I was in Honolulu for Thanksgiving, and I always enjoy looking at the statue of Kamehameha in front of Ali'iolani Hale (backdrop for "Hawaii 5-0"!) whenever I'm downtown.
Gleaming gold, resplendent in gilded 'ahu'ula (feather cloak) and mahiole (feather helmet), right hand extended in welcome, left holding a spear, it's an iconic image of Oahu, if not the state.
Nearby, at the pond in front of the arena at Honolulu International Center, is a statue of another defining figure in the life of Hawaii: Elvis. In bell-bottoms and a jacket strewn with stars, crooning into the microphone, slim as could be, he's captured in a moment of triumph at "Aloha From Hawaii," the world's first satellite television concert, on Jan. 14, 1973.
"Thank you, thank you very much," says the plaque.
People love posing with Elvis, as they do with the statue of the legendary swimmer and goodwill ambassador Duke Kahanamoku at Kuhio Beach in Waikiki.
I started to contemplate Maui equivalents.
I used to love seeing Shige Yamada's cast bronze of "Maui Releasing the Sun," installed at the Kahului Airport in 1992, the year I arrived here. It's the perfect symbol of our island, depicting the moment of triumph after the demigod Maui captured the sun and wrested an agreement from it to traverse the sky more slowly for the benefit of humanity.
TSA had not taken over our lives then and the work was quite visible, standing in its own little courtyard, as you walked into the terminal proper. Now the Wailuku-born Yamada's shining tribute to man's mastery over destiny is occluded by the scanners, frantic lines and new construction that have overtaken the lobby.
People love to visit the bronze Great Buddha in the garden of the Lahaina Jodo Mission, peacefully abiding on a two-tiered stone and concrete platform against the lovely backdrop of the West Maui Mountains. Established in 1912 by sugar and pineapple plantation workers, the mission burned down in 1968 and was rebuilt in the traditional Japanese style with modern adaptations of methods and materials.
The 12-foot-tall, 3.5-ton seated Amida Buddha echoing the famous Great Buddha in Kamakura, Japan, was dedicated that year, along with a 3,000-pound bell commemorating the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii.
A bodhi tree grows to the left of the platform, the type under which Buddha, the man, became enlightened after years of arduous spiritual effort. Exhausted from fasting and austerity, the story goes, he surrendered and accepted a bowl of rice. Then, when he sat to meditate, the universe opened up to him and the middle path was born.
These two works are abstractions from the land of myth and religion. To me, the best sculpture on Maui is the cast bronze of the late Masaru "Pundy" Yokouchi, the driving force behind the creation of the Maui Arts & Cultural Center.
Pundy, the youngest child of immigrant parents, grew up working in his family's Wailuku bakery, where his nickname was for "pao duce," a sweet bread he liked. He made his fortune in real estate investments, became a key organizer for the Democratic Party and a patron of the arts, believing that they made people more sensitive and aware human beings.
Following the lead of the late Colin and Margaret Cameron, Yokouchi helped raise $32 million to build the MACC, and he did so with wisdom, compassion and sensitivity. Said center President and CEO Art Vento, "Around Pundy's table, everybody fit."
In 2008, a group of donors sought to honor him with a lifelike sculpture, so he submitted to live sittings with Sean Lee Loy Browne of Oahu, a Native Hawaiian, Fulbright scholar and student of Isamu Noguchi, who fashioned the bronzes of Prince Kuhio and Kalakaua in Waikiki.
Pundy wanted to be shown as a younger man in his 60s, casually dressed, in an aloha shirt and slip-on shoes, and that is precisely what you see at the entrance to Castle Theater.
There he is, sitting on a bench near the front door, welcoming one and all to have a rest and enjoy his company. "People love that sculpture, even people who don't know him," said Neida Bangerter, director of the Schaefer Gallery.
The statue feels so lifelike and friendly, she said, that "touch points" are starting to show up.
The beings commemorated in these statues all have one thing in common, worth remembering as we enter the season of giving: generosity.
* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose "Keiki o ka 'Aina" column appears each Tuesday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.