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Maui artist creates St. Marianne mural

WAILUKU

When he was commissioned to create a mural portraying St. Marianne Cope, Maui artist Philip Sabado remembered a photo captioned “Sunday morning in Kalaupapa” in a book he had found decades earlier in an antique bookstore in California.

The early 1900s photo, showing two nuns walking with a group of girls in white dresses and hats on a windy day, provided a large part of the inspiration for the 8-by-18-foot mural that Sabado completed last month.

As St. Marianne emerges from rays of sunlight above, the nuns and girls walk through an opening in lava rock wall like those seen at the Molokai settlement for Hansen’s disease patients at Kalaupapa.

“It’s a metaphoric barrier, how it was in the beginning days of Kalaupapa where you couldn’t go beyond the stone wall,” Sabado said. “They’re bringing the girls out from a Sunday Mass. They’re breaking the barrier.

They’re giving them freedom, how it feels to be a normal child or a normal human being. They’re all having fun. The wind is blowing.

“It’s really about giving them back their integrity as a human being. It is giving them their dignity.”

After its Maui showing March 28 at Sabado Studios in Wailuku, the mural was to be shipped today to Oahu, where an unveiling ceremony is planned this month in the renovated lobby of St. Francis Hospital in Nuuanu.

Attending the Maui sendoff was a standing-room-only crowd of about 100 people, including representatives from the hospital, which commissioned the mural, and the families of some of those depicted for their contributions to the hospital opened by the Sisters of St. Francis in 1927. A representative of the Sisters of St. Francis of Syracuse, N.Y., also attended.

In a proclamation, Mayor Alan Arakawa declared it Philip Sabado Day.

“We send her off in style,” said Sabado’s wife, Christine, who made arrangements for the Maui event.

In the days that followed, a steady stream of residents stopped by the studio to see the mural.

“I think it’s so gorgeous,” said Wailuku resident Vernon Tom. “Never did see a big mural like that before. Amazing to have something like this. We can remember what happened over there.”

Christine Sabado said one woman, who has family at Kalaupapa, sat at the mural and cried. “She was emotionally moved,” Sabado said.

“The word’s getting out. It’s just caught fire. A lot of the kupuna are coming,” she said.

Sabado said it was appropriate that the mural was created on Maui, where both St. Damien – who is also depicted in the mural – and St. Marianne have connections. After arriving with six other sisters in Honolulu to help care for leprosy patients in 1883, St. Marianne set up Maluhia Hospital, the first general hospital on Maui, the following year.

Brother Joseph Dutton, who also ministered at Kalaupapa, is shown with children in the mural. Surrounding St. Marianne are “those that not only celebrated her, but also continued her legacy,” said Philip Sabado.

They include Princess Abigail Kawananakoa, King David Kalakaua and Queen Kapi’olani, St. Francis Hospital contributor and board member Maurice Sullivan, Honolulu philanthropist and longtime supporter Clarence T.C. Ching and Sister Maureen Keleher, the first chief executive and administrator of the hospital.

Sabado’s one-year undertaking to paint the mural began after a hospital executive saw a prayer card that Sabado had created at the Damien and Marianne Heritage Center in Waikiki. From the 2-by-5-inch card with his painting of St. Marianne, Sabado was chosen to do the mural, his wife said.

Sabado, a native of Molokai, grew up amid the pineapple fields of Maunaloa at a time when he and his classmates were told that they couldn’t go to Kalaupapa.

It was only in 2009, at his brother’s urging, that he did a watercolor portrait of Damien and visited the peninsula where he had served.

“I feel so humbled to do a mural like this, where you have two saints on it, you have alii on this, you have the money power of Hawaii there,” Sabado said. “What a combination.”

He said it was challenging to paint more than 30 people for the mural, which is the biggest single painting he has done.

“Every individual is a different personality,” Sabado said. “It’s like I’m working with all these different individuals, even the young kids. I can’t paint them all together because each one wanted their attention when I’m working on it.”

He got help from University of Hawaii Maui College students Deacon Bumanglag, Jessica Chung, Albert Matichev and Kimilyn Yoshizawa, who received college credit for working on the mural.

The mural includes lilies, plumeria and ginger to recognize St. Marianne’s love of plants and flowers, white doves symbolizing the Holy Trinity and renderings of both the first St. Francis Hospital and the new Sullivan hospital wing.

Christine Sabado said that the book containing the photo of the nuns and girls at Kalaupapa will be donated to the Saint Marianne Cope Shrine & Museum in New York. Philip Sabado was on his lunch break and living in California in 1979 when he found the book in a bookstore on Van Nuys Boulevard. “Hawaii Scenes and Impressions” by Katharine Fullertorn Gerould was published in 1916.

In the photo, the Hansen’s disease patients are wearing dresses, boots and hats. “It just shows them to be beautiful girls,” Christine Sabado said. “We’re not looking at the disease. We’re looking at them.”

With the mural now done, Sabado said, “Physically, mentally and spiritually, I’m taking a short break.”

“It’s a demanding project – emotionally, spiritually – because there are so many metaphors, so much spiritual essence to it,” he said. “It just requires not only physical but mental and spiritual energy to create it.

“To me, the most important thing is hopefully it’ll have an effect on people when they look at it.”

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.

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