Caren Loebel-Fried: Artist. Illustrator. Author.
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photo by Dan Clark

The Art of Midway, a story for FOMA (Friends of Midway Atoll) Gooney Gazette

I had the honor of creating a piece of art that celebrates and supports Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, the Battle of Midway Memorial, and the deep Hawaiian roots throughout Papahanaumokuakea, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. My biggest challenge was to evoke the unique essence of Midway Atoll, and include as much of its variety as possible. But alas, how can the “Magic of Midway” be represented in one piece of art?

I arrived on the Atoll in early winter to the sights and sounds of thousands of Laysan albatrosses sitting on nests and dancing in courtship. Every night, the clacking, honking, and rapid fire bill­clapping of the albatrosses was the soundtrack to my dreams. I was mesmerized by their loving attention to one another and to their egg. I knew the “stars” of the piece would be a nesting Laysan Albatross pair, and I would want to reveal a private, intimate moment amid the cacophony all around them.

In order to give the art a feeling of place, I needed to experience as much of Midway and it's wildlife as possible. So, I spent every waking hour of my stay exploring Sand Island, Spit, Eastern, the waters inside and just outside the atoll. I sketched, photographed, and videoed the different birds, their behavior and flight. I studied the movement of the ocean, the wind, the light, the colors and textures. I dissected an albatross bolus to learn what they consumed. Fascinated by their soaring, I observed a dissection of a deceased albatross in order to see the structure of the wings, bones, and muscles.

So many amazing creatures live or breed on the Atoll, and the human stories of heroism, tragedy, and survival during the Battle of Midway are too numerous to tell in one piece of art. I worked closely with Dan Clark and Bret Wolf, the Refuge Manager and Deputy Manager, and Ann Bell, Visitor Services Manager, choosing the elements that would appear in the art and their placement. The albatrosses would be within a frame of many panels filled with images representing the decisive WW2 battle fought off Midway, other sea birds who depend on Midway for nesting habitat, an ancient Hawaiian Voyaging Canoe sailing by on its way down the island chain, and several endemic and native plants. Other panels would include coral, fish, a Hawaiian Monk Seal, ‘Ilioikauaua, and a Green Sea Turtle, honu, all from the sea around the atoll.

I also wanted to highlight some of the work that USFWS is doing to help the wildlife on Midway. I envisioned a Laysan Duck, from the original group of ducks translocated from Laysan, reaching up to nibble on bunchgrass seeds in the main panel. The bunchgrass, used as nesting material by albatrosses, would be shown out­planted by human hands.

While working on the art back home in Volcano, I emailed scientists and staff on Midway, Honolulu staff, and former Midway folks with questions, requests for photos, and asked them to review my sketches for accuracy. My work would not have been possible without their incredible support and help.

My ultimate goal was to create a piece that could be enjoyed as fine art, and also be printed on everyday items. By purchasing Midway merchandise, funds are raised for FOMA in support of the work that USFWS is doing on Midway. With this art, I also hoped to share a glimmer of the magic of this special place that I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to experience and help.

MIDWAY, an original hand-pulled, hand-colored block print
Main panel:

A Laysan Albatross pair are nesting, surrounded by Naupaka (Scaevola.) In the forefront, hands are shown out­planting bunchgrass (kawelu/eragrostis variabilis.) Morning glory (pohuehue/ipomoea) grows abundantly.

Pictured clockwise from the upper left corner:

1. Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bomber

2. Red­tailed Tropicbird

3. Hawaiian Voyaging Canoe

4. White Terns

5. Chenopodium/Aweoweo

6. USS Hornet aircraft carrier

7. Bonin Petrel

8. Coral Polyps

9. Honu/Green Sea Turtle

10. Ilioholoikauaua / Hawaiian Monk Seal

11. Laysan Duck

12. Popolo/Solanum

13. Ulua Aukea/Giant Trevally

14. Honoring a Fallen Soldier

15. Blackfooted Albatross chick


All artwork and text on these pages Copyright © 2002-2022 Caren Loebel-Fried. All rights reserved.