Aug. 27—For rock 'n' roll artist Ruby Mazur, the destruction of Lahaina is too much. The creator of the iconic "mouth and tongue," as popularized by the Rolling Stones, is leaving the islands, broken by the loss of a gallery that he never got to open.
"I just can't stop crying. It's really devastating," he said.
The inferno consumed his and virtually all the art galleries in town, about a score in number, leaving an emotional and physical scar in its lively artists' community that is certain to take considerable time to heal, if it ever does.
While some of the galleries, via their websites, say they are in a holding pattern or are even planning a comeback, Mazur said he won't be a part of it. Though he has "woken up every morning with a smile" for the 20 years he's lived on Maui, and despite entreaties from collectors, friends and even strangers to stay, Mazur will move to Southern California to be close to his daughter, the actor Monet Mazur, and his grandchildren.
"I feel terrible for me, I feel terrible for my dog, which I had to give to a foster home, but I really feel bad for all those people who died on Front Street in Lahaina," he said. "It just rips my heart out. I mean, I love this place so much, and now I have to leave, and I'm never, ever, ever coming back here. Never. It's just too painful."
For the moment, he has one sale to make: the original "The Rock N Roll Last Supper," a 5-foot-by-12-foot oil on canvas reboot of Da Vinci's "Last Supper," with legendary rock musicians such as Elvis Presley, the Beatles and Michael Jackson in place of Jesus and his disciples. The painting was at his Kula property, which was singed by Upcountry fires but survived. He is entertaining bids through email, firstname.lastname@example.org. He also has images stored digitally and will consider making lithographs from them.
Mazur was in Kula when the fire struck Lahaina. His three sons, however, had stayed behind to work on his new gallery and barely escaped the fire, bolting past police roadblocks and plunging through thick smoke in a desperate race to get home to their father. Once reunited, the family fled Kula too, searching fruitlessly for hotels before renting three trucks and parking at the airport for three nights. With communications down, they didn't know what had happened in Lahaina.
"I never, ever thought Lahaina would go. You figure the alarms would go off and everybody would get the hell out," said Mazur, voicing anger that alarms were never activated.
In addition to his "Last Supper," Mazur had one other painting in Kula, an unfinished oil of Mick Fleetwood. In the background is the rocker's restaurant, and next to that, Mazur's new gallery. Mazur and his sons had spent months sprucing up the place and relocating all the art from a gallery he'd opened a little more than a year ago in Waikiki. There were paintings of Elton John, Billy Joel, John Lennon, so many rock stars he's painted over the years, along with several mouth and tongue paintings. The new gallery "was gonna be so cool," he said.
He was looking at the Fleetwood painting one day recently when one of his sons came up to him.
"He reached in his pocket and took out the key to my brand-new gallery — that's not there anymore," Mazur said. "When I have the heart to go back and paint, I'm gonna attach that key to the painting (of) where my gallery was. I don't know what I'm going to do with the painting, maybe auction it off and give it to the people that lost ..." His voice trailed off.
For Glenn Harte, co-owner of Harte International Galleries with his son, Devon, the fire is a "historical crisis, catastrophic for people who love art."
The longtime art dealer in Hawaii has focused on masters of Western art since relocating to Maui 20 years ago. His Front Street gallery housed 400-year-old etchings by Rembrandt that "could have been in any museum in the world, proudly displayed," he said, as well as about two dozen Picassos, 450-year-old woodcuts by the influential German engraver Albrecht Durer, and about 100 works by the Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali. The gallery also had paintings by actor Anthony Quinn, whose paintings are collected worldwide, and Harte was the exclusive agent for actor Anthony Hopkins, also a noted artist.
All of them are gone. "It's just mind-boggling," Harte said.
He and his wife were at their home in Lahaina early on the day of the fire — after a night of wind so strong that "it sounded like the roof was about to blow off" — when his staff contacted him and said the electricity was off. With the wind still whipping that afternoon, they decided to close shop. By that time, a brush fire had started, which he considered to be "no big deal," but at his wife's urging, he began preparing to evacuate.
"All of a sudden, two guys burst into my house," he said. "It's two of my employees, who live right next to my gallery, and they said, 'The gallery's gone. It's on fire. ... Everything's on fire, it's done. We barely got out with our lives.'"
Stunned, he tried to drive to his gallery to save his paintings but soon realized it would be impossible. "You could see mushroom clouds and the police were blocking everybody," Harte said. "The embers would jump anything. They could jump the highway, they could jump a building, and they would hit something and it would just blow up. These were big, red, bright hot embers."
