Rare Dietrich Varez Woodblock Print of Father Damien
A wonderful woodblock print by Dietrich Varez featuring Father Damien. Beautifully Matted with Lauhala, framed in Koa and preserved under museum glass.
Dietrich Varez has published more than 225 wood- and linoleum-block prints. The subject matter in most of Varez’s work is inspired by traditional Hawaiian legends, integrating mythological figures in scenes with flora and fauna typical of the diverse Hawaiian environment. His work is informed by graphic interpretations of traditional Polynesian designs, as seen, for instance, in Hawaiian quilts, and is especially rich in imagery from the Hawaiian rainforest. However, Varez has stated that he actively avoids other art that might influence the unmediated nature of his vision. His recent graphic work has branched out to include more modern stories, notably that of Father Damien, known for his work in the leper colony on Molokai, and also the renowned battleship USS Missouri (BB-63), berthed at Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Naval base on Oahu
In 1873 a Belgian missionary priest, born as Joseph Van Veuster but known as Father Damien of the Fathers of the Sacred Heart, was sent at his own request to Molokai to work among the lepers. He had already lived and worked among the Hawaiian people for 9 years. His heart was consumed with compassion for the sickness and suffering which had destroyed these simple people. Originating with the European travelers who had “discovered the paradise” known as Hawaii, diseases such as small pox, cholera, influenza, and tuberculosis would nearly wipe out the native people who had no immunity to these foreign viruses. The most devastating disease would be leprosy.
Father Damien requested and was granted the mission of serving exclusively on the island of Molokai. Since there was no cure for leprosy at the time, this choice meant certain death for the young priest who had just turned 33. Poet and author Robert Louis Stevenson wrote of Father Damien’s decision, “He shut to, with his own hands, the doors of his own sepulchre.”
Amidst the chaos encountered upon his arrival on the tiny island, Father Damien worked immediately to restore human dignity and respect for life to each person. He organized burial details and performed funeral rites, so that death might have some beauty. He provided medical attention for the wounds and sicknesses that could be healed. He taught them how to grow crops so they could eat better. In a small chapel on the island, he began to preach and teach about the healing and saving power of Jesus Christ. The people began to sing and pray and love each other in holiness and humility.
Father Damien contracted leprosy himself in 1885, and in those final years worked diligently to complete the works that he had begun, building orphanages, organizing clinics, constructing housing. He died on April 15, 1889. Pope John Paul II beatified him in June 1995 under the title “Blessed Father Damien, Servant of Humanity.”