HUAKA‘I MEA‘AI – Sky Garden Restaurant

23 04 2009

There’s a really good restaurant, Sky Garden, at ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo. We went on a Friday night and the restaurant was hopping, even though ‘Imiloa was long closed for the night.

Mu-shu Pork        

Mu Shu Pork

Pot Stickers

Pot Stickers

Cashew Chicken

Cashew Chicken


Eggplant with Garlic Sauce

Peanut Butter Desert

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Pie

There were seven of us; four adults and three kids. Everybody was happy.

J: “I’m impressed with this restaurant. The view! In daylight you can see the town and the bay. It’s an interesting place.”

M: “Mu Shu is one of my favorite things, and it didn’t disappoint.”

M, age 8 “I liked the food a lot.”

K, age 12: “I liked the Mu Shu Chicken.” She gave it a thumbs up. (It was actually pork.)

E, age 5, liked to spin the Lazy Susan a little more than was comfortable for her parents, and then try to grab at food as it went by. “I liked the meat and the peanuts,” she said about the Cashew Chicken.

L: “The eggplant in garlic sauce could not be more garlicky. It’s great! This restaurant is owned by the people who used to own Ting Hao, where we used to go all the time and I remember this dish. I am so glad to find it again.”

A: “I liked the garlic eggplant. The egg fried rice was kind of boring; bland. The restaurant is nice, elegant, and has a classy but casual vibe. It’s like the best of Hilo is here.”

K, age 12, liked the Hilo Homemade Ice Cream’s coffee ice cream, which had little pieces of ground-up coffee beans.

Everybody liked the Chocolate Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Pie, which has broken pieces of Reese’s peanut butter cups on top.

Everyone in our group said they would eat at this restaurant again.          PAU



MERRIE MONARCH WEEK 2009: A Slice of The Goings On

17 04 2009

So many things happen in Hilo during Merrie Monarch week, aside from the Merrie Monarch hula competition itself. 

I will add new photos here every day throughout the Merrie Monarch Festival.

Icon of Hula, Uncle George Na‘ope

Hula Icon, Uncle George Na‘ope, outside Hilo Hawaiian Hotel

Hula at Imiloa Astronomy Center

Kalimakuhilani Suganuma, Miss Aloha Hula 2008, at ‘Imiloa

Big Island Native Hawaiian Art Exhibition: Prince Kuhio Plaza

Big Island Native Hawaiian Art Exhibition - Prince Kuhio Plaza

Unukupukupu with kumu Taupori Tangaro at Naniloa Hotel

Unukupukupu with Kumu Hula Taupori Tangaro at Naniloa Hotel

Dr. Kalena Silva after his lecture at Imiloa

Dr. Kalena Silva after his lecture at ‘Imiloa

Lecture Audience at ‘Imiloa

Lecture Audience at ‘Imiloa

Kana‘e Keawe with his Drum

Kana‘e Keawe with his Drum "Namaka"

Audience Inspecting Hula Instruments at ‘Imiloa

Audience Inspecting Hula Implements at ‘Imiloa

Kumu Pua Crumb at the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel

Kumu Hula Pua Crumb at the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel

Hula at Hilo Hawaiian Hotel

Hula at Hilo Hawaiian Hotel

Hawaiian Craft Fair at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium

Hawaiian Craft Fair at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium

Hawe, Manu O Ku, Hawai‘i

Hawe, Manu O Ku, Hawai‘i

Hawaiian Art at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium

Hawaiian Art at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium

John "Keoni" Aweau Turalde: Fisherman, Paddler, Carver

John "Keoni" Aweau Turalde: Fisherman, Paddler, Carver

Unukupukupu, kumu Taupori Tangaro at Afook-Chinen Auditorium

Unukupukupu, Kumu Hulu Taupori Tangaro at Afook-Chinen Auditorium

Kumu Taupori Tangaro

Kumu Hula Taupori Tangaro

Halau Leo Nahenahe O Pohai Kealoha at Hilo Hawaiian Hotel

Halau Leo Nahenahe O Pohai Kealoha at Hilo Hawaiian Hotel

Kumu Stan Kaina and Friends

Kumu Hula Stan Kaina and Friends

Dwight Tokumoto: Steel Guitar Player

Dwight Tokumoto: Steel Guitar Player

Haulani, Pi‘ilani of Leo Nahenahe O Pohai Kealoha

Haulani, Pi‘ilani of Leo Nahenahe O Pohai Kealoha

Halau Hula O Hilo Hanakahi, kumu Pua Crumb at Hilo Hawaiian Hotel

Halau Hula O Hilo Hanakahi, Kumu Hula Pua Crumb at Hilo Hawaiian Hotel

Glenn Okuma: Coconut Weaver at Afook-Chinen Auditorium

Glenn Okuma: Coconut Weaver at Afook-Chinen Auditorium

Kumu Hula Manu Boyd Workshop at ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center

