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Inside The Four Seasons Maui’s Incredible Journey To Celebrate The Work Of Hawaiian Artists

Perhaps the best thing about the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea, in Wailea, Hawaii, is how familiar it feels. And I’m not just talking about the fact that it’s been featured in countless campaigns, films and television shows, the latest of which, HBO’s Emmy-nominated The White Lotus, featured almost every aspect of the resort intimately throughout its eight-episode run. The resort genuinely, truly feels like home—in the sense that everyone you meet, from the front-of-house staff to the caretakers, feel like family. There’s a distinct sense of coming home, even if you’ve never been to Hawaii before.

A lot has been written about Hawaiian hospitality, but nothing beats experiencing it in real life. I spent a relaxed three quarters of an hour talking to the concierge about the best driving routes around Maui for the motion sickness-afflicted among us who can’t do windy roads; our servers went out of their way to find us the best—and I mean the best—table they could, each and every night we dined on the property, at one point even allowing me to borrow some sunglasses when I’d left mine behind in the room so I could still enjoy the magnificent sunset; and my masseuse and I spent the better part of my hourlong beach side massage swapping stories about the strangest things that guests leave behind in hotel rooms.

But nothing beat the way the resort took care of its younger guests. Our eight-year-old, Violet, felt seen, maybe for the first time on a trip like this: there was a special kid-sized plush bath robe in the closet just for her, alongside a pair of mini flip-flops; her name was spelled out in colored pieces of sponge above the bath tub; every time we sat down somewhere—be it one of the resort’s restaurants, or by the pool—someone would pop over, ask how she was, ask her if she wanted anything. “Can we seriously come back here, like, every month?” she asked after only a couple of hours at the resort.

This attitude of respect extends beyond the resort’s interactions with its guests. Take, for example, the resort’s comprehensive art program, which promotes and celebrates Hawaiian artists through an extensive in-house collection that pays respect to the island’s culture and history—all courtesy of the property’s resident art director, Rossina Potter.

The resort houses more than 2,000 original works by Hawaii-influenced artists including Jun Kaneko’s soothing ceramic Colossal Heads that guard the resort entry and Robert Kushner’s gorgeous Night Blooming Cereus Series. The resort’s two presidential suites (the Maile and the Lokelani) are galleries in and of themselves, featuring works by Ron Kent, Pete Cabrinna, Carol Bennett, and Mary Mitsuda.

The property also celebrates local artists, designers, and creatives through its long-running daily artist showcase, which is a familiar sight to anyone who has stayed here: every morning, the elevator doors open on the lower level to a visual feast: painters, jewelry-makers, ceramicists, and more, lining the leafy corridor and shepherding guests into another glorious day in paradise.

At the adults-only serenity pool on property, Four Seasons worked with fine art photographer Gray Malin, who is known for his aerial photographs of the world’s most iconic destinations. The partnership saw Malin creating a series of images to capture the natural allure of each Hawaiian island, featuring ethereal shots of each Four Seasons resort in Hawaii taken by Malin from a doorless helicopter. At the Four Seasons in Maui, the photographs are inspiration for the luxury pool-side cabanas by the serenity pool, alongside custom furnishings, decorative pillows, acrylic trays, and poolside games.

To find out more about the property’s art program, I spoke with Four Seasons Maui’s resident art director, Rossina Potter.

Tell me a little about your background. How did you become involved with Four Seasons as an art director, and what path brought you to work at the Maui property?

I’ve lived on Maui for almost 20 years now and have mostly worked in gallery management and community development. About five years ago, Four Seasons Resort Maui contacted me to see if I was interested in managing the artists showcase, the resort’s very well-respected daily open-air art gallery. They had a few artists in the program who recommended me as a good fit for the position, as they knew I looking for a role solely focused in the arts. After starting at the resort in the summer of 2017, my role and responsibilities quickly expanded and I was named Art Director in 2018.

Tell me more about the art program at the property and how it works, including your permanent collection and how it was sourced. How many artists do you work with locally, and how do you usually source works?

The permanent collection, which is open to the public for viewing, was originally curated in 2005 by Julie Cline with the intent of presenting Hawaii-related contemporary art created since statehood. She built an amazing museum quality collection with incredible pieces from Toshiko Takaezu, Jun Kaneko, Yvonne Cheng, Robert Kushner, Joyce Kozloff, and many others—a skillful mix of works from the islands alongside those created by artists while visiting the islands.

I’ve been slowly adding to the collection through various renovations. Since the majority of the works have been hanging for almost 20 years, I monitor their condition. Facilitating the preservation of some of these pieces has become important, which has created some recent movement and new acquisitions in our public areas.

I love to learn about how art curators work with the culture, history, and people to bring a destination to life through art. Hawaii has such a rich culture and history. How do you even start to bring some of that to life in the resort? Where did you start?

I feel a deep responsibility to the people of Hawaiʻi and the ‘āina. When I think of my own love for this place, the native Hawaiian people and their culture comes to mind before the beautiful beaches and amazing vistas.

The Hawaiian culture is incredible: the use of celestial navigation to find these islands, the beautiful ahupuaʻa land management practices, the vast collections of chants, ideologies and belief systems chronicled by what was once the most literate country in the world and the far reach of the Hawaiian monarchy as the first non-European kingdom recognized by major powers before the overthrow in 1893.

The history is so beautiful, and sometimes painful. I believe that great art communicates something to the viewer. My hope is that I am able to select works that garner interest and each piece invites you to learn more about this place and our host culture, sparking curiosity and respect for both the history and issues that affect residents today.

Through my work, it is my intent to further elevate the voices of kanaka artists and highlight the many ways our host culture exists in this place and in others. I feel the art of Hawaiʻi has been largely overlooked by the global market, and displaying so many incredible pieces here feels like an incredible opportunity for its recognition and acceptance.

