Everyone Has a Story: Isaiah Smith

Today’s interview is with Isaiah Smith, the artist behind Kekumua‘oa Designs, specializing in wood, bone, and shell jewelry and Hawaiian art. He also shares the meaning behind some of his work, and tells me that “for the more significant things I make, I like to add letters explaining the pieces, which for me can be nearly as important as the object itself.” Below, he shares his some of his dreams and his guiding philosophy.

(If you’re interested in being interviewed for this blog or have someone in mind for me to interview, please let me know or leave a note in the comments section.)

Photo provided by Isaiah Smith of Kekumua‘oa Designs - Used with permission

Photo provided by Isaiah Smith
Used with permission

Name and website:
Isaiah Smith, at Kekumua‘oa Designs on Facebook

What is one of your dreams in life?
Well, for me, I think I have too many dreams, but I guess one of my main ones would be to be a recognized native Hawaiian artist. I would say there are a lot of native Hawaiian artists, but generally the most famous ones are those who paint, i.e., Patrick Ching or the amazing Herb Kane. I mean not even necessarily being recognized in the sense of being famous but more so to be recognized by fellow craftsmen, I think that is more important (though I would not mind a little fame, hehe). I think the one benefit of adding fame to the equation would then be that more people start to appreciate your art beyond the superficial, and start to look at the heart and message behind it.

What is something on your bucket list?
I would love to go to Aotearoa (New Zealand)! As far as style, composition, and general aesthetics, Maori art is one of my favorite types of art in the world.  Maori carvings have gorgeous curve and flow, being both graceful and aggressive at the same time, the kind of juxtaposition of beauty and strength that just absorbs me. For me, being a botanist, Aotearoa has many endemic species of plants and animals, with an amazing range of ecosystems, which I would love to experience. Also being part Hawaiian, it is said that going to Aotearoa helps to make you a better Hawaiian, as according to ancient lore, the Maoris actually are descended from Hawaiians (at the very least, are very close relatives). I feel that Hawaiians and Maori are two sides of the same coin, each holding parts that the other has forgotten or perhaps just did not emphasize in their own culture.  Going there tends to rekindle that lost part of my own culture, so that is one more reason I would love to go to Aotearoa. Oh, and I really like kiwis [kiwi birds], they’re one of my fantasy exotic pets.

What is the best advice you ever received?
I am not sure that this is so much advice as much as a guiding philosophy, but here it goes. There is an old ex-pastor who I really respect named Uncle Paul, he is about 90 years young now I believe, and he is always one to give a word of wisdom. One day at church, we were sitting outside under our kukui nut tree as usual, and I believe Uncle Paul was teaching that day and though I forgot the rest of the lesson I remembered him saying, “Our main goal in life should be to increase the net amount of happiness in the world.”

It seems like a simple enough statement, but to me it covered so much. It can be easy to increase your own happiness at times, but often it comes at the expense of another, so if your happiness does not equal to the unhappiness you make, then you are creating negative net happiness. I think the opposite goes more for me (I tend to be a people pleaser): if you make someone happy, but the amount of your unhappiness is more than the amount of happiness you create for the other, then that is negative net happiness. It is a bit of a balancing act, but I think this guiding principle is a very good goal to be reminded of, that in whatever action we take, it is to make the world a happier and more joyful place to be. The best situation is when you get to the point where the act of self-sacrifice brings you happiness and brings happiness to the other, so you have a huge increase in net happiness! I guess now it is sounding cheesy, but I believe the world would be a better place if we were to think in this context more.

Thanks Isaiah, for sharing your time and stories with us! Readers, you can check out his work at Kekumua‘oa Designs on Facebook.

Readers: Do you want to be interviewed, or do you know someone I should ask for an interview? Let me know.

Will you consider joining with me in supporting children’s literacy, providing curriculum kits to schools worldwide, and teaching healthy self-expression through storytelling? My goal is to raise $1000 for National Novel Writing Month, a non-profit involved in all these things. Learn more at my fundraising page.

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