UH Hilo art student wins UH System Green Leader Award

Kara Spaulding has demonstrated leadership in sustainability in various ways: advocating for curriculum in sustainability, participating in Earth Day, inspiring classmates.

By Susan Enright.

Kara Spaulding in skirt made of bark, stands with Marcia Sakai who is holding certificate.
UH Hilo Interim Chancellor Marcia Sakai (r) presents UH Hilo art student Kara Spaulding with a UH President’s Green Initiative Award. Spaulding wears a kapa skirt she made from bark cloth, natural materials and botanical dyes. Click photo to enlarge.

University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo art student Kara Spaulding recently received a 2018 UH President’s Green Initiative Award for showing extraordinary leadership skills in sustainability initiatives at the university. The awards ceremony for all winners across the UH System was held Feb. 8 at Hawaiʻi Community College’s Pālamanui campus as part of the 6th Annual Hawaiʻi Sustainability in Higher Education Summit, which Spaulding was unable to attend. She was presented her award later in February by Interim Chancellor Marcia Sakai on the UH Hilo campus.

The annual green awards recognize student initiative, innovation, creativity and civic engagement in campus and community sustainability projects. Two other students from UH Hilo also received awards: Kasey Buchanan for a campus waste reduction project and Zoe Whitney who received honorable mention for a project on a UH Hilo campus carbon and nitrogen report.

The honorees receive up to $1,000 each. Spaulding received an HEI Charitable Foundation Green Leader Award, which recognizes leadership in developing sustainability curriculum in the arts and perpetuating natural and cultural resources.

Spaulding, majoring in performing arts, was nominated by a Hilo faculty member with the following recommendation:

Kara Spaulding has demonstrated leadership in sustainability in various ways. She wrote a letter and started a petition to the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences for the purpose of advocating the continuation of two sustainable courses, including Art 225: Beginning Papermaking and Art 335: Advanced Papermaking. She also made sure to meet with the dean to discuss the importance of these classes and the arts. She has volunteered to meet with donors in order to share the impact their support has on herself and her classmates. Kara is the president of the Student Art Association which serves to be a beacon of the arts at functions including Earth Day paper making workshop every year. She has volunteered to share paper making with the world for the past three years at Earth Day.

Kara is a catalyst for learning with her enthusiasm in paper making class. She enriched these classes by sharing the knowledge she learned through her directed studies in the exploration of kapa (Hawaiian bark cloth), Native Hawaiian dyes, and kakishibu (Japanese/Korean natural dye).

Spaulding’s award reads: “For your commitment to developing sustainability curriculum in the arts, and for your dedication to the perpetuation of natural and cultural resources.”

Blending sustainable traditions

Spaulding’s kapa project started with learning about the Hawaiian fabric made from wauke or māmaki bark. The project then integrated other traditions, including the Japanese art of using kakishibu, a dye made from persimmons. One of her mentors on the project was Professor of Art Andrew Grabar.

“Imbued with the essence of cultural assimilation through ancient Hawaiian traditions, Kara Spaulding revisits a time and place through the creation of kapa,” Grabar says.

Spaulding says the study of kapa taught her that making paper is much more than just the art itself—it taught her about Hawaiian culture in a way that nothing else could. She says the experience of making kapa was meditative and grounding, and recounts one of her teachers saying about the process, “you become one with the earth and slow down enough to see what is there.”

“I was inspired to do this [project] through my directed studies class where I studied kapa, papermaking, and kakishibu,” says Spaulding. “Kakishibu is a dye from persimmons that has been used in Japan and Korea on wood, clothes, and paper for centuries.”

Spaulding’s project culminated in the making of a paper skirt utilizing kapa methods, recycled clothing, hemp, lotus, and kakishibu dye as well as other natural dyes.

“I worked with people from the outside community, including one kumu [teacher] who participated in the Ka Hana Kapa documentary by PBS and another from the Hāmakua cultural center,” she explains.

Spaulding also credits her accomplishments to Prof. Grabar.

“Professor Grabar not only directed me towards a multitude of different kinds of paper including wauke for kapa as well as paper utilizing recycled and invasive plants, but he also taught me about kakishibu, which I studied and utilized on my final project,” she says.

“This project inspired my professor, classmates, and me with the desire for more exploration and possibilities in the learning and blending of old and new traditions, aligning with sustainability in the present and future of the arts,” she adds.

This post has been updated to include comments from the award nominator, to clarify Spaulding’s major, and to add quotation from Prof. Grabar.

Story by Susan Enright, a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.

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