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Art for Art's Sake--Hawaii Style

September 28, 1986|DAVID M. KINCHEN | Times Staff Writer

MAKAWAO, Hawaii — I'd heard that Maui was a favorite haunt of artists, but it wasn't until our second trip to the island that I discovered an obscure form of art that I thought was limited to rural areas on the mainland.

For want of a better term, I call it "farmer art." We saw a particularly good example on Olinda Road, just outside this upcountry town famous for its rodeos on the flanks of Mt. Haleakala. The centerpiece was a complete V-8 car or truck engine nestled in a lush green pasture complete with a grazing cow.

Arranged--or more likely tossed--around the engine were bits and pieces of rusting broken agricultural machinery. It was an excellent example of the kind of art I grew up with on our small farm in southwestern Michigan.

Farmers never throw anything away. They figure that a broken tractor tie rod or a manure spreader chain may come in handy during a critical harvesting breakdown. So it was in the 1940s in Michigan and in the 1980s in Maui.

Basic Insecurity

I've never met an environmentalist who understood the basic insecurity of farmers that leads them to save everything.

Environmentalists can't stand this kind of art.

They either want everything landscaped to within an inch of its life, like the lush Wailea development south of Kihei on the southwestern corner of Maui, or the Kaanapali and Kapalua resorts north of Lahaina at the northwestern corner, or left entirely alone.

Most of the 2 million annual visitors to Maui stay in the hotels in the West Coast developments, so they only see prime examples of farmer art when they venture to the rural upcountry towns of Makawao, Olinda, Kula, Pukalani and Kokomo (Yes, Hoosiers, there is a Kokomo on Maui, too).

Maui's upcountry farms aren't much by comparison to the massive agribusiness operations of California, but their diminutive dimensions reminded me of our truck gardening subsistence farm where we grew potatoes, sweet corn, strawberries and other crops that were sold at a roadside stand, along with the chickens and dairy cows that kept us more or less alive.

When you've had your fill of snorkeling at Molokini Island, swimming and tanning on the sandy beaches, shopping at Andrades or Liberty House and eating in the resort restaurants, all you have to do is pile into your rental car and take Highway 37 to the rural areas of the island.

To me, that's the attraction of Maui: You can have the crowds and the night life and not be ashamed of being a tourist along with the simpler, cheaper pleasures of puttering along a country road.

The only problem with puttering is that curse of modern times, the kamikaze hauler or small pickup truck.

The locals drive their mini-trucks with the same hell-bent-for-leather abandon that mainlanders do, so it's probably a good idea to pull over to the shoulder and let them pass when you're doing your puttering.

I can't imagine why anyone should be in a hurry to do anything on Maui; it's probably an acquired characteristic that comes from driving tiny trucks and cars.

Seekers after traditional art can find plenty of examples of the work of Maui-based artists such as Curtis Wilson Cost in his gallery in the Kula Lodge upcountry or in the trendy galleries in the resort hotels or along Front Street in Lahaina.

If you're looking for farmer art, you'll have to discover it by chance, turning around in a driveway, for instance, and coming upon the farmer art equivalent of a Sandy Calder mobile, a true junk pile.

My wife, no farmer she but a woman who believes in the "never throw it away" ethic of people of the land, resents it mightily when I call her collection of assorted material in our back yard a "junk pile."

Come to think of it, she is a farmer by nature if not by birth, always tending to the landscaping on our 7,500-square-foot (minus the house) patch of land, keeping the green things growing and relying on me for only the heavy work that requires muscle but not much savvy.

If you detest farmer art and think you can avoid it by going horseback riding, forget it!

Farmers keep horses to get revenue from tourists, so you'll probably see some examples while you're on the Maui trail. I like horses better than snorkels, so I took a ride while my wife took a nap and I saw some examples.

They weren't like that "Still Life With V-8" on Olinda Road, but these odds and ends of scrap metal reassured me that Maui is still a long way from turning into the plastic tourist trap that some travel writers portray it as.

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