Kumu Hula Manu Boyd Workshop at ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center

Kumu Hula Manu Boyd Workshop at ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center

Kumu Hula Manu Boyd Workshop at ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center

Big Island Native Hawaiian Art Exhibition-Prince Kuhio Plaza

Big Island Native Hawaiian Art Exhibition-Prince Kuhio Plaza

Ke Ola Pono: Kumu Hula Rayce Bento at the Naniloa Volcanoes Resort

Dancer with Ke Ola Pono: Kumu Hula Rayce Bento at the Naniloa

Big Island Native Hawaiian Art Exhibition-Prince Kuhio Plaza

Big Island Native Hawaiian Art Exhibition-Prince Kuhio Plaza

Kumu Hula Paul Neves at Hilo Hawaiian Hotel

Kumu Hula Paul Neves at Hilo Hawaiian Hotel

Halau Ha‘a Kea ‘O Akala, kumu Paul Neves at Hilo Hawaiian Hotel

Halau Ha‘a Kea ‘O Akala, Kumu Hula Paul Neves at Hilo Hawaiian Hotel

Halau Ha‘a Kea ‘O Akala: Kumu Hula Paul Neves

Halau Ha‘a Kea ‘O Akala - Kumu Hula Paul Neves: Hilo, Hawai‘i

He Kane Holo Lio: Merrie Monarch Parade

He Kane Holo Lio: Merrie Monarch Parade

Na Wahine Holo Pa‘u: Merrie Monarch parade

Na Wahine Holo Pa‘u: Merrie Monarch parade

Halau Hula ‘O Kahikilaulani - Kumu Hula Rae K. Fonseca

Halau Hula ‘O Kahikilaulani - Kumu Hula Rae K. Fonseca: Hilo, Hawai‘i

Halau Na Mamo O Ka‘ala - Tiare Noelani Chang

Halau Na Mamo O Ka‘ala - Kumu Hula Tiare Noelani Chang: Wai‘anae, O‘ahu


All in all, it was a great week. We caught up with friends and relatives not seen for awhile, visited with our hula brothers and sisters and watched performances all over town. Seeing the culture alive and well in hula, music, art and parades is so satisfying. There’s nothing more to say.                            PAU

2400 FAHRENHEIT – The Art of Glass

14 04 2009

Nightscape Vase

“You know what’s amazing?” says Michael Mortara. “Everybody’s got a drinking cup, but maybe only one out of a thousand, or maybe it’s only one out of 10,000, has seen it being made. You’ve got glass blowing, woodworking and ceramics, the three fundamentals of functional craft, and it’s shocking how many people have never seen it done. We certainly all depend on these things.

“We decided because so few people have seen it done, it was a really easy thing to do to share it by opening up our studio.”

He built the glass blowing studio and gallery where he and his wife Misato Mortara, both artists and glass blowers, work in Volcano Village.

Nightscape Bowl

Nightscape Bowl

They chose beautiful Volcano, site of some other seriously molten glass materials, partly because Michael had spent a lot of time there as a child. “We would stay up at my uncle’s place on Wright Road,” he says, “and I really liked it.

“Also, my uncle had a fireplace, and I loved fires. Glass blowing; playing with fire. I was always fascinated with fire when I was a little kid.”

The Team: Misato, Micheal and Evan

The Team: Misato, Michael and Evan

He talks about the power of fire. “When you have fire, you’ve got heat, you can survive in the cold, you can cook your food. It gives you a certain amount of independence from nature. If you know how to make fire you’re halfway there. It’s a real primal kind of human thing.”


Rainforest Series


Nightscape Platter

Michael first got involved with glass blowing when he was a high school student at Punahou School in Honolulu, and Misato at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa, where she too was learning about glass blowing and where the two met.

Misato, Micheal

Misato, Michael

Many years ago, when both Michael and Misato had jobs come to an end, they consciously made the decision to start blowing glass professionally. “We thought about, ‘What did we want to do next?’” he says. “It’s like your destiny. Who do you want to be in control of your destiny?”

Green Terarium

Habitat Series

Amber Terarium

Habitat Series

Artists have been blowing glass since Roman times.

“I think people are impressed because when they think about a craftsperson, or an artist,” says Michael, “they think about someone sitting by themselves in a studio creating their art. But at our studio they see a team of people working together and creating their work. You can have this extremely well-coordinated group of people that doesn’t say a lot to each other, but everyone knows their job and works together very well.”

