The legendary Penehuro

A legend. A passion. A talent. 

Penehuro Papali’i’s work has been documented by many for his extraordinary work over the years. 

Despite the marvel behind his masterpieces, his genuine passion and love for art is what amazes me most. He would talk about it so eagerly, explaining the inspirations and beauty behind each sculpture, carving or window stain. 

What seemed like bare basalt is a bull, an elephant, a legendary character to Penehuro. And as he plans and carves, he closely follows the contour lines of the stone, envisions and sees potential natural expression in it. Outlining the vision, penetrating and cutting the stone corresponding to the shape follow, never wasting the basalt in the process. 

He sees beauty in everything, he imagines and then builds remarkable expressions of art. From sculpturing, welding, painting, glass staining and wood turning he is a true master of art. 

The beginning of the development of his talent started with his mentor Maestro Ernesto Cotter in Form 3 (equivalent to Year 9 in Samoa). From Sapapali’i Savai’i, Penehuro later continued his education and quest at the Leulumoega School of Fine Arts. In fact, many of the wooden sculptures and masterpieces displayed at the school were crafted by Penehuro.

His career escalated from there on as he went on to establish his own gallery at Lelata. A display of breath-taking chefs-d'oeuvre crafted with gifted hands. Unfortunately, relocation had arisen after Cyclone Evans hit in 2012.

Many of the marvellous sculptures and artwork were destroyed or damaged. Yet he continued on to set up his Sculpture Park and gallery in Vaitele. All the surviving pieces and equipment remain there as part of a revering remnant of past memories and profound effort poured into his passion. He stands devoted to his calling as a visionary and artist.

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Six years later, final construction of his Sculpture park based on the Legendary Myths and Legends of Samoa is underway. The grand exhibition and official opening of the BEN Art School is set to take place by the end of this year at the Vaitele compound.

The Sculpture Park is a breathing vision coming to life, emerging into full form. Penehuro believes this will serve as tourist attraction, an exhibition of our insightful culture and lively nature as well as the history of the Myths and Legends of Samoa.

It is an exhibition of the grandeur and advent creativity in form of stone, metal and wood.

As I recalled the first time I witnessed the marvel, it did not take a second to be in awe by his work. I found myself wondering how he cut the stone so smoothly yet still retain the stability of the sculpture. I found myself wondering how he saw the characters he envisioned based on the contour and shape of the stone.  I found myself wondering how one man could create such beautiful artwork from what ordinary people disposed of.

Painting, wood turning, glass staining are all attractive and covetable pieces the public are familiar with. However, the artist believes there is greater potential found in stone carving. Penehuro uses basalt stone he unearths from the sight of the Sculpture Park.

Basalt has the consistency and texture of cement. The stone is also durable, it will take an infinite amount of time and weathering to break it down. And second, it can be crafted into several commercial products. It is all about using your skill and talent and applying it professionally to your career.

At the moment Papali’i focuses on carving commissioned memorial stones, headstones and signs for the commercial side of art. If one had a big bulk of 12-inch high basalt, one could have at least twelve separate 1-inch thick plates of stone for carving, if it were to be cut horizontally.

As a professional artist sacrifice and devotion are pivotal. Penehuro’s story speaks of a passion and talent pursued without the intention of collecting masses of riches. It speaks instead of the pursuit of a calling and advancement of a God-given gift for the purpose of beautifying the world and our souls.

His long experience in the field shows true dedication. A talent that must be acknowledged and developed by our people to the peak of its capacity. 

Penehuro has mastered carving stone and wood, sculpting metal such as bronze, painting, window staining and almost all forms of visual art. He has gone beyond expectation and has patiently and enduringly triumphed in the complete fostering of his gift.

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