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Discovering Makawao's Rich History and Vibrant Art Scene


Makawao's history revolves around the Paniolo, or Hawaiian cowboy, as industry and life centered around livestock and farming in the early 1900s. Most of the buildings downtown still date back to the 1920s, although the businesses have changed. To this day, the town hosts an annual rodeo on the Fourth of July.

In the early 1900s, workers from China, Japan, and Portugal immigrated to Maui's upcountry to participate in the growing sugarcane industry. Local architecture was influenced by the plantation and Paniolo culture, with buildings containing false fronts similar to old Western towns that added visual appeal to the city.

Makawao's artistic community: From glassblowing to painting

Makawao's Paniolo history persists today, although the town has come to represent a much more artistic community in addition to its agricultural roots.

This glassblowing destination is steeped in history, representative of times when pineapple and sugar were cash crops of the island. Here, artists repurposed an old pineapple factory into an art gallery and location for glassblowing, which runs on biodiesel.

The artistic community in Makawao covers a diverse spectrum of art. Makawao houses artists interested in most creative mediums, from classically trained painters to sculptors.

Stunning vistas, cooler temperatures: Makawao today

Today, Makawao is a beautiful city in Upcountry Maui. While downtown buildings hark to its storied past, the city has become an epicenter for the arts in Hawaii. Dozens of artists live, practice, and sell their art in town.

Cooler weather and lush pastures are common on Makawao — the higher elevation and rainier climate yield greener surroundings when the rest of the island turns brown.

There are still plenty of farmers that live around Makawao. However, the surrounding landscape is home not only to rows of crops but also luscious forests and hiking trails. The Makawao Forest Reserve has some of the best mountain biking on the island, with towering trees lining the soft red path.

Makawao then and now: Center for the arts

Despite a past that revolved around ranching and agriculture, the history of the arts within Makawao also dates back to the early 1900s. Ethel Baldwin, her daughter, and a group of artists formed a club in 1934, named Hui No'eau, on the Kaluanui estate in Makawao.

Later, the estate traded ownership over the years from the president of Maunaolu College to, more recently, the Maui Land Pineapple Company. Deemed a public asset, the community of Hui No'eau purchased the estate in 2005 to further spread an appreciation for Maui's history and visual arts.

And now, Hui No'eau serves as an icon for the arts in Maui. As a 501(c)(3) non-profit education center, Hui No'eau provides historical context and modern art.

Visitors to Hui No'eau can partake in classes or walk the stunning grounds teeming with natural life. The estate has an art gallery shop, a fine art exhibition, and a history room. Each year, up to eight fine art exhibits grace the confines of the Kaluanui estate, making it a must-visit retreat several times per year.

Artists and galleries to know in Makawao

As you explore Makawao, you'll find countless galleries celebrating the artistic culture of this community. Not sure where to start? Here are a few long-standing favorites.

Makai glass: Incredible hand-blown glass

The glass-blown sculptures that come from Makai Glass are genuinely incredible. With imaginative shapes and hues, plus lifelike mimicry of shells and aquatic life, it's fascinating to wonder how the artists craft these sculptures. Led by artists Justin Brown and Randy Schaffer, many glass artists work out of the Makai Glass studio.

Sharing some of its past, the studio at Makai Glass was made from the remnants of an old pineapple factory. Here, people can view fine art pieces in their gallery or watch the artists shape hot glass right before their eyes from the observation deck. And overhead, the large arching metallic roof reminds visitors of the agricultural past of the area.

Brown and Schaffer take inspiration from the natural beauty that encompasses them on Maui. You can view sculptures such as breaching whales or bowls with twists of color reminiscent of tide pools.

Jordanne Weinstein: Graceful plein air paintings

Jordanne Weinstein's goal is "to convey the poetry of Hawaii," according to her gallery website. Across her gallery, you can find stunning watercolors, floral paintings, landscapes, and beachscapes. Weinstein's distinct style captures the breathtaking nature that draws many people to Hawaii. Also known as plein air, she mainly completes her work on-site and in one sitting.

Weinstein has lived in Hawaii for over 15 years and is originally from Long Island, N.Y.

Maui Hands: Jewelry, shells, fibers, and more

Maui Hands originally started in Makawao to represent Hawaii's fine artists. It has expanded to three locations and showcases art from 300 Hawaii-based artists. Diverse art styles are on display in Maui Hands, with work that includes paintings, jewelry, shells, ceramics, and woodwork. The Makawao location started in 1992 with 25 artists' work on display and expanded in 2011 to accommodate larger furnishings, sculptures, and vessels.

Viewpoints Gallery: Fine art on display

What originally housed a movie theater in the early 1900s that showed silent movies for local ranchers is now one of the finest art galleries in Hawaii. Viewpoints Gallery, like much of Makawao, has a fascinating past but currently celebrates Maui's artists. Here you will find a gallery celebrating historical and contemporary art across various media.

The marvelous real estate in Makawao

Homes in Makawao emphasize the natural beauty surrounding this beautiful upcountry paradise. Large grassy yards and beautiful Jacaranda trees with luscious purple hues line the streets and homes. Many of the houses in Makawao are single-story homes complete with driveways and garages. But there are also many modern homes emblematic of the rich arts tradition Makawao is so well known for.

What to do in Makawao

This charming upcountry town has no shortage of things to do, with countless art galleries to browse and plenty of delicious local restaurants and cafes to pass the time. Many activities revolve around the beautiful natural landscapes Maui is known for. A few parks are in town, such as the Eddie Tam Center or the Upcountry Dog Park. And just outside town are myriad hiking trails, such as the Waihou Spring Trail or the Kahakapao Loop Trail.

Explore Makawao real estate

Located just 15 minutes from the ocean and 20 minutes from Kahului, Makawao is a fantastic destination for art lovers and history enthusiasts alike. The Ohana Real Estate Team is proud to offer Real Estate services and home listings to the cheerful town of Makawao. Connect with the Ohana Real Estate Team for more information about homes available in Makawao and throughout Hawaii.

*Header photo courtesy of Unsplash



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