“It’s the drama of taking a liquid and turning it into a solid,” he says. “The choreography of a team working together to produce a product.”

Micheal and Evan Working

Michael and Evan Working

Photo Courtesy 2400 Fahrenheit

Photo: Courtesy 2400 FAHRENHEIT

The Gallery at 2400 Fahrenheit

The Gallery at 2400 Fahrenheit

Rhapsody 3

Mirage Series

He and Misato each have exhibits coming up at Hilo’s Wailoa Center in May; his work as part of a show upstairs, and hers as part of one downstairs. “I’m working on some new pieces for it,” he says. “It’s not something you’d see at our studio. I’m building a house right now, and so I’m doing something for the show with nails and wood and glass.”

“The show will be a departure for both of us.”

Mortara 8

Supercooled Liquid

Micheal and Evan: The Spinning Stage

Michael and Evan: The Spinning Stage

He says their work continues to evolve and change. “Personally, I’m working in a much larger, more sculptural aspect now. It’s larger, more expensive, all solid, cut and polished; much more labor intensive and introspective.”

Image 2967

Hulu Series

Img 693

Michael Opening A Platter

Mortara 1

Arrangement From The Rainforest

Macario on the Mortaras:

Glass blowing is a pretty intense process, and it takes a long time to get good at it. The team at 2400 Fahrenheit is really good at what they do. There’s just a lot of talent there.

They have been doing this for a long, long time and their art is at a really high level. You can tell by picking up a piece. You can tell by the feel of it and the weight. The walls are thin, but it’s balanced. It’s pretty fabulous stuff, actually.

They work hard at it, and then they come back the next day and they work hard at it again. And they’ve done that since they started.

When people are there, there’s conversation and communication and you can just tell that they really love what they do. I noticed that Michael really loves showing kids how to make glass. While I was there photographing, they had just finished a piece and were taking a break. These people came in that had been in earlier and were trying to catch them blowing glass.

Michael said, “Oh, you came back. You know what I’ll do? I’ll make a bubble.” He got just enough glass so he could show those kids how to make a bubble.

Misato’s quiet, so you don’t always know how much she contributes, but when you see her pieces they’re quite complicated. Michael told me one time, “Misato’s always got to make stuff hard; challenging.” She’s the one that does all these swirly things with the glass.

They actually make a terrarium, and they make the trees in the terrariums and the spiders and the bugs. It’s just as precise as you can get. You know they’ve spent quite a bit of time figuring that stuff out.

Evan Jenkins is also part of the team. A glass blower in his own right, he’s been with the Mortaras since they started 2400 Fahrenheit. The three of them work together seamlessly.

Those guys are like worker bees. They don’t spout about art, they just DO art. They don’t talk too much about what they do. I mean, they’ll talk with people about the process, how to get this effect or that effect, but they don’t have to talk about their art. People see it.

I have a whole lot of respect for people that are dedicated to their art and what they do. Michael and Misato hold a really high standard. You can see it.


Michael Mortara: “We’re blowing glass in a way that’s been done for 500-600 years. We’ve got computers for the ovens, and electricity, but to tell you the truth, if you were a glass blower in the Renaissance time, you could come into our studio and do your thing. You would pick up a blowtorch, you’d know how to get glass out of the furnace, and you’d know the tools. It’s essentially unchanged.”            PAU

                                                      Photos by Macario
                                 Visit Fahrenheit 2400 at

HILO GUITARS AND UKULELES – The best little guitar shop in Hilo

8 04 2009
Ken Cameron

Ken Cameron

You can pretty much tell the story of Ken Cameron, owner of Hilo Guitars & Ukuleles in downtown Hilo, through guitars.

Starting when he was about 4 years old, growing up in Motherwell, Scotland, and happened to hear his first Hawaiian steel guitar. He says he asked his mother what it was and he was hooked.

He got his first guitar when he was 11 or 12, after his mother took him to see The Shadows at Green’s Playhouse Theatere in Glasgow. “I remember lots of girls screaming,” he says. “They were an instrumental band and I thought, ‘This is the best. This is what I want to do.”

For Christmas that year, his parents got him what he says was the cheapest guitar ever made. “It was unplayable,” he says. “I didn’t really know it, though.” He bought his first electric guitar when he was 15, after saving up money from a job at a local steel factory.

Jay Turser Dobro

Jay Turser Dobro

At 18 – with $15, a sleeping bag and his guitar – he hitchhiked from his home in Scotland down to London after he and his girlfriend got themselves in trouble and her father threatened him with a shotgun. He began playing his guitar in the underground (subway) stations. The first night he slept under a motorway underpass, and the second night at a park.

