Leaving Footprints for Others to Follow

By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer (Choctaw Nation), Artist in Business Leadership Fellow 2015

Maile Andrade (Native Hawaiian) is a multi-media artist and holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Hawai’i-Månoa. She has participated in several Indigenous Symposiums/Gatherings in New Zealand, Tahiti, and the Longhouse in Evergreen State College, Washington. Maile has been an artist-in-resident in New Zealand, at the Alaska Heritage Center, and SAR School for Advanced Research, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She serves as an Affiliate Researcher at Bishop Museum and has presented all over the world.

In the art classroom, Maile breaks chunks of alaea — dry red clay — into smaller and smaller pieces, then crushes it to powder. Adding water, she uses a brush and mixes it into a thick paste. She dips a bamboo stem in the mixture, taps away the excess, and presses it on the kapa (bark cloth). By repeating this over and over, she creates a design.

From a young age, Maile’s parents recognized her talent as an artist. It was how she saw the world, how she expressed herself. Over decades of practice, she mastered multiple disciplines and is now finding herself in the position of being the older generation, the one who holds all this knowledge. She shares it as a professor at Kamakakukalani Center for Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawai’i-Månoa, where she teaches in a Native Hawaiian Creative Expression Program.


But if she walks away, who will pass on Hawaiian arts to the next generation?

There is currently no one to take Maile’s place when she retires, no one to give clear direction in running the fiber arts classes.

“I created these classes, and enrollment is high,” she says. “That tells me it’s important, the students want it. I have several people I’ve been training who are the next-generation down. But I find that, while they understand it, they can’t facilitate a bigger discussion around the cultural aspect because they lack a broader base.”

The generation above Maile is gone; the one coming behind her hasn’t mastered all the arts. But rather than despair, she is using her 2019 Cultural Capital Fellowship from First Peoples Fund to create a solution. 

Maile is reaching out to others with her level of knowledge to record what they learned, as she did when she apprenticed with a master weaver in 1989. She is creating workshop curriculum, training young weavers, making sample weaving patterns for use in future instruction, and documenting the designs and patterns of master weavers for a database, or possibly a book.

“There are different master weavers, and I want to honor the lineage of each,” she says. “A lot of young weavers don’t see the differences in the detail, but hopefully as they gain experience, they will see the subtleties in the masters.”

When Maile does walk away, she wants to leave clear footprints for others to follow.