shouts her brother’s name loud as she walks in. The room is dark, the afternoon sun blocked by a coarse bamboo shade; when she rolls it up, Kai’s deep voice cracks, asking her to close it again. She hears but acts like she doesn’t, leaning over the bed to peer at his face, casting a new shadow over him. She keeps her voice crisp, not wanting to betray worry or acceptance of what could still just be elaborate self-pity.

“What you doing? I have for go school or work ev-ery frick-in day and you just lying in bed whenever you like. No fair.”

“Go. Away.”

“How ’bout I lie down and you go serve grumpy mainlanders at that dumbass Convention Center. ’Kay? Get up or you going be late.”

The mattress dips as she squeezes in beside him and then shakes as she forces a laugh. But when humor provokes no movement or response, the knots return to Pua’s stomach, tentacles tightening. Tutu leans her head in, then vanishes.

“You okay? Should I be worried?”

“It’s nothing. Just go. Go to work.”

“Tutu says you’re not eating. And you sit in here all day, see nobody or even talk. I mean, alone time is one thing, but…”


“You need to eat, Kai. Get fresh air.”

She stares at the ti leaves outside the window, can almost feel the heat soaking into the soft fibers. She gets up and turns on some music. Still nothing.

She is definitely going to be late, and if it’s even one minute they dock her pay. So she asks the inevitable question, utters the name she thinks will rouse her brother and allow her into his thoughts.

“Is it Eliza?”

No response—not even a shift in position or tensing of muscles. He remains stiff, cold, as though long soaked in water.

She looks again at her watch. “Hey, I’ve gotta go. I’m really gonna be late.” She hesitates. “But I’ll be back later, ’kay?”

Then she creeps into the hall, afraid of what might happen if she stays, of what will happen if she leaves.

[Click here to read more from PLACES OF ENTRY by Christine Thomas]

Like what you’ve read? Purchase Don’t Look Back at our online store or your local bookstore or connect with Christine and Darien at one of their upcoming Big Island events.


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