“People have said to me, ‘Oh, you were homeless,’ but I never saw it like that. It was exciting,” he says.

For about four months, he and his new busker friends bedded down in the subway (where his 12-string guitar was stolen while he slept). After awhile, he and two others became squatters in a condemned building and altogether he stayed in London about three years. “It was an adventure and I loved it,” he says. “It was probably one of the best times of my life.”

Then he and a musician friend moved to Paris, where they stayed in a hotel in the Latin Quarter that cost about $10 a day. “We’d get up,” he says, “have breakfast at this Tunisian restaurant, and then go down and play until we’d made enough to pay for the hotel and for our food for the day.

It was in Paris, while he and his friend were playing in a creperie, that someone from Spot Records heard them and signed them to do a record. The 45, “Can You Feel It,” is now displayed along the staircase at Hilo Guitars.

He moved back to London, recorded a demo, and began shopping it around. He was signed by Dick James Music, the label where Elton John was signed and publisher of the Beatles’ music. Ken cut a single with Roger Taylor (later of Queen), half of Elton John’s band, and some others, and it enjoyed moderate success. With former members of the Incredible String Band and David Bowie’s backing band he formed a band there called Ernest Brainchild and the Invaders. 

Wall of Uke's

Wall of Ukes

After moving to Canada, he heard from some musician friends in San Francisco who told him they were making records for CBS and living the high life. He caught the Greyhound bus out to join them.

“They had been spinning me a line,” he says. “When I got there, they said, ‘We just said that to get you over here.’”

Ken and Friend Busking in San Francisco

Ken and Friend Busking in San Francisco

He didn’t mind, and for a couple years he played in the Cannery there and in San Francisco clubs. He had an act with Harry Anderson, later of the TV show “Night Court,” who started out as a street magician. “He’d throw up a ping pong ball in the air,” Ken says, “and I’d catch it on the end of my nose and play music while pretending to balance it. Really, you used a little glue on the ping pong ball and on your nose.”

He formed a band called Killerwatt, which became very popular. They opened for Blondie, Sammy Hagar, Eddie Money and Mink Deville at the legendary Mabuhay Gardens and also the Great American Music Hall. “We were pretty close to making it there,” he says, “but punk came along.”

The band eventually disbanded and he and a musician friend ended up in Los Angeles, where they started playing at the Starwood, the Troubadour and other local clubs.

Something For Everyone

Something For Everyone

Ken bluffed his way into a job as sound engineer at Madame Wong’s in Chinatown. “I asked what kind of board they had, and went and looked at it at a store, took the instruction manual home and learned it.” He ended up as the club’s sound engineer for five years, working with the likes of the Police, Motels, Los Lobos among many others, until the place burned down.

That became a turning point for Ken, who says at that point he’d been drinking too much and doing too many drugs.

“I’d been at Canters, a Jewish restaurant down on Fairfax that was open 24 hours a day. That’s where everyone went after the clubs. I remember looking around at guys in their 50s who were still trying to look like they were in their 30s, and still talking about making it. I thought I needed to get my act together. I wanted to get away from the rock ‘n roll scene.

“I was 34, I hadn’t had a real job, I was still in the country illegally, had no credit rating. I had been living under the radar.” He moved to Fresno, sold life insurance, and then got a job selling audio equipment at the Federated Group. When that company went out of business, he went over to The Good Guys, where he was top salesman in the chain’s 70-some stores. The guitar took a back seat for a few years.

He moved again, this time toward Yosemite, and there he met the woman who would become his first wife. One day she invited him to go for a bike ride.

“I don’t think I’d been on a bike for 20 years,” he says. “I was still drinking and smoking cigarettes. I realized if I were going to have a relationship with this woman I was going to have to change my ways. The following day, I quit smoking and drinking.”

She was Australian, and they moved to Australia for a time (“You’re meant to look before you leap, but I tend to do the opposite”). That didn’t work out, and they returned to the U.S. and subsequently divorced.

Brian Padilla

Brian Padilla

A Koa Taylor

A Koa Taylor

Ken was living in San Luis Obispo, working in a music store/guitar shop called Blue Note Music, and playing music again when he and a friend went on vacation to the Philippines.

He met his second wife there, came home, sold everything and moved to the Philippines. “I tried living there,” he says, “but all hell started breaking loose. This was maybe nine years ago. Hostages were being taken, bombs were going off in shopping malls.” Their daughter was born there.

