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For Sale: Baby Shoes. Never Used. And Other 6 Word Memoirs

Hui Noeau
Hui NOeau

Hui No‘eau is a sturdy arts non-profit in Upcountry Maui.  They offer community facilities for glass, jewelry making, printing, and more, and are open to the public daily, free of charge. Now through July 26th, they are showing artwork based on Six Word Memoirs.

Zach Pezzillo.
Credit Zach Pezzillo.
Designed by C.W. Dickey originally as a residence for Harry and Ethel Baldwin, Hui No'eau purchased the property in 2005 with the intention of keeping it as an art resource for the Maui community in perpetuity.

Six-Word Memoirs Juried Art Exhibition

June 7 – July 26 2019 / Open Daily 9am – 4pm with free admission

Opening Reception: This Friday  June 7, 2019 5pm – 7pm

The grounds and historic home alone are worth a visit, just above Makawao town off Baldwin Avenue.

Jenny Pickett, Development and Marketing Officer for Hui No‘eau says the historic house was built in 1917 by C. W. Dickey. You know Dickey, the inventor of key tropes we now recognize as our “sense of place,” notably the double pitched roof and wide eaves.   This seminal Hawai‘i architect grew up in Haiku, and returned to Hawai‘i in the 1920's to design many prominent buildings, including this family home for Harry and Ethel Baldwin. 

Hui Noeau
Credit Hui NOeau

Harry Baldwin’s father and uncle started Alexander & Baldwin, one of Hawai‘i’s original “Big Five” companies. Harry was a plantation manager, and a congressional delegate.  His wife, Ethel Baldwin, led the Maui women’s suffrage movement, and worked for child welfare laws and old age pensions.  Pickett says Mrs. Baldwin loved the arts.

“One of the things she did was got a hui of women together that were really interested in Arts. They began meeting in the early ‘30’s I want to say.  So actually, we’ve just been keeping the Hui alive since then.”

“Our campus is filled with youth right now, which is really fun." Pickett continues, "We have Camp Kaluanui that’s going on.    Because we believe that it’s really important for youth to be able to access the visual arts.  It can change and shape an entire community.  I’m just stoked to be able to work here.  It’s the most amazing place.”

In pictures, the building is quite imposing, red tile roof, five arches topped by five tall French doors – but I don’t remember it that way.

Walking in, it was breezy, open, really gracious in the old style.   You’re always welcome to stop by, picnic on the grounds, open 9-4 daily.

Hui Noeau
Credit Hui NOeau

The Six-Word Memoirs Juried Art Exhibition is opening Friday.  What, you ask, is a 6 word memoir?

Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway was once challenged to write a story in only six words. His response? “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

In November 2006, Larry Smith, of SMITH Magazine, gave this prompt to his writing community: 

Can you tell your life story in six words? 

Since then, more than 1 million life stories have been published on sixwordsmemoirs.com

It’s global now, with books and blogs, and entire websites.  This, however, is the first time organizers know of that six word memoirs have been paired with visual arts. Jurors were David Peterson, Professor of Art and Endowed Chair at Skidmore College New York and Todd Van Amburgh  who teaches English and Drama at Seabury Hall and Creative Writing at UH-Maui.  Van Amburgh explains:

"There’s a fun quote by William Faulkner.  He said that a novelist is a failed short story writer, and a short story writer is a failed poet. I think that works really well for explaining that the six word story is really a poem.  It’s very much like a haiku.  Or, as author Sherman Alexei says, it’s kind of like stand up.  You have a punch  line at the end.  You have a set up, a reaction, and a punch line.”

Van Amburgh says young people, especially, gravitate to this form, and writing them has been used as an ice breaker for meetings, and so on. “This one is a serious one by Robert Ullman Butler, the writer, Vietnam vet.  It’s called In Country:  Saigon Hotel. Decades later. He weeps.”

The attraction is that it’s a simple. creative way to get to the essence of something.

Here’s another one by Sherman Alexie: MY EX-WIFE. My brother. They eloped.

For this Hui No‘eau show, artists of all ages and media were asked to submit works that somehow incorporated a six word Memoir.  There were about 70 submissions -- paintings, mixed media, and 3-d pieces. 

Of course, I asked for some examples of successful works included in the show, but Van Amburgh refused, saying:

That would be

Giving it away.

I only know there’s a lot of humor here. Other examples Van Amburgh offered from his research: 

From an Arizona 8th grader:  Sitting next to her. Saying nothing.

Then there’s Modern Romance by Louise Farmer Smith:

Facebook.  Tweeting. Texting. Meeting. Handshake. Fleeing.

In 2005 the people, that is, the Hui in Hui No‘eau, bought the Baldwin property to preserve it as an art center and community resource.  It exists through grants and donations for and by the people of Maui.

Noe Tanigawa covered art, culture and ideas for two decades at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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