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Preserving Lahaina’s historical Wo Hing art

By BY CINDY SCHUMACHER - | Apr 19, 2018

Chutima Intarapanich volunteered to restore the altar painting at Wo Hing Temple & Museum and created other art projects for the Lahaina Restoration Foundation, which are currently displayed in the Plantation Museum at The Wharf Cinema Center. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE WO HING MUSEUM.

LAHAINA – The Lahaina Restoration Foundation’s (LRF) purpose is to restore, preserve and protect the physical, historical and cultural legacies of Lahaina, and to honor the era of the Hawaiian Monarchy. Its vision is that Lahaina’s prominent place in Hawaii’s history and rich cultural traditions are celebrated, and its story shared through authentic preservation of significant sites, buildings and artifacts.

Wo Hing Museum is part of the heritage that LRF manages, maintains and preserves. The museum’s second floor shrine has several art treasures from Chinese history relating to the Wo Hing Society that built the distinctive temple and social hall on Front Street. Wo Hing’s altar is a representation of the history that exists and is currently being preserved.

The artwork behind the altar is a spiritual image of Guan Dai (c.160-220 AD), a Chinese hero and warrior who symbolizes the virtues of loyalty, honesty, justice and courage.

He is the protector of peace and a patron saint of numerous fraternal societies. Also known as Kwan Tia or Guan Yu, the famous general from the Three Kingdoms Period in China, he has become immortalized as a god of war, wealth, martial arts, literature and healing arts. He is one of the best-known figures in popular Confucianism, Taoism and Chinese Buddhism, and he is still worshiped by many Chinese people today, especially in Southern China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and many overseas Chinese communities.

Legend tells that after a long journey full of hardships, Guan meets Liu Bei and Zhang Fei, and they become sworn brothers in the well-known “Oath of the Peach Garden.” Since that oath, the three men dedicated their lives to defending the Han Dynasty and bringing peace to the empire. At Wo Hing Cookhouse, there are many plaques that refer to the oath.

“This is a story spanning two continents and over 100 years,” said Dr. Busaba Yip, cultural director, researcher and docent of the Wo Hing Museum. “It is also a story of a decade-long project of the Wo Hing Society and the LRF to preserve a piece of history for the appreciation of future generations.”

As part of the Wo Hing Society research, Yip noticed that the sacred Guan Dai painting on the temple altar was peeling and fading due to the proximity to the ocean and to the effects of incense often burned on the altar in front of the painting.

“This particular painting is possibly the oldest, or among the oldest, paintings of its type in Hawaii and is thought to have been brought to the islands in the late 1800s,” Yip explained. “It was likely displayed at the original Wo Hing Temple and placed in the new building in the 1900s restoration.”

Yip’s attention to finding a faithful reproduction of the original painting began more than ten years ago. The badly faded original needed the right artist, materials and clues to the correct colors to even begin the project.

“Wo Hing Society and LRF are so thankful and honored that Lahaina resident Chutima Intarapanich, a cartoonist, comic artist, graphic novel artist, colorist, inker, illustrator, storyboard artist and graphic designer, came to Maui for her master’s thesis in 2016 and showed an interest in this project,” Yip said.

“I personally learned a lot from Intarapanich throughout the whole process. LRF and I would like to honor her work and her contributions as a volunteer. We are touched by her gifts and the extraordinary job she did.”

Intarapanich received her Master’s of Fine Art in Graphic Novel Illustration in 2017 from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. She has now completed the five-month project to create the Wo Hing 44″ x 25″ illustration with vivid and faithful coloration.

“I first learned of this project when I came to Maui in the summer of 2014 to research the story for my comic book thesis project,” said Intarapanich.

“One chapter of my comic book is about the Wo Hing Temple & Museum, so I became familiar with this Guan Dai image at that time. I committed myself to do this project after I finished my master’s degree.”

She continued, “Although I have confidence in the use of color, since I worked as a comic book colorist for two years, I still needed another artist to support my ideas for this project. I consulted with my undergraduate teacher, Assistant Professor Thammasak Aueragsakul, a specialist in watercolor painting from Thailand. He suggested I create the Guan Dai image with traditional Chinese water color on Chinese handmade paper.”

Intarapanich explained, “The reason he suggested Chinese watercolor is because the colors are not saturated like western watercolor. While painting with this technique, I needed to have fabric under the paper to absorb water, because the paper is very thin. I learned this technique earlier in Taiwan, about 12-13 years ago when I was a cultural exchange student from Thailand. With my background, I followed his suggestions, but I still was not sure about the color changes, such as the gold and silver.”

Most Guan Dai illustrations nowadays use gold, but this painting used silver. Intarapanich tried to find an old Guan Dai painting. Finally, she found one image that used silver color that her teacher confirmed.

“Chinese watercolors don’t have a silver color, so I used acrylic paint for silver,” Intarapanich said. “Professor Aueragsakul also pointed out something about the skin colors of the figures in the Wo Hing painting, especially Guan Dai. In many illustrations, his face uses red color, but this image uses regular skin color.”

Intarapanich got two fabrics for absorbing water that she used when she was studying Chinese painting and calligraphy. Using the selected paper, she cut it to actual size, 44″ x 25″, and used an A2-size lighted drawing board for tracing the outlines by putting the paper on top of the photo reference.

Normally this light board is used for fixing comic manuscripts, but it is a perfect tool for tracing outlines without a drawing grid on the paper. After she finished the outlines, it was time for the coloring process. She painted it in the master reading room first before moving it to the second floor of the Wo Hing building.

“Seeing the original image while painting helped me a lot for choosing the colors,” said Intarapanich. “For example, the tiger skin area. I painted this area like a tiger skin, yellow and black, but when I checked the original after I moved it, I found the reflection looked like another area of silver on black strips, so I changed the color from black to silver. I could see more color from the original image, such as the Guan Dai cloth that still had green color on a yellow area.”

Around two months after starting the painting, the main problem showed up. The yellow color area started cracking. She tried to fix it for months. In the end, she fixed the yellow area with acrylic color. The last area that Intarapanich painted with a different technique was Guan Dai’s mustache.

“I couldn’t use the brush technique like when I painted his hair,” she said. “He has too long a mustache. I tried with different tools, practicing with the small brush, but this was not working. Finally, I used the fountain pen with black ink that I used to ink my comic manuscript.”

Intarapanich said she likes a challenge and is happy for the experience she received while working with the LRF.

“I learned a lot illustrating the background for a collection of paintings in the newly expanded Plantation Museum at The Wharf Cinema Center,” she said. “Plus, the Wo Hing project taught me more about Guan Dai, the noble soldier.