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Mitchell’s unique legacy remains around Lahaina

By Staff | Dec 9, 2010

Sir Wilfred’s owner Bill Burton stands with the Reems Mitchell statue outside his store on Front Street.

LAHAINA — In Lahaina — a town known for its history and art — residents and visitors may overlook statues crafted by a world-renowned master.

They include the seasoned sea captain with peg leg outside the Best Western Pioneer Inn, deep-in-thought ship’s navigator at the Wharf Cinema Center, happy whaler outside Crazy Shirts and the wiry Ulupalakua Cowboy — inspired by 1908 World Roping Champion Ikua Purdy — in front of Sir Wilfred’s made by Reems Mitchell.

Sir Wilfred’s owner Bill Burton met Mitchell in 1977, and they remained close friends until the artist passed away on Nov. 27, 1996.

“He was a very gifted artist — one of the most famous artists in the world,” said Burton.

While living at Ulupalakua Ranch and serving as the artist-in-residence there, Mitchell would create one or two sculptures a year.

His clients included Crazy Shirts (founder Rick Ralston wanted one outside each store, Burton explained), the ranch, Maui Mall and Mitchell’s friend, John Denver.

Made with wood and wire bodies and plaster faces, the characters convey great emotion and personality, Burton said.

Like the eccentric Mitchell, the sculptures are “bigger than life,” he added.

A great storyteller, Mitchell would create the characters and their life stories.

“All the characters that he did, he’d become that character,” said Burton, who would drive up to the ranch on Sundays to visit Mitchell.

“He cared about the pieces that he made. He grasped that the statues would be around long into the future,” he continued.

“Artists knew how great he was. His statues are a unique part of Lahaina — so eye-catching.”

The sea captain in front of the Pioneer Inn overlooks Lahaina Harbor. Inn Controller Becky Lennon said the captain “is the most photographed VIP on Maui,” with hotel guests and harbor visitors always posing for pictures with Mitchell’s statue.

“It is probably one of the things that identifies the inn,” said Lennon.