Soon after they brought their little girl and his wife’s older daughter to California. They lived in Paso Robles and weren’t very happy there. “It was very rednecky,” he says. About six and a half years ago, someone suggested he check out Hilo.

“Prices in California at that point were so outrageous,” he said. “But Hilo had houses for under $120,000. I thought it was too good to be true. I got to Hilo and was here less than two hours when I just fell in love with it.”

Especially downtown Hilo. He originally planned to open a guitar shop there with his friend, but when the friend changed his mind Ken proceeded on his own.

“A music store is a happy place to work,” he says. “It’s not a place where someone comes in to spend $400 on tires, or something else they don’t want. It’s a very positive environment to work in.”

Taylor - T5

Taylor - T5

Jammin', Wes, Gary Fujihara, Fred Hee

Jammin': Wes Davidson, Gary Fujihara, Fred Hee

And he says he likes that it tends to be a hangout. “There are a lot of local musicians who are wonderful musicians,” he says. “They’ll come in and talk story for 45 minutes or an hour. Every now and again we’ll get little impromptu jam sessions.There are certain people, like Dwight Tokumoto – when he comes in and picks up a guitar, I just stop what I’m doing and listen.”

Ken says that before he came to Hawai‘i, he thought of the ‘ukulele as a “joke instrument; like Tiny Tim. But when locals came in and started playing I realized it was a very serious instrument.” Now, he says, the shop probably sells more ‘ukuleles than guitars.

“We’ve sold to one of the guys from Los Lobos, the girl from the B52s. The special effects guy from Raiders of the Lost Ark, he buys an ‘ukulele every six months from us.”

Electric Wall

Electric Wall

Ken Restringing A Guitar

Ken, Restringing A Guitar

“I’d say we possibly have one of the largest selections of ‘ukuleles on display in Hawai‘i, and if that’s the case, very possibly in the world. When we opened the shop we only had three ‘ukuleles. Now we have over 120 on display.”

Ken says he loves Hilo and feels that they’ve become part of the community. “I enjoy all the different people we meet,” he says. “I think a lot of people come to Hilo to get away from the rest of the world. What is it, the farthest away from any land mass. I think that’s reflected in some of the population.

“Normal people are kind of boring. There are some very eccentric people here, which I like.”

Kanile‘a Rosette courtesy Kanile‘a Ukulele's

Kanile‘a Rosette (photo courtesy Kanile‘a Ukuleles)

Kanile‘a Inlay photo courtesy Kanile‘a Ukulele

Kanile‘a Inlay (photo courtesy Kanile‘a Ukuleles)

Macario on Ken:

I first met Ken at a party, and we played a couple songs. And then he came to our daughter’s first birthday party and we all ended up on the stage together just jamming. It was Dwight Tokumotu, we pulled Laura Alderdice up there, Fred Hee was playing in the back, Jeri Gertz was singing, I was playing ‘ukulele, and there were a couple other people there. We had a good time.

After meeting him and playing music with him a couple of times, then I found out all the people that he’s played with and where he’s been and all that. I thought, Wow, this is a wild and crazy guy. And a lot of fun.

Hilo Guitar is a great little shop. Ken has sort of the ‘old style’ of doing business. He doesn’t sweat the small stuff. He invites people to try instruments. Everybody says they do that, but they don’t really all do it.

Usually when you go in other places, first they check you out: Can this guy afford what he’s looking at? At Hilo Guitars, they don’t question that stuff. They’re there to fill the person’s needs, whatever level he’s at. That, alone, is a biggie to me.

Ken kind of reminds me of this mentor I had; this guy I worked for when I was a musician. Chuck Molinari. He had a drum shop in Honolulu called the Drum Shack. I worked with Chuck for years while I played music. You know what my hours were there? They were, “when you wake up, come in.” Because I was working as a musician at night and sometimes we used to work until 4:00 in the morning.

Anyway, there was no attitude there. They weren’t there to question your abilities; they were there to help you.

Ken has the same kind of attitude that Chuck had. About helping musicians, and helping people get the things they need so they can play. He likes people coming in and jamming in the store and stuff. And when you pick up an instrument in his shop, it’s usually tuned to where that instrument is supposed to be.

Brian Padilla also mans the counter at Hilo Guitar, and he teaches ‘ukulele there too. He’s a really good musician; he’s a very popular back-up musician for quite a few people who play around Hilo. So when he’s helping a customer he can pretty much tell where that person is, and he knows how to help them.

Fletcher Epperson teaches guitar there, and Dennis Lake does their repairs. He can repair just about any stringed instrument.

Hilo Guitar has something for everybody, no matter where you are on the ladder of music. That’s why they call it the Greatest Little Guitar Shop in Hilo.

