Paying It Forward

Former UH tech professor R.W. “Buddy” Burniske believed his mom had artistic talent, so he’d take her to the Honolulu

Art Museum and point at various paintings. “You can do that, Mom,” he’d encourage her. His own passion was in bringing technological advancement to underdeveloped countries, and as a person who enjoys nurturing the talent of others, he purchased the supplies so that Penelope could try her hand at the brushes and easel.


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New Beginnings student Mable Hirata. Photos from Penelope Burniske

“He was the driving force behind me to learn more about the computer, oil painting and other venues,” she says. “He loved the fact that I was willing to give things a try. Not always so happily, but at least give it a try.”

Penelope did go on to become an artist in her own right, though cancer took her son’s life in 2006. In memoriam, for any painting she sells, she gives the profit to a UH scholarship in her son’s name. Given her own background being nudged into the world of art, when the City and County’s Parks and Recreation’s Makua Ali’i Senior Center on Kalakaua Avenue asked her to teach oil painting to senior citizens on a volunteer basis, she acquiesced. She said she’d give it a try and preside over one class a week on a trial basis. That was in 2009. The seniors were so enthusiastic that she’s still guiding them in a program called New Beginnings, and now offers three sessions a week.

“I am not a teacher,” says Burniske. “I prefer to think I suggest, not teach. I am a woman who loves to paint and loves color. If I can instill that love into anyone else, then I am a success.”

Burniske also is president and a founder of the Makua Ali’i’s Original Oil Painting Pals (OOPPS) Club comprised of already established artists. OOPPS is staging its annual exhibit at Honolulu Hale July 1 to 19 and will be sharing the exhibit space with its sister New Beginnings painters.

One of Burniske’s fledgling artists, MaryAnne Long, is thrilled to have several paintings in the show.

“I never thought I would consider myself an ‘artist,'” says Long. “I, like many of the others in the class, have had absolutely no experience with art, yet (Burniske) has us producing paintings we could never dream of doing. I started in January and have made incredible progress under her direction.”

That alone is what inspires Burniske: “I would like all seniors to know and even young people too,” she says, “we all have talent to create – just most have never tapped into it. I love to see the seniors I teach stand back, look at their painting and say, ‘Damn, I am good!'”

the TICKET stub

When: July 1-19; meet and greet with the artists July 2 from 5 to 7 p.m.
Where: Honolulu Hale Courtyard (530 King St.)
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