Big Island Artist Salutes the Ohia

Oct 2, 2017

Credit Sherry Bracken

Hawai'i Island has the most ohia trees in the state – more than 800,000 out of 1 million trees estimated to exist in the state.  But it also is the home to a fungus that is killing the trees off.  A local artist is documenting the trees in the best way he can. HPR contributing reporter Sherry Bracken provides this update.


Emily Catey Weiss is the Director of Volcano Art Center inside Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park.   She explains why the Art Center has mounted an exhibit by Hilo artist John D. Dawson that’s all about the ohia.

“With the rapid ohia death, it is affecting the trees so quickly, and one of the things John does so well is depict the details of these trees. One of our fears is these trees will all be affected by this fungus and there’s no one better to document what the trees look like right now than John Dawson. We have been very aware of rapid ohia death. Many of us adore and love the ohia tree. It’s part of our environment, it’s a part our culture, and our heritage here, in the volcano environment.

It can grow in almost barren rock, it can grow in lush forest, there are so many variations, also in the color, it can be vibrant blood red, a beautiful yellow or orange, even white. John decided to depict different ohia trees that were found within our park borders. Some very full of lehua blossoms, some appearing dead, it shows the variation we have within this small environment of how diverse those trees can look.”

John D. Dawson has been painting his whole life, and since 1980, has created hundreds of artworks of Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. He talks about how he found his subject matter for the ohia exhibit.

“Kathy, my wife, and our friend Karen, they would go out on the trail, and the assignment was, ‘Find a Tree.’  We would wander, they would look for special trees and I would take a lot of photographs.  We’d look at them on the computer, and I’d say ‘That one!’  So each area we did that, each area of the park.”

The ohia art of John D. Dawson will be on display at Volcano Art Center inside Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park through October eighth.