Ken’s also real active in the community. He works with the East Hawai‘i Cultural Center to promote workshops and concerts. When there was that tsunami in Indonesia, he just jumped in and helped with getting some donations and supplies and stuff.

I think he’s a great asset to the community. To Hilo.


 “I love the weather here; I came from Scotland. And living in California with the hills being brown, they always looked sick to me. I don’t mind the rain. When it stops raining here everything sparkles like a jewel.” – Ken Cameron


All photos by Macario except where credited 
Visit Kanile‘a at
 Visit Ken at

HUAKA‘I MEA‘AI – Hilo Bay Cafe

2 04 2009

In Hawaiian, Huaka‘i Mea‘ai means “Food Journey.” Food is an important part of life here in Hawai‘i. You know the old joke: “Hawaiians don’t eat until they’re full; they eat until they’re tired.”

We don’t really do that, most of us. But we do take our food seriously.

We’re going to bring you the occasional glimpse of some of our meals on the Big Island. With comments.

E ‘ai kakou! (Let’s eat.)

For our first official Huaka‘i Mea‘ai, we went to the Hilo Bay Cafe for lunch. It’s in an unlikely spot — the Wal-Mart parking lot, in a small strip mall. But it’s a really nice restaurant.

Fish and Chips

Fish & Chips

Kulana Ribeye

Kulana Ribeye

M., on the Kulana Ribeye: “More than enough for lunch. Cooked perfectly. Great sauce. I’d order this again.”

L., on the Fish & Chips: “This was a desperation order. Everybody else was ready to order and I flailed at the last second and ended up with this. It was good; something about the batter made it better than your average f&c.  The tartar sauce was homemade and good. I liked it.”

E., on the Slow-Cooked Barbecue Pork Ribs (not pictured): “Kind of fatty, but still good. The salad and the dressing were good.”

e., (that’s “Little E.,” who’s 5): “Really good ice cream sundae.”                PAU




22 03 2009

Clemson and surf

Waimea Architect Clemson Lam once designed a house on a beach where there were a lot of coconut palm fronds. “When I had a preliminary plan,” he says, “I went down there and laid out the whole house in coconut palm fronds. I took the clients down there and showed them: Now you’re in your master bedroom….”

Puako Residence

Private Residence

Waimea House

Private Residence

More of Clem's Designs

More of Clem's Designs

When he starts a job, he says, he tries to absorb everything there is about a project – such as what the people are like and how they plan to use the house.

And then he takes it a huge step beyond: Before he does any design work, he goes and camps out on the site.

“I walk around the whole place; sit here, sit there,” he says. “I’m not so much trying to design something yet, I’m just trying to absorb. Like, ‘Wow, look at this spot, there’s a great view from here.’ What happens at night on the site? Where are streetlights? A lot of times the wind is a little different at night, especially here on the Big Island when the cold air from the top of the mountain starts coming down.”

Master Bedroom

Master Bedroom

Puako view

Puako view

A house doesn’t just sit on land, he says; it sits within the land. “I try to use the land by either modifying it to work with the architecture,” he says, “or siting the architecture in such a way that it makes the best use of the land.”

“One time I camped out at a site at Kohala Ranch and the wind was blowing so hard,” he says, “that the tent was literally down on my face, just flapping away. It actually turned me over in the tent. I was on a little bit of a slope to begin with and the wind must have been 40-50 mph. It just kind of rolled me over.”

Puako Lana‘i

Puako Lana‘i

Clem's Artwork: Ukulele, and a Watercolor

Clem's Artwork: Ukulele, and a Watercolor

Lam started his education at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa in Business Administration, he says, because there was no foreign language requirement.

“But after the start of the third year of that, I just said, ‘Whoa, this is not me, man.’ So I dropped out and went to work in construction. And after two or three years of that, I thought, ‘Whoa, I can’t be doing this for the rest of my life. I’d rather be designing these buildings.’”

And that’s how he got into architecture, graduating with a degree in that field in 1980. The day after graduation, he and wife, who’d just been hired as librarian at Waimea’s Samuel Parker Library, moved to the Big Island.

Reading Room

Reading Room

Traditional Kitchen

Traditional Kitchen

He says that people who plan their house by looking through magazine floor plans are missing half of it. “Floor plans out of a magazine have no relation to what the site has to offer,” he says. “Most people are focused on how the kitchen works with the dining room, but the other part of it is what the site has to offer. Or it’s unfortunate, but the front door opens right into the wind.”

