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Savior of Art

James Erickson’s stained glass window of Saint Damien and Mother Marianne Cope. Photo from James Erickson

With the Vatican’s Oct. 21 canonization of Mother Marianne Cope, North Shore artist James Erickson would like to call the public’s attention to the Damien and Marianne of Molokai Heritage Center in Waikiki (2522 Kalakaua Ave., second floor). Erickson recently completed a stained glass window, being housed at the center, of the two saints, who both achieved sainthood for their work in Kalaupapa. The commissioned work also features a maile lei

-symbolic of love, generosity and compassion – and a view of Kalaupapa.

“St. Augustine Church, which operates the heritage center, has a design and property to build a permanent museum in the next two to four years,” says Erickson of its current temporary space. “I’m hoping my stained glass window will get designed into an exterior wall in the new museum to give it natural light. Right now it’s kind of a room divider, but I had it outside my studio and as the light changes throughout the day it’s just glorious, and it sparkles and changes so much. Inside the building, it doesn’t get the life that it deserves.”

Back in the ’70s, Erickson (jericksonstudios.com) began eking out his niche in the art world, working craft fairs with his pre-made stained glass windows. Forty years later, he’s proud to be among the small percentage of artists who subsist – meagerly, but consistently – solely on their art. In addition to commissioned residential and commercial windows, his current calling involves mostly liturgical restoration and maintenance work.

“I was contacted by a church in Honolulu about 15 years ago,” says Erickson. “They said they had terrible damage to their windows, could I fix it.”

He’d been asked the same question for years, and turned down projects for the sake of doing only original work. This time he decided he could use the work and certainly had the know-how. One project led to a referral for another and another, and he hasn’t stopped.

It’s no breezy job, necessitating months of labor on a single vandalized window. Some are priceless treasures with intricate central panels that have been pulverized by bricks, leaving only mangled framework. Like a CSI investigator, Erickson searches the ground for any retrievable bits to piece whatever he can back together. He then matches the hue of what shards remain to hand-blown glass from Germany. Sometimes churches haven’t thought to document the windows. In one case, he did his replication based off a shot of the window in the distant background of someone’s wedding photo.

His latest project is two vandalized “Jesus windows” that flank the door of the Christ Memorial Episcopal Church on Kauai. Windows that depict faces demand the added effort of painting on the glass panels using powdered glass for the details and shadowing, and then firing the panel up in a kiln and repeating the process several times to get the detail to melt into the glass. When he’s done, the work is shiny and good as new – but therein lies another problem.

The pieces are sometimes from the 1800s, so Erickson has to put the window through an antiquing process, washing it with a touch of brown glass paint so that the shiny center area matches the vintage surrounding areas.

“When I put one window back in the church, a little old nun came over and burst into tears,” recalls Erickson. “She said, ‘I love this window so much, and when the vandals destroyed it I thought I’d never see it again. You’ve brought our window back to life. Thank you.'”

In one of the photos that will be displayed at ‘Bouldering in Hawaii,’ Justin Ridgely makes his way up a volcanic arch. Photo by David Chatsuthiphan

Some of his prestigious jobs include 10 years of incredibly complex work on Victorian windows at the Lucasfilm Ltd. Skywalker Ranch in Marin County, Calif., and his local work includes restoring windows for the Cathedral of St. Andrew that were made by Tiffany Studios of New York at the turn of the century. He’s also done work for Bishop Museum and many churches through the state.

“I am the luckiest guy in the world – I get to do what I love every day,” notes Erickson. “Fortunately, these islands had a lot of missionaries early on and they built a lot of churches, and they’re now really old and falling apart. I couldn’t live here without doing restoration, so thank goodness there are so many churches I can help save.”


Go Climb a Rock

You don’t have to tread into the great wild yonder for your blood to get a primal rush. Step into The Manifest (32 N. Hotel St.) and you’ll get an equally visceral physiological response as you check out the photo exhibit, “Bouldering in Hawaii,” on the walls Oct. 19-31 (with an opening reception on the 19th at 8 p.m.).

The 20 or so images depict some of Hawaii’s most proficient boulderers: Hiro Watanabe, Justin Ridgely, Matt Lutey and Nancy Nguyen.

“They are the climbers who do the most to grow the bouldering community in Hawaii,” says exhibit photographer David Chatsuthiphan. “They rally people together to go climb outdoors almost every weekend. And they push and encourage the beginner and intermediate climbers to climb hard and get strong.”

The show features Chatsuthiphan’s newest work that has not yet appeared on his blog at unrealhawaii.com. He’s an enthusiast for outdoor adventure in the Islands, and that’s what his site features in photos, video and prose.

“‘Bouldering in Hawaii’ is intended to create awareness and give exposure to this nascent and esoteric sport in Hawaii,” says Chatsuthiphan. “We’re hoping that through some interesting photography, we can perk people’s interest and motivate them to give it a try.”