Siren or savior: Mermaids continue to fascinate and inspire

“Mermine” by Hermine Harman -- Photo courtesy the artist

Mermaids and their lore have held us spellbound for centuries since the first mermaid appeared in Syrian tales over 3,000 years ago. Then, the goddess Atargatis tried to turn herself into a fish after accidentally killing her lover. The other gods wouldn’t allow her to abandon her earthly beauty so she remained a human from the waist up and became a fish from the waist down.

The stories of mermaids have varied over time. Some have been benevolent, such as Disney’s version of “The Little Mermaid”; some have been scary and violent, such as the evil sirens from Homer’s Odyssey and the demonic mermaids in the film “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.”

Currently, perhaps buoyed by every child’s image of Ariel, mermaids are having a renaissance. Mermaid role-playing and mermaid adventures are popping up everywhere. New York’s Coney Island recently hosted a mermaid parade on June 17 that consisted of more than 3,000 participants.

On Maui, artist Hermine Harman has been a mermaid fan-girl for a very long time. In honor of her mermaid connection, Harman has created the Maui Mermaid Extravaganza at The Shops at Wailea from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. July 15. This party will feature a costume contest, a mermaid photo booth, a fashion show, live music, mermaid art, and much more. Hosted by the Enchantress Gallery by Bootzie, the event promises fun for the whole family.

Harman started her art carreer following the unimaginable personal tragedy of losing her son to suicide. A practicing clinical social worker in Santa Monica, Calif., she was encouraged by three friends to visit the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, Calif. in order to process her grief.

“Exquisite” is one of Hermine Harman’s mermaids featured at the Maui Mermaid Extravaganza. -- Photo courtesy the artist

What was supposed to be a five-day stay turned into a four-year healing experience in which she immersed herself in art — specifically painting. While Harman had taken jewelry, ceramics, sculpture and art history classes in school, she never tried drawing or painting.

“My best friend was an art major at USC,” Harman explains, “and I was so intimidated by her talent, I never felt I could compete.

At the end of the five days, when she was supposed to go home, she knew she didn’t want to go back to Los Angeles. So she returned to Santa Monica, packed up her condo for a month and found a rental in Big Sur.

“There were only 1,800 homes in Big Sur, it was hard to find a rental. Yet one was there for me and my landlady became my painting teacher,” marveled Harman. “It was like Maui magic — or Big Sur magic — there were a lot of things in common between the two.”

She saw a sign up that there was a work scholar month scheduled where someone works 32 hours a week, then goes to a room five nights a week and one weekend a month to paint.

The mermaid necklace was created by Bootzie Alexander of the Enchantress Gallery by Bootzie. -- The Maui News / CATHERINE KENAR photo

“It was hard work. I talked my way into it. I had to virtually beg,” she said. “But I got in and did a creativity and healing month-long. That’s where it all started.”

Back in the ’70s, Harman became involved in The Women’s Building of San Francisco, the oldest feminist cultural institution in America, while her second husband was recovering from brain surgery. She worked with them for four years and did some art projects.

“I have, like, six pieces, two series. That was a chaotic time,” mused Harman.

She also lived in Vienna, Austria, with that husband who was appointed to an international institute for a year and a half. During that time, the movie “The Divine Miss M” about Bette Midler came out. Harman, hungry for Americana, went to see it.

“Midler did this character, Delores Delgado, which was a mermaid in a wheelchair,” said Harman. “I don’t know why, but I saw that movie and it seriously changed my life. It had such an impact on me.

“Electra” -- Photo courtesy the artist

“I thought she (Midler) was just unbelievable. She became a role model and my idol.”

In 1998, Harman’s painting teacher from Big Sur came to Maui to visit her.

“We did a vision painting work-up and I painted a mermaid. It just came out,” explained Harman. “Mermaids make me happy.”

Following the creation of many mermaid paintings, Harman was visited by a Hawaiian lady who, after looking around, told her, “Mermaids are your aumakua, your spirit animal.”

“So I started exploring more mermaid stuff. There’s a couple of other people in the gallery doing mermaids as well and I thought, ‘How can Maui not have a mermaid show? There’s so much mermaid energy in the world.’ “

Artist Hermine Harman is the creator of the Maui Mermaid Extravaganza at The Shops at Wailea. -- The Maui News / CATHERINE KENAR photo

With that idea in mind, Harman approached Bootzie Alexander from the Enchantress Gallery to see if she’d be interested in hosting this event.

“I’ve always been into mermaids and unicorns,” laughed Alexander. “I even make and sell Mermaid Moon Dust, although I’m sold out of it right now.”

Beside Harman, Alexander pointed out another artist in her gallery who does mermaid art.

“Isela does mermaids. She also puts her designs on clothing like jeans and T-shirts.”

“Hermine is a force of nature,” said Alexander. “She really knows how to throw a party.”

Alexander explained that the costume contest and fashion show part of the event will take place at the main stage area on the lower level of The Shops.

Two of the judges will be Shaka Doug, a self-proclaimed mermaid expert who has run the mermaid float at the Pacific Whale Foundation’s Whale Day for the past 15 years; and Alonso Martinez, the store manager of Gucci at The Shops of Wailea, who is an artist and costume designer in his own right.

The fashion show is produced by Maui’s Rachel DeBoer, Skin Wars TV star and award-winning body painter. There will be live music by Tempa & Naor and a mermaid photo booth hosted by Hawaii Mermaid Adventures. All costume contestants will receive a piece of mermaid cake created by master pastry chef Teresa “Cheech” Shurilla and a complimentary art card designed by Harman.

Harman hopes this event inspires the mermaid in everyone to come out.

“I don’t know how many women will enter,” she said, “but I do want to see kids. I really want to see the 12 and younger set represented. What little girl doesn’t want to be Ariel?”

Those wishing to enter the mermaid costume contest are being encouraged to register in advance at Onsite registration will also take place prior to the start of the event at the stage from 4:30 to 5 p.m. Contestants will be judged on three criteria: authenticity, creativity and individuality. The winning mermaid under the age of 12 will receive $25. The winning mermaid over the age of 12 will receive $100 cash. There will be a dressing room available onsite and mermaid assistants will be on hand to help contestants to the stage.

All attendees of this event will receive four hours of complimentary parking.

As Harman further explained about the inspiration behind this event:

“I now see this, and this is the feminist speaking, I see this as the diving feminine coming,” said Harman. “I totally feel that this is the time for women to step into their power and to take back the world.

“I like to make people have fun. For me, this mermaid event is making people have fun. They’ll put on costumes and get creative and turn their brain on to something other than what’s happening in the world today.”

For more information, visit The Shops at Wailea Facebook page or call the Enchantress Gallery by Bootzie at 495-4161.