Nā Hulu Kūpuna o Moloka‘i Gallery
To honor her Hawaiian roots and Molokaʻi ʻohana, professional artist Vonnie Brenno Cameron has met with and painted the portraits of Molokaʻi kūpuna who are keeping Hawaiian cultural traditions alive. These portraits depict the kūpuna in their environment and powerfully capture in perpetuity their moʻolelos–stories, primarily of ʻāina momona and resilience. Vonnie, in a search for her Hawaiian ʻohana on Molokaʻi (her great grandmother Becky Pa moved to Maui from Molokaʻi), decided to see if she could meet some kūpuna to hear their stories and possibly paint their portraits. Molokaʻi natives Maile and Hanohano Naehu partnered with Vonnie to help bring her vision to life and make introductions to the larger Molokaʻi community.
The Artist Behind Nā Hulu Kūpuna Portraiture Series
Vonnie Brenno Cameron
Vonnie Mei Lin Brenno Cameron was born in Tokyo, Japan in 1950. Her mother was Hawaiian-Chinese from Wailuku, Maui, and her father, Norwegian from North Dakota. They moved to O‘ahu when Vonnie was seven. She attended public schools, ‘Āina Haina Elementary, Kamehameha for 6 & 7 grades, and Punahou 8-12.
Vonnie’s love of painting began when she was seven years old, and as a youngster, she attended the Honolulu Academy of Arts. Selling her first charcoal portrait when she was 15, Vonnie continued her studies in art at Punahou, University of Hawai‘i, Art Center College of Design in LA and afterwards with artists in their studios.
In 1970, she moved to Los Angeles and began a career in advertising that continued through 2019. From 1980-90 she painted full time and showed her realistic oil paintings in many galleries across the country. She had numerous shows over those years. From 1990-2019 she went back into advertising, raised 2 children, and still painted whenever she could. She continued to develop as a painter, and when she could go back to painting full time in 2019, she painted scenes of the ocean, beaches and of course portraits.
She always felt her spiritual roots were in Hawai‘i, and visited as much as possible. The Hawaiian Renaissance had not yet begun when she left in 1970. The language was kept alive in songs. There were no classes (not even at Kamehameha) in the Hawaiian language. During her visits over the years, she began to see the changes. In the grocery store on Maui she heard two young men speaking Hawaiian! And there were Hawaiian radio stations – not just playing music, but speaking. This was so exciting!
In 1978, listening to Iz Kamakawiwo‘ole’s Hawai‘i ‘78 song, she had the idea to paint portraits of Hawaiians who were keeping the culture alive. She had no idea how this would come about, but this vision never went away.
In 2019, in a search for her Hawaiian ‘ohana on Moloka‘i (her great grandmother Becky Pa moved to Maui from Moloka‘i), she decided to see if she could meet some kūpuna to hear their stories and possibly paint their portraits. Maile Naehu, a Moloka‘i educator has partnered with her to bring this project to reality.