The Dawson Mural in the Visitor Center
Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park is so extraordinary that it was recognized with both an International Biosphere Award and a World Heritage Award. It reaches from the sea, where lava can sometimes be seen dripping onto glittery black sands, to the snow-dusted and nearly 14,000ft. summit of Mauna Loa volcano. In addition to housing one of the most active volcanoes in the world, it protects innumerable plant and animal species that have gradually and inexorably vanished from most of the rest of the archipelago. It is, in short, a treasure…a VAST treasure. Very few people can visit long enough to experience its range of cultural and ecological diversity. In that case, how to bring the park to the people?
A collaborative project between HPPA and Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park engaged the celebrated skills of Hilo artist John Dawson. Dawson is perhaps most well known for his series of postage stamps commemorating American endangered species—a series that includes Hawaiʻi. Now, when you enter the Hawaiʻi Volcanoes Kīlauea Visitor Center for the first time, your eyes are immediately drawn to the visual richness of a series of panels fan across the walls of the exhibit space.
For this mural panels project, the National Park Service (NPS) and HPPA collaborated to determine the funding need for a project of this scope as well as the direction of the interpretive message. Scientists working within the national park were consulted and local contractors were engaged. Protecting the natural processes that conserve the park’s biodiversity is a core mission of this national park, and interpretive displays are one of the most effective ways to translate complex concepts into potent take-home messages. HPPA was able to support not only the needs of the artists who merged science and art, but also to underwrite the nuts and bolts requirements of creating and installing the display.
Thousands of hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars were invested over a period of years in order to find the most compelling way to tell the story of Hawaii’s isolation and origins, the tenacity of its first colonizers, the biological dance of adaptation and evolution, the complexities of the contemporary rainforest. An intense focus on exquisite detail ensured that even the smallest fern and insect would be rendered in a lifelike manner, and situated correctly in the visual context of the display.
Today, you can wander the length of the display and absorb the story of the real Hawaiʻi from the snowy, cindery mountaintops to the black and white sands of the geologically youthful coastline. There’s a lot of food for thought here, one aspect of which is whether how the visitor adds or subtracts from this, the most remote archipelago in the world.
It’s important work. We here at HPPA invite you to spend some time with these and other collaborative displays on view throughout our Hawaiʻi national parks.