Master Bath
Master Bath, Mignanelli Residence
Living Room View

Living Room View

 Design really makes a difference, he says. “You pour so much money, time and effort into building a house, that if you put things in the right place – if you take care and recognize what opportunities are there – you can make all those sticks and stones and dry wall and wiring and what not become much better. Just by good design.

”He says he feels very fortunate in his work. “I’m a one-person office,” he says, “so I don’t hand it off at a certain stage to a draftsman or something. I do it from the beginning of the job, to when I first meet the people, to camping out on the site, to the day they move in. So all through construction I’m involved.  

 “It really is a good way to satisfy my creative yearnings.”        

View Toward Kohala
Mignanelli Residence

Macario, on Clem:

I’ll tell you a story. Back in ‘97, I took the dogs and we went into Waimanu Valley with some friends. We were there for like nine days, and we did what we do – we looked around the valley to hunt and gather food, and we dove for fish and picked ‘opihi and all that stuff

I didn’t know Clem at the time, but he came into the valley with some of his friends at the same time.

So we’d gone hunting and we caught a pig and had all this meat, so I had gone around to all the different campsites and asked people if they wanted some meat. There was a big church group camping there with like 20, 25 people, and I just walked up and said, “Hey, who’s the cook?”

It was funny; I tried to give some meat to these two ladies and they freaked. They were vegetarians. Here I was holding this big bloody hunk of meat.

Anyway, Clem was going by and I said, “Hey, you want some meat?” He said, “Yeah, I’ll try to cook some.” You know when you’re out there, some guys are friendly and some aren’t. He was friendly.  He was more interested than some other people.

He doesn’t remember me, that’s for sure. I was in my hunting clothes. But I remember him. He was eager to take the meat and I remember his face.

When I started working with him, doing photography for him, I kept thinking, “You know, I met this guy somewhere before.” Even after I remembered where I’d seen him, even until today I haven’t told him. When I talk to him next time, I’m going to ask him if he remembers.

After I met him and started working with him, I knew he had these sensitivities. I knew he was an outdoors person. I knew he surfed, because he carries a surfboard in his truck sometimes when he comes to the job. And when I went to his office he had some of his own watercolors on the wall. His office is really together. Everything is in place and it’s clean.

Just from talking to him, I knew he was aware of all the elements. Like the weather, the earth and stuff like that. Like the way the house is situated when you walk onto his properties. And when you walk into the house, it’s comfortable and cool. I noticed that if there’s a stiff breeze, there’s usually a protective wall there so the breeze isn’t whacking you.

Plus he’s a nice guy. He’s involved in the community and in art, and it seems like he’s a pretty active person, and it’s been nice to work with him. His clients love his work. He gets along with people I’ve met that he builds for. They’re all really happy with what he’s done.

You spend all day shooting there at Clem’s houses, and you get to shoot all the different areas of the house, and it’s comfortable. You’ve still got the views, and the places where the air comes through. And the lines of the architecture flow very nicely. He blends the buildings into their surroundings. You can just see that from the photographs. He does a really nice job.

Clem’s different from other architects because he keeps it light. He has this really “up” attitude, a really positive attitude and he doesn’t really get serious, there’s no heaviness, but when you start noticing all those things I’ve mentioned, it’s kind of deep.

I just read this quote. Kumu Nalei Kahakalau said, “The teacher should be the guide on the side, not the sage on the stage.” Clem doesn’t come on like some architects I’ve met who think they’re gods. Like, “I’m the man.”

He keeps it light, but his work is really serious.


“I’m doing a house right now where the space below the floor is 12 feet high; the ground falls away that fast. So we took big columns that go from the ground all the way up to the roof – 18, 19 feet tall. Between them we have big beams that we use for x-bracing, so the structure is really expressed in that. I’ve heard fishermen say they use that as a landmark. It’s noticeable from way out there.

That is a way to use the land, and the way the land slopes; a way to make an architectural expression. The only way you can learn that is to spend some time on the site, and recognize what is available there.” – Clem Lam        


Architectural photos by Macario: all others courtesy Clem Lam
Email Clem Lam at



8 03 2009

You know, I can look at photography, or ceramics, and I can pretty much see exactly where a person is. Whether they’re just starting, in the middle, towards the end, at the height of their careers. You just see those levels when you’ve been doing stuff as long as I have. You can just see it.

      Pipe Connector  17" X 5"       

Pipe Connector 17" X 5"

When I saw Gordon’s stuff, I said, “Whoa.” He’s a master at what he does.

#1 Bowl  9" X 15.5"

#1 Bowl 9" X 15.5"

It’s good to be around masters. It’s good to be around somebody who’s better than you. It makes you think about what it is you’re doing in your own art.