His home survived the fire and some of his employees are staying with him. "There are a lot more people here who had way worse things happen to them," he said. "My little group is OK and I'm grateful for that."
Harte stands ready to start over on Maui, voicing concerns about possible plans to turn Front Street into a park. "If that's what they're going to do, I guess that's a signal for us to leave," he said. "We would like to rebuild, but if they're going to do that, the sooner they tell us the better."
Last year Harte announced that he owned a wax sculpture of a figure of St. John on the cross created by Dali in 1979. Long thought to be lost, the sculpture "was estimated at about $20 million, but honestly, if it had gone to Christie's (the prestigious auction house) it could have gone for $100 million," Harte said. The announcement drew the attention of the worldwide art community to Lahaina.
He reflected on what draws him to such works. "We can read about the history of certain things, but we can't be a part of it," he said. "But if we can read about a certain subject, and then we can buy a Rembrandt on the subject, or a Dali or Picasso or Miro or Matisse, we actually become a part of history. ... That's what these masterworks do for us."
Bill Wyland of Bill Wyland Galleries had a harrowing escape from Lahaina, but quickly made it to his home on Oahu's North Shore the day after the fire. "I don't think anyone expected it to come as quick as it did," he said.
He sent his staff home early and drove up to the Westin Hotel, then returned to Lahaina in the late afternoon and started gathering essentials. He escaped on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle and tried to ride out of town toward Kihei. "I was lucky to be on a Harley rather than a car, because all the cars were at a dead stop," he said.
Still, he had to drive up on the sidewalk, getting stuck behind a bicyclist for a bit, and eventually crossed over into the oncoming traffic lane to make his escape. "What I didn't understand is why no one followed me when I was on the Harley," he said, "because there were no cars coming from (that direction). They just sat there and watched everything burn behind them."
"Had I been even three or four minutes late on the Harley, I might not have made it out. It just came so quick."
His gallery, and one that he built for his brother, the famed whale muralist Wyland, both burned down, and future plans are uncertain. He handled the business side of their partnership. "The main thing is that all my staff are alive and OK," he said, although some of them lost their homes.
For the moment, he has several other businesses on the islands to sustain him. His website, billwyland galleries.com, asks people to donate to Maui relief, and sounds a hopeful note.
"Your patronage has been the driving force behind our gallery's success, and together, we will emerge from this chapter stronger and more united," it says. "While the road ahead may be extremely challenging, we're confident that the artistic spirit will shine even brighter, illuminating the path towards a hopeful future."
Andrew Shoemaker also lost his gallery in Lahaina, but as a photographer he is emerging with his work intact. "Years and years ago I lost a hard drive and had an amazing image on it, so I learned a time ago that you have to have redundancy with your backups," he said from his home in Kihei. "Everything important is backed up to a cloud (network)."
He is grateful that his manager survived and that somehow her home in Lahaina survived, though she is currently living nearby. Although there have been complaints about the loss of power in Lahaina before and during the storm, he said it may have contributed to saving her life. "I actually told my gallery manager, 'Just stay home. There's no point in going in,'" he said.
When he spoke with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Shoemaker had not yet been to town to see the remains of his shop, but he'd heard that "everything burned and then the roof collapsed on it. It was a metal roof. ... We want to get over there and kind of see if ... there's kind of any sort of memories."
His thoughts are with those who didn't make it out of the fire and their families. "There's so many multigenerational homes and families there, and the house gets passed down," he said. "There's so many things that you just can't replace."
Shoemaker is a Nebraska native who has been coming to Hawaii since childhood. He moved to the islands for good in 2014, opening his shop in 2018. He has a list of dedicated clients, who have been contacting him through his website. He's asked them to give disaster relief funds.
He plans to stay in Maui and is taking orders for his photos, with 25% of his profits going to the Maui Strong Fund, available via andrew shoemaker.com. His bestselling photo now is one of Front Street in 2018. "You got a rainbow in the background," he said. "It's kind of Front Street how we all remember it."
The Peter Lik Fine Art Gallery in Lahaina, which carried the Australian photographer's award-winning, artfully crafted images, is also raising money for fire survivors through the sale of two of its popular island images: "Pacific Nights," a sunset view of Kapalua Beach, and "365," a collage of island photos. The works are showcased on the gallery's Facebook page. The images can be ordered through the gallery's website, lik.com.
The gallery was destroyed in the fire, with only the columns and the pediment left standing from its ornate Corinthian facade. According to the gallery's Facebook page, staff members are safe. They could not be reached for comment. The gallery also offered thoughts and prayers to the families of victims, thanks to firefighters, first responders and helpful community members, and offered hope that the community can heal and rebuild.