Artist to capture isle’s rare flora

Haleakala National Park is hosting its first-ever artist-in-residence to produce creative works for display.

Natalie Westbrook, a printmaker, painter and collage artist from New Haven, Conn., who arrived on Maui last week, was selected to produce the pieces of art.

“It’s going really well,” she said. “I’ve been surprised as to how much I’ve been able to see in such a short time. It’s nice to have the time and space to meet new people who also have an interest in this place.”

Selected by a jury panel made up of officials from the National Park Services and Maui Arts & Cultural Center, she will create work “based on the island’s unique and rare flora, such as the ‘ahinahina, or Haleakala silversword,” a news release issued by the park said.

Westbrook’s work will be displayed from June 18 to 24 in the Headquarters Visitor Center at the Summit District. At the conclusion of the exhibit, she will donate one of the pieces to the park.

“The concept behind artist-in-residence is to essentially invite an artist to live and work at the park, and interpret its resources in a creative way,” Volunteer Coordinator Melissa Chimera said. “This idea of having artists in natural parks has a very long tradition, and in keeping with that we wanted the public to sponsor our own artist.

“Natalie had the strongest application out of all the candidates and we’re really excited with what she will do with her time here.”

Staying in employee and volunteer housing, Westbrook’s flight and accommatations are covered by the park. The artist spends most of the day outside at the Kipahulu and Summit districts and on Friday, she held an informal art demonstration so visitors could observe her process.

“I told the park I would be at the half-mile loop on the trail and I would just move around there,” she said of the experience in the Kipahulu area. “I picked out a popular path so I could talk to anyone that was interested. It was fun.”

After spending the past few days in the lower elevations of Kipahulu, she is now in the drastically different elevation of Haleakala.

“In Kipahulu it rains several times a day so I’ll be packing up and then 15 minutes later the sun will be back up,” she said.

Westbrook’s trip to the Valley Isle is not her first, as she received a grant in 2009 to create work inspired by National Tropical Botanical Gardens on Maui and Kauai for her graduate art studies.

Traveling with her husband, Johannes DeYoung, the couple were excited about the prospect of returning to Maui and being able to experience Haleakala crater.

“I was very surprised,” Westbrook said about the selection. “It wasn’t something I was expecting at all.”

Aside from her background and experience, one of the key reasons for her selection was her unique and abstract style.

“Her style is very different from mine, which is why we’re very interested in bringing another visual artist,” said Chimera, who also is an artist and has works displayed at the visitor center. “I’m looking forward to listening to her process and seeing her work.”

Westbrook, 32, serves as a teacher at Yale University School of Art and said her practice “goes between abstraction and representation, but is always observationalist.”

“I look at the landscape and plants and it becomes abstracted,” she said. “It can be repeated, transformed in color or scale to create a different image. I’m seeking to emphasize an anamorphic trait and their relationship to the human body.”

Westbrook took particular interest in the story of Haleakala crater, where the demigod Maui was said to have lassoed the sun and made it promise to move slower through the sky, thus creating a longer summer season.

“The whole aspect of giving character to the landscape is something inspiring to me,” she said.

Her days at the park consist of hiking, taking photos and making sketches alongside her husband. However, her work is not necessarily for one project, as she regularly juggles several projects at the same time, sometimes looking to reproduce them or incorporate them into a collage.

Westbrook will hold a free presentation titled “Dreaming in the House of the Sun” at 5:30 p.m Thursday at Hui No’eau Visual Arts Center in Makawao, during which she will explain her process and some of her work.

“It’s a really special opportunity to meet with other community members and speak with people, unlike my previous trip,” said Westbrook, who also will be holding a workshop at Hui No’eau from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday. “The chance to be here is beneficial for me not just to see the islands, but to experience them.

“As part of the spiritual experience you get to see what sort of relationship it has to the human body and how oversized some plants are, or how colorful they are, or see how many bloom at once. . . . I think it’s really exciting.”

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at