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The Diego Rivera of Uptown Wailuku

Maui artist recreates and preserves Maui’s history.

January 2, 2013
Sherry Remez - Contributing Writer , The Maui Weekly

After taking a stroll through an early 20th century Main Street recreated in the Food Court, you will recognize artist and archivalist Sean Baba as a man of vision, talent, great patience and persistence. One might even call him the Diego Rivera of Uptown Wailuku.

Intrigued by the large size of the interior wall surfaces of the Main Street Promenade building, Sean approached developer-owners Lisa and Robert Hugh Joslin about creating a mural. The couple was in the middle of completing the building and had a vision for what they wanted to see--something that people's grandparents might remember--old Wailuku, the buildings and what the town was originally like.

Sean went to the Bailey House Museum and looked through old photos, then conferred with Lisa and Robert, gathering more history from them. He learned that their building was erected on the site where a prominent judge's house had been. They wished to preserve the history of that location. When Sean provided a montage of photos showing how people would relate to the walls, the assignment was a go and his tromp l'oeil creation began.

Article Photos

Sean Baba at his gallery on Vineyard Street holds the brushes he used to paint a 2,000-square-foot mural in the Food Court of the Main Street Promenade building.

The project ended up taking one year and three months.

"I thought I could get the job done in three months, and began by taping off the walls," said Sean. "But, the nature of the trades and the moisture here had softened the plaster and the tape took off the wall and my preliminary drawings. I went three steps backward and one step forward."

Sean painted 2,000 square feet using only five or six brushes. The work was all done by hand. All the straight lines are painted without a guide.

"The completed project allows us to walk through the town of Wailuku the way it was historically--but inside of a building," said Sean. "Because of the 35-foot-height of the walls to the ceiling, the scale of the painting is very large and you can get a sense of exactly how the town used to be. From around 1900, it was a real Paniolo town. Wooden lana'i went out to a dirt road. Stepping out of the building and onto the lanai was like the Wild West."

In the 1930s, a second wave of development occurred. And in the 1950s, the larger concrete deco buildings went up. Sean pointed out that most of these buildings still exist.

"A few of the plantation houses have disappeared," he said, "but 80-year-old homes--landmarks to Wailuku Town--are still here."

Inside the Food Court, you can experience the essence of Wailuku. The Maui Hotel and judge's house, with its expansive lawn and picket fence, provide a backdrop for customers seated at tables, eating the meals they've purchased at the mom-and-pop concessions. From this perspective, they truly appear to be part of the scene.

All age groups are enjoying the finished oeuvre.

"Older folks stop and reminisce," said Sean. "Younger kids get inspired."

As an artist, Baba has always focused on historical work--preserving history. In his own shop and gallery on Vineyard Street in Wailuku, he does preservation through meticulous archival framing. He recently framed a document signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt that he envisions will be enjoyed by a young man of this generation, who will then pass it down to his children and grandchildren.

Sean's ongoing artwork, which he terms "Timeless Hawaiiana," is exhibited in the gallery.

"Hawai'i is the landmark, not a particular time period. It is the 'aina, the mountains, the ocean, the sealife--all timeless."

Monthly exhibitions featuring new work by guest artists are presented on a premier wall.

It is definitely worth your while to go to Wailuku, to step back in time and experience the marvel of Sean's mural, and then visit his gallery and enjoy the creative energy of a most remarkable artist.

The Food Court at the Promenade is located at 2050 Main St. North Shore Art & Frame is located at 2080 Vineyard St. Call (808) 298-5034 or email freshislandart@gmail.com.

 
 
 

 

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