Aloha, Lahaina Preacher Man
As a member of the Lahaina Arts Society, which has its gallery and art fairs under the famous *Banyan Tree in Lahaina, Maui, I became familiar with its “resident preacher” who always greeted me with a friendly “God Bless you”. He could be found sitting on lauhala mats with his Bible or guitar in hand surrounded with big verse-covered cardboard placards and a few followers. For approximately 30 years he made his home under the tree and preached – at the top of his lungs - to the passing tourists on Front Street, Lahaina. To some he was “just a crazy man” but to others he was a saint.
Something deep inside of me identified with The Preacher. I knew I had a wild preacher inside of me and I also knew that Phillip Prais knew God. On June 11, 2007 - 2011 at age 66 he was found dead, lying in a church yard with his Bible on his chest. His brother later told me that for two months before his heart attack, Phillip kept looking up through the Banyan Tree toward heaven, saying “I am ready to go home”.
When I saw Phillip’s photograph on the cover of the Maui Time Weekly the following week, I felt compelled to paint his portrait for the Lahaina Poster Contest – a juried art show of entries depicting “the spirit of Lahaina”. Everyone knew Phillip and he had Spirit. The photographer, Bill Geoghegan gave me permission to use his photo.
The process of creating the painting felt inspired, and by the time it was finished, I could see a likeness to Jesus in Phillip’s face. I decided to put thorns on the vine head band he was wearing to underscore that likeness. Over the past months, when I show my art at the Lahaina Arts Society art fairs under the Banyan Tree, I have been fascinated to see how many people have felt called from across the court yard to view the painting and have clearly been deeply touched by the Presence that inhabits it.
*Aloha means “the breath of God” and is used as both a greeting and a farewell.
*The Banyan Tree, planted in 1873, is the largest Banyan tree in the United States covering a full city block and is home to thousands of mynah birds each night.