What are some of the parallels you drew when putting together the property’s Artists Showcase and permanent collection? Are there particular themes you stuck to?

There are many parallels between the artists showcase and the permanent collection, namely that each requires excellence in their work to reflect the Four Seasons brand.

Storytelling is so important in both cases: within the showcase you get to meet the artist creating the works, learning about their life and inspiration. Within the permanent collection, I look for pieces that request a deeper investigation—the antithesis of normal “hotel art”.

A lot of times, I think properties struggle to tell a rich, emotional story because very often there really isn’t one to tell. How do you think Four Seasons Maui manages to tell its own rich cultural story through the permanent collection? (Examples of specific works from the collection would be great!)

There are so many stories to tell!

Ekolu (A Partnership of Three) by Paulette Kahalepuna, a revered feather lei maker, shows the substrate of a Hawaiian feather cloak (ʻAhuʻula), worn by the aliʻi. In this piece, she has only sewn one layer of feathers revealing the intricate construction that lies beneath the feather work. Located by the concierge desk, the piece feels very modern while presenting ancient techniques treasured by Hawaiian royalty.

A Silken Thread Series, six views by Jason Teraoka in located in our lobby. When he was approached about being in the permanent collection, he decided to paint portraits of his family, three generations from Kauai, with his grandparents at top, his parents in the middle and his sisters and and a self portrait at the bottom. I understand that he felt it was important for those visiting Maui to consider the many generations of people that have made the islands their home, that it isn’t just a place to visit.

Mauna Kea Snowchains (All Access I & All Access II), from Keith Tallet’s Flying Hawaiians series was recently installed in the Lobby adjacent to the Lobby Bar. With linear patterns reminiscent of kapa watermark (Hawaiian barkcloth) patterns, they are marks made by various tire patterns, with Tallett sharing an amalgam of inspiration for this ongoing series, offering space for reflection on land, ownership, and indigenous rights. Working in shiny enamel paint and polished surfboard materials, the tire-tread patterns reference the emphasis on car culture as a means for identity in contemporary Hawaiʻi, but also are an ode to Polynesian tattoo design, which historically has been a way to share genealogy and identity.

What is your personal favorite piece of art in the property’s collection?

I feel very lucky to have #23 & #24 Medium Closed Form Series of 2 by Toshiko Takaezu in our collection. Takaezu was born in Pepeekeo on Hawai’i Island in 1922 and was instrumental in the post war reconceptualization of ceramics from the functional craft tradition to the realm of fine art. I love thinking about her path in life, a woman born in a very rural Big Island town in the 1920s that went on to become one of the twentieth century’s greatest abstract artists with work in many major museum collections. Her work is currently being exhibited at the Venice Biennale’s Main Exhibition.

One of the things I loved doing every morning was strolling through the daily artist showcase in the lobby. Tell me a bit more about that initiative and what drove its inception? Do you curate the showcases via themes, etc?

From what I understand, artists began selling their work at the resort over 25 years ago, with artists selling their wares on the lawn to today when it has evolved into being the premier open air gallery on Maui featuring some of the island’s most notable artists. In about the year 2000, the resort formalized the program due to its success with the guests. My role is in making sure the quality is very high within the showcase.

It’s an interesting selection process as the artists must have a very unique combination of talents: they must create the very finest artwork, be able to display the work in a very physically demanding location, be able to provide a stellar guest experience, and sell the work to our visitors and guests. It’s an extremely complex group of attributes, and I’m so proud of the artists and how well they do.

What has the feedback from guests and artists been like in regards to the daily artist showcase? Do a lot of guests make purchases from the showcase?

Just a few weeks ago, I met a guest who said she had been visiting an artist each year for the past 20 years, and that the artist feels like family—that they have their work in their homes and a visit to Maui is incomplete without seeing them. The sentiment is repeated again and again and the relationships built between artists and guests is the most important aspect of the program. It would be much easier operationally to build a traditional gallery, but the guest experience of meeting the artist is what makes the artists showcase so accomplished.

In addition, the artists showcase is extremely successful in regards to sales. I am so grateful for this unique opportunity that the resort provides to working artists. It is so rare to find venues for artists to do so well, and I value my role at the resort greatly because of its support of the local arts community.

Tell me more about the Grey Malin partnership — how that came about and its importance culturally to the property. (If you can include some guest reactions/feedback to this in your response that would be great! Always curious to see how people respond to art.)

The Gray Malin collaboration is a Four Seasons Resorts Hawaii Collection initiative and shines a light on how each resort and island have their own special allure, as photographed through the lens of one of today’s most popular photographers. The Serenity Pool Luxury Cabanas that feature his work and home goods are very popular with our guests, many of whom are familiar with his work.

Can you talk to us about any exciting new plans, projects, or initiatives currently in the works for the art program at Four Season Maui?

I really love our ongoing partnership with Noah Harders, who has been creating floral installations around the resort. He is an incredible artist in many mediums with a museum show opening this fall at the Honolulu Museum of Art. Noah’s talent is incredible, and I feel so lucky to work with such a beautiful vision and impeccable execution.

This spring we launched START: a Student Artist Immersion, which allowed us to connect two local high school students to our artists showcase, create a mentorship program, let them display their work at the resort and provide two $3,000 scholarships to continue their development. It’s been such an amazing process and I’m thrilled to have that opportunity.

It has long been my dream to create a residency program here at the resort, so hopefully I’ll have an opportunity to pursue that in the future.

Anything else you’d like readers to know about the art program?

If anything, I would urge your readers to ask more of their surroundings. Sometimes slowing down and admiring a piece of artwork or having a conversation can completely change the way you perceive the world around you. I hope that by developing that experience here at the resort has a positive impact on our guests and visitors.

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