Master kapa maker Marie McDonald’s exhibition, “He Ho’ala Ana / An Awakening: Kapa by Marie McDonald” opened Wednesday night at the Academy with an exceptional turn out. She was back Thursday morning as Textile Collection Manager Sara Oka shared the Academy’s kapa collection with her and other kapa makers. Oka laid out the large, fragile squares of kapa on a big viewing table, and as she presented each piece, mostly kapa moe (traditional Hawaiian bed coverings), the group buzzed, discussing how each piece may have been created. As the group huddled over the textile treasures, McDonald compared her own method with the pieces. She talked about how varying the strength of her kapa beating creates designs.
The other artists spoke of fermenting the wauke, or paper mulberry bark, that is used to create kapa. Kapa artist Dalani Tanahi explained to me how each maker has their own method. She lives in Wai‘anae, where the air is humid and her pieces of wauke ferment differently from those of McDonald, who lives in Waimea where the air is cool. I overheard McDonald’s daughter Roen Hufford say that McDonald has been known to put the pieces in plastic and then set them in her car to accelerate the fermenting process. From growing the wauke to creating the final kapa, McDonald and Hufford emphasized that kapa is an entire process, not just an end result.
With work so colorful and detailed, I wanted to know what inspired Marie McDonald to create such amazing kapa. Everyting around her inspires her, she told me. “Isn’t it that way for every artist?”