Author & Artist: Susan A. Sternau
Publisher: Sausalito Press
There is probably no other place on earth as Easter Island (Rapa Nui), the Polynesian island located in the southeastern Pacific Ocean. When you stop to think about it, how many people have traveled to or ever heard of the island where Polynesian people settled in the first millennium CE?
Did you know that in 1995 UNESCO named this island a World Heritage Site, with much of the island protected within Rapa Nui National Park? And what is really amazing about the island is its 887 extant monumental statues, called moai created by the early Rapa Nui People. These moai represent sacred ancestors and living chiefs that were quarried from the volcanic tuff at the crater of Rano Raraku on the dry eastern plain of the island. They were eventually moved along a network of roads to the coast.
Susan A. Sternau, artist and author of Easter Island Sketchbook: An Artist's Journey to the Mysterious Land of Giant Stone Statues brings up an interesting question in the introduction to her book. How were these enormous monolithic stone statutes moved long distances, made to stand upright, and then crowned with giant multi-ton hats? No doubt, this is one of the mysteries of Easter Island that has for years baffled visitors, archaeologists, and engineers. By the way, this was all accomplished without modern equipment!
Fascinated with the island, Sternau traveled for one week during the fall of 2012 to Easter Island with the objective, as she states, “to bring back an earlier, slower age, where contemplation and observation offered a different way of seeing.” While on the island, Sternau sketched and painted a few scenes and upon returning home and relying on her memory, emotion, and photos, she recreated her treasured sojourn. The culmination was the creation of sixty-five watercolors that are reproduced in her book.
With these striking and descriptive watercolors that are spread over ten sections, Sternau takes you on a photographic journey to this unique island permitting you the opportunity to appreciate these intriguing statutes with their massive sizes and funky stone hats as well as dramatic landscapes, volcanic craters, wild horses, rocky shorelines and sacred sites and ruins. What' s more, underneath each of the images are succinct explanations as to what they represent.
Sternau specifies that she painted the images retrospectively to illustrate and assimilate her experiences as well as to find a deeper understanding and resonance from her visit, which she describes as one of the most extraordinary places on earth.
I particularly got a kick out of the silhouette of the glorious Sunset Moai (Tahai) (Plate.20) with its towering size and offbeat stone hat. As Sternau states, “this was painted against a splendid tropical sunset giving a sense of the remarkable balance and symmetry of the carving.” And if you refer to Plate 42, you get a good idea of the largest moai at seventy-one feet.
It should be noted, all the moai were quarried by making rectangular blocks with the heads and features roughed out first. The large blocks were then undercut and braced before they were removed.
Sternau has effectively managed to capture the thriving culture of the original settlers in a lifelike and natural fashion with her powerfully enchanting and inspiring sketches of the moai. In addition, she dramatically renders the eery loneliness of the island as well as its panoramic and colorful mysterious beauty. You can very well understand that for her it was a trip of a lifetime seen through an artist's perspective. As for her readers, it is a great opportunity to venture vicariously to one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world that would normally be inconceivable.