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"This is my block print of Barack Obama Sr., as I remember him from our days at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa (U.H.) for Ron Jacobs (September, 2008)"

"Barack Obama, Sr. is depicted being greeted by Pele, herself. She is Hawai'i's only true ambassador and almost everything I work on these days includes her.

"Obama has a flag of Kenya over his arm and Pele holds the flag of Hawai'i. He sits before a U.H. book representing his studies. Hawai'i's state flower, the hibiscus, is by his side.

"I spoke to the senior Obama frequently while at U.H At the time, I was the editor of the school's literary magazine, Asterick, which published student poetry, etc. Our office was a tiny room under the staircase at Hemenway Hall. Obama would sometimes stop by to pick up a copy of the magazine and talk.

"Sometimes, just to be a "rebel," I'd go around the campus and to classes barefoot. Not even slippers! This would always get his attention and he'd comment on it. He'd say, "You were talking around in the spit of common people. Doesn't that bother you?"

"He always was well-dressed -- blue-gray gabardine pants and white shirt -- sometimes even a tie! During those years I had a few other friends from other countries. Some people thought Obama was "stand-offish," but I liked that about him. When you walked around the campus with him he'd never ever hold hands with you as did the foreign students from India.

"My friend Shiu Pandey always wanted to hold hands as we walked. It is a sign of friendship to them. Obama would have none of that! I was glad! With Pandey we always looked like a "nice gay couple." No embarrassment with Obama.

"Aloha for now!"



Volcano artist puts images and words to Hawaii gods, goddesses by John Burnett (Tribune-Herald, Friday, April 12 2002)

Volcano is home to many artists, both successful and struggling. Dietrich Varez has lived there and worked on perfecting his craft for 30-plus years, becoming one of the islands' most successful artists.

His Dietrich Varez line of designer aloha shirts is manufactured and distributed by Reyn Spooner and his oil paintings and art prints are available through the Volcano Art Center. Some are on display at the Honolulu Academy of Arts and Bishop Museum, as well.

The Berlin-born Varez, who came to Hawaii as a young child in 1948, has also branched out into books. That seems natural, as he has a degree in English from the University of Hawaii. "Pele" and "Maui" feature his trademark sepia-tone linoleum-cut block prints and are available from Bishop Museum Press. "Lehua," a children's book, was released about six months ago through Island Heritage Publishers. And just last month, Petroglyph Press of Hilo came out with "Hina the Goddess," a beautiful series of 24 sepia-tones linoleum-cut block prints with brief texts explaining how each relates to the legend of Hina.

"I read a lot of Hawaiian mythology and legends," Varez said. "When I find something that interests me, I'll try to make a visual of it. Because Hawaiian history and legends has been an oral tradition, there has not really been that much done with it. Everybody talks about Pele or Maui, the demigod, but to actually make an image of those legends, not too many people have actually done that, so I thought there was a nice big opening there to swim into. And it seems the Hawaiians I know and have talked to have liked it.

Varez's inspiration for "Hina," which was 17 years in the making, was the chant "The Three Windstorms of HIna," which was being performed as the required chant for the wahine hula kahiko competition at the Merrie Monarch Festival in 1986 when a powerful thunderstorm knocked out the electricity.

"I took that as an inspirational event," he said. "The Merrie Monarch was sitting in the dark. That was such a momentous happening that I made a print of Hina with her gourd. And that led me then on to thinking, 'Hey, what else is there about Hina that would be of interest to people?' Because everybody knows Pele on this island. But Hina is a deity known throughout the entire Pacific region. Pele is more of a local legend. But Hina and (her son) Maui -- people all over the Pacific, such as Tahiti and New Zealand, know about them."

The book, so long in the making, was published just prior to this year's Merrie Monarch Festival.

"I was fortunate to have it come out now," Varez said. "It's an anniversary of sorts. And the reception is great, because to have all those Hawaiiana-conscious people around when the Petroglyph Press people, David and Christine Reed, came out with it was most fortunate. And it wasn't necessarily through timing or anything -- it just sort of happened that way. When it came out, it was Merrie Monarch week."

Serendipitous timing coinciding with the popular hula festival ensured success for book signings Varez held at Basically Books and Hilo Hattie's on Sunday. His next scheduled book signing will be at Volcano Art Center on Saturday, May 25.

Varez moved his wife, Linda, who is also an artist, and the rest of the family from Oahu to Volcano in 1968. The Volcano community, like Holualoa in West Hawaii, has become an enclave for artists and writers, so the Varez family fit right in.

"When I first came here, I was the bartender at the Volcano House," he said. "About that time, the Volcano Art Center opened. So I made a couple of prints and they sold. So I made some more an it slowly just kept getting bigger and bigger. Soon, I was able to take days off work tending bar and went to work on my art until I had hundreds of prints.

"I used to give them away to my friends before that, but the paper and ink costs too much money, and real linoleum is hard to get, because it's made out of cork, which is rare and expensive nowadays."

Varez said that being in Volcano has provided a wellspring of creative inspiration.

"There's something about (Hawaii Volcanoes National Park) and being near the volcano," he said. "A lot of creative people come here. I would have been far less of an artist if I weren't surrounded by all the natural beauty here -- the volcano, the native plants -- and the solitude of rural living. I live way inside of a rainforest and am barely on the electrical grid here.

"It's perfect for what I do. I don't hear cars or any other people. Nothing but the wind and the birds in the trees. As an artist, I couldn't have is better. We've been living here for over 30 years, but it's great for being creative."

Varez has finished a second "Lehua" children's book, which is not yet published, and is working on a third in the same series.