Every year, a lucky group of painters is juried into the Maui Plein Air Painting Invitational, held in February in Hawaii. Every year, we hear ecstatic descriptions of the event, the subject matter, and the mid-winter getaway. Who had an even better time in 2016, thanks to awards?
 
Jason Sacran took Best in Show, worth $1,000 plus prizes, for his oil painting “Lahaina Dusk.” Lori Putnam won the Irvine Museum Award with “Upfront.”
 
John P. Lasater, IV, won Artists’ Choice, Collector’s Choice, and the Irvine Museum Honorable Mention for his piece “Lahaina Glow,” and that earned him several prizes including a 1/4-page ad in PleinAir magazine. Hiu Lai Chong and Macario Pascual also won Honorable Mention. James McGrew’s “Honolua Bay Shimmer” won both the Honor Hawaii, Honor Maui Award and the Montage-Kapalua Bay Award.
 
Mary Pettis, one of the participating artists, says the event is top-notch, and that this tone is set in the very beginning. “This invitational is extremely well organized,” she says. “We are each given a very thorough, tabbed, three-ring binder with everything we will need, including maps, schedules, guidelines and information, and eatery gift certificates from sponsors. This meeting is followed by a luau-style private reception for artists, spouses, and host families. I like having this party at the beginning of the event, making connections and celebrating the host families who support us year after year. Having the gathering the first night frees up one of our evenings later in the week to paint.”
 
Pettis and the other artists are depicting scenes that are disappearing from the islands. This is clear to the painters, and it makes their work that much more meaningful and engaging. “This year is the last sugarcane harvest on Maui,” reports Pettis. “The cane industry is one of the main reasons for Maui’s rich cultural diversity. The historic sugar mill has been a popular subject to both paint and collect, and I wanted to paint it from a more intimate location instead of from the more ‘scenic’ distance, as I have in the past. We learned that those of us who wanted to paint it needed to have written permission and guidelines to paint there this year. Sunday is the best day to go as a group. And accordingly, come Sunday we spread out along several designated painting sites. I was happy to learn that the close-up spot I chose earlier was a sanctioned one. I loved the circular, organic composition, and blocked it in quickly. Wild chickens crowed and pranced through my scene all morning. I had to put them in. Two hours later I watched as a 30-foot-tall dust devil passed in front of me, made a right turn, and headed straight through Mike Carroll and his painting! Didn’t see that one coming.”
 


“Living Waters — Iao Vally,” by Mary Pettis, 2016, 18 x 24 in.

 
One painting seemed to serve as the centerpiece of Pettis’s experience at the Maui Plein Air Painting Invitational — an 18”-x-24” oil of a waterfall in Iao Valley. She knew she wanted to paint it, and she knew just how she was going to approach it. Now the weather and all the other logistics needed to fall into line.
 
“I could hardly wait to get back to the Iao Valley to start my painting of the little secluded waterfall,” says Pettis. “I climbed down the bank on Sunday, and claimed a little rocky foothold along the stream. I loved the fragrant, mossy rainforest floor. I loved the sound and dancing movement of the water and the canopy of green light filtering through the tall trees. Birds were singing. After being in the hot sun, this felt like paradise. I knew I would come back more than once to explore the layers deeply, to give it the care it deserved. I decided to make a more classic interpretation of this sacred stream. On Monday, it looked like it was raining hard in Iao Valley as I looked over my shoulder while painting another scene. But when I returned to the Iao Valley, it stopped raining just as it got set up. Thank you, Menehune spirits! I painted for a few hours, then returned around the mountain again on Tuesday to spend the first part of the day finishing the painting. The light held for me all day. I can’t express how happy I am to feel that I have captured exactly how I feel about this place. I love, love this painting, and believe that it is the best that I can do —certainly, it is the best outside the studio.”
 


“End of an Era,” by Mary Pettis, 2016, oil, 16 x 20 in.

 
By the weekend, it was gone. “I was happy with my three paintings, and the caliber of the exhibit of all the painters was incredible,” reports Pettis. “I am honored that my Iao Valley painting received the Pioneer Inn award. On Saturday it hung with some gorgeous paintings on the award wall. ‘Living Waters — Iao Valley’ sold almost immediately upon the doors opening. We ate raw oysters every time they passed by, along with other great pupus and drinks. What a fun evening, sharing experiences with other artists and our collectors.”
 
So was Pettis sad to part with this strong painting? “First, since painting for me is communication, it truly feels like an honor when something that has sprung from my heart has been accepted and appreciated,” she replies. “It’s why I paint —to share a poetic response. I receive the wonderful experience from nature, and when someone loves the painting, or better yet, wants to live with it and hand it down to their kids, it feels like the circle is complete. The experience of creating the painting is the thrill for me. The finished piece is the gift I give back. Then I move on. I do love some of my paintings more than others, but I have learned over four decades of doing this that with a little grace and God willing, there will be more where they came from!”
 

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