When I was playing music, one of the things my mentors kept telling me was to keep playing with people better than me. You’ve got to keep working with people better than you are. It’s the same thing with photography. And ceramics.

You can hang out with all the other experts for five years. But you hang out with Gordon Lee, or Toshiko Takaezu, or Paul Soldner for three weeks, and I guarantee your life is going to change. If you don’t change, you weren’t paying attention.

#2 Bowl  8"

#2 Bowl 8"

You know, all these art critics and gallery people, whenever they see your work they want some kind of statement about it. They want you to describe it, and write some kind of a statement, and explain it.

Gordon doesn’t need a statement. His life is his statement. You go to his house and you look at all those pieces and you just go “Wow.”

Doughnut Vessel  29" X 6.5", Raku Vessel  12" X 4.5"

Doughnut Vessel 29" X 6.5", Raku Vessel 12" X 4.5"

You don’t know what to expect. Here’s this ceramicist that’s just been quietly working all these years and has taught hundreds of students. You think he’ll have bowls and that kind of thing. Then you go to his house and there’s all kinds of shapes, all kinds of sizes, it’s like, “Wow!” All kinds of things. You don’t know a scope of a man’s work until you see it.

He makes clay fishponds. They’re on pedestals; they’re what, 24 inches across. They’re really nice in the yard. Really cool. I’ve never seen one before, and I’ve seen a lot of clay. I’ve never seen a clay fishpond.

Gordon's Ceramic Fishponds  12" X 24"

Gordon's Ceramic Fishponds 12" X 24"

Lotus Vessel  29" X 21"

Lotus Vessel 29" X 21"

Then there’s the bell. He’s making clay bells. The bells are at least 29 inches tall. They’re not done yet but we’ll see how they come out. They’re quite big. He needs an engine lift to put it in the kiln. It’s huge; you can’t physically pick it up. He said he was just driven to make one. Said he’s had the idea for the longest time and finally got around to doing it. It’s like a temple bell.

We walked around his yard and I saw pieces and I said, “What is that,” and he’d say, “Oh, yeah, I make those.” He has this one that’s an 8-legged animal with a hexagon body. They’re kind of like little puppies around his yard. They’re just around. They’re pretty cool.

Hex-Octagonimal  11" X 15"

Hex-Octagonimal 11" X 15"

Gordon working at Shannon's studio

Gordon working at Shannon Hickey's studio

Teapot  9" X 7"

Teapot 9" X 7"

Vessel  29" X 24"

Vessel 29" X 24"

He’s so humble. He’s up there, man. It’s not often you meet somebody like that. I’ve been in the fine art community since the 70s. I think I can probably name you on one hand the artists I’ve met that have had kind of a profound effect on me, on my life. I mean, there’s always something to learn, and you can learn from somebody who’s beginning or wherever they are in their career. But the life-changing ones – you don’t meet them too often.

Plus he’s kind of fun to hang out with. We had a good time when we were photographing his stuff. Just talking, trying this, trying that. And we know a lot of the same people in clay.

I thought I was just going to go over and shoot the stuff and get out. But we were just there hanging out, he made lunch, and then we went back and shot some more stuff. We got along really well. ~ Macario                               PAU

Gordon Lee, Teacher, Artist

Gordon Lee, Teacher, Artist

Gordon Lee was born in Nome, Alaska, where his grandfather had settled long before to mine for gold. From age 8 through high school, he lived on Bainbridge Island, Washington. He graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in Political Science and a minor in Philosophy, then earned a teaching certificate and taught elementary school in Boise.

In the early 1970s he enrolled at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa, where he earned his MFA. He also taught ceramics at the YWCA in Honolulu.

After graduating, he moved to Hilo where for more than 30 years he taught ceramics at Hawai‘i Community College and through the Continuing Education program. He retired in 2004 and then taught as a lecturer for another year-and-a-half before leaving teaching completely to enjoy some home improvement projects and work in his home ceramics studio.

Q. What would you say to someone who is interested in seriously pursuing ceramics today?

A. Oh, the economy is so different now from what it was when I started. The cost of fuel is unbelievable compared to then. And the cost of clay—even just shipping it has become so expensive. I think it’s a different attitude now. You have to look at it, at the project differently, and take some cautions at what you get into.

But if a person is enthused about ceramics, I’d say, “Just go for it.” Go after it. You’d have to face – it’s almost a jeopardy – the cost of things.

But it’s worth it. It’s something that can be done, even with the cost. The excitement about ceramics is worth it.

See Gordon Lee’s art at:
High Fire Hawaii
114 Haili Street
Hilo Hawai‘i 96720
808 935-8380