I first met Maui artist Cecilia Bahena at the Maui Bake Shoppe in Wailuku. She was absolutely stunning, with dark brown, nearly black hair and large chocolate eyes. Physically, she stood out from the crowd, even on an island filled with exotic and beautiful people. Her artwork is just as intriguing and pleasing to the eye.
Classically trained as an oil painter, Bahena is a member of the Plein Air Painters of Hawai’i and is certified by the Kennedy Center for the Performing arts as an art instructor for teachers. In the 1990’s she taught art to at-risk youth through the Lahaina Art Society’s Art Outreach Program at Kahikili Terrace, Harbor Lights, Luana Gardens and other neighborhoods around the island.
Oil has been her primary source of artistic expression, but she has also experimented with other mediums. Most notable has been her work fashioning wooden dolls out of a diverse variety of materials.
“Both my grandmothers and my mother were doll makers,” Bahena said. “I began making dolls at the age of seven and have continued through out my life. I studied the history of the doll and how various cultures use them.”
Bahena first began to use handmade dolls as a form of therapy when she was involved in the Lahaina Art Society’s Art Outreach program. “The children enjoyed making dream dolls and pillows to help ease bad dreams and negative feelings,” she said. “We used cloth, and the dolls and pillows were a form of therapy. We wrote positive sayings and words on them and collaged them with fabric, beads and paint.”
In 2002, Bahena relocated to California were she worked as activity director at a 95-bed long-term care facility. “I used the doll form once again,” she said. “For some patients who could only see and not hold the dolls, I used the wooden form so I could stand the dolls on their window sills or dressers. I also started to incorporate some Color Therapy. Everyday I would make my rounds and read the inspirational quotes and sayings on the dolls to the patients. It was very uplifting for them.”
When we met, Bahena brought along a few of her dolls, including some currently in private collections and on display in various galleries.
“These are the Artistic Sculpture dolls,” she told me. “They’re now on wood exclusively and incorporate handmade and painted paper, fibers with ancient symbols and designs. For images I use famous art or my own paintings, Hawaiian tapa and floral prints and stuff. I also use Mayan numbers and basic number meanings. Color therapy is used to enhance the mood of the viewer. Quotes in Hawaiian and English, or just specific words, carry the theme of each sculpture.”
One doll, named “Paradise,” has a two-sided face, which Bahena said represents the Roman god Janis. One face looks to the past, while the other looks toward the future. Bahena painted spirals on the doll, representing female energy, and three plumeria that show self-expression, openness and optimism. The domi nant colors of the doll are red and yellow, which Bahena said depict strength and courage.
Every little adornment on the doll apparently has a specific meaning and purpose. To be honest, I had so much fun exploring the doll that I was reluctant to return it to its maker. I have a sneaking suspicion that everyone who has the chance to explore one will feel the same attachment.
Bahena’s Artistic Sculpture dolls can be found at Maui Hands, the Hui Noeau Visual Art Center, Haleakala Trading Co. and at the Kealani on Mondays. Prices range from $55-$150. For more information, contact the artist at email@example.com MTW