Disabling accident led to a new career as landscape artist

One of the premier artists of New Zealand, Rei Hamon has donated what he calls "my very finest work" to the Church.

A high priest in the Paeroa Branch, Hamilton New Zealand Stake, Brother Hamon, who is part Maori, has developed his talents as a landscape artist to the point that his works hang in many European art galleries. One of his paintings was selected as the official government gift to the queen of England when she visited New Zealand in 1976. His paintings have been sold for more than $20,000.Brother Hamon's paintings are comprised of tiny dots in a style of intricate detail called "pointillism." The painting he donated to the Church portrays Joseph Smith receiving the plates from the Angel Moroni. The two are surrounded by symbols of America, such as redwood trees, the Great White Throne of Zion's Park, as well as ferns common in New Zealand.

The picture took him about 600 hours to complete, and was done in response to requests by missionarary couples that he create a picture with a gospel theme to donate to the Church.

The painting was presented Aug. 19 to Elder L. Tom Perry of the Council of the Twelve by Charles P. Lloyd, former president of the New Zealand Auckland Mission, and his wife, Alta. Elder Glen L. Rudd, a former General Authority and former president of the Pacific Area, also attended. He is a longtime friend of the artist.

Brother Hamon explained why he made the picture. "In those millions of dots I have applied there, I have found a way to write our feelings," he said. "The picture is a testimony of my wife and I, of why we are members of the Church, and what we love in its principles and ideals; we've been brought up through five generations of the Hamon family as Church members.

"I am not so concerned with my identity, but I am concerned with why I belong to the Church. To me it is one of the most beautiful things and when we live in trust, love and humility, in doing our very best to obey the principles that we believe are right - that is the greatest mission of all to achieve."

Brother Hamon considers his art efforts to be a mission. In 1976, he met with President Spencer W. Kimball in Auckland. At the time he told the prophet that he wanted to serve a mission. He said President Kimball replied, "Brother Hamon, you are on a mission, and that is the art that has been a God-given gift to you. Carry on with that."

As a youngster, Brother Hamon had no idea he would become an artist. He was reared on a dairy farm in the Gisborne area. He was the oldest of 14 children. He remembers running barefoot over the frosty ground with his brothers to bring in the cows for milking. When they'd get one cow up, they'd stand on the spot where the cow had been lying and warm their feet for a few moments, then scamper off through the frost to the next cow.

Brother Hamon and his wife also have a large family that includes many adoptive and foster children. To support his family, he herded sheep, made fences, repaired roads, split rails and cut trees.

But his career as a laborer was cut short. He'd been riding a horse in the bush country when the horse toppled off a cliff, taking him over, too. The horse, which was killed in the fall, rolled over him two or three times.

A year later, after many operations, he was lying in a hospital bed when doctors told him: "Your active live as a laborer is finished - you won't be able to go back as a manual laborer."

After he returned home, he wondered how he would support his family. "I was feeling pretty bad about it at the time," he recalled. "My wife, Maia, sensed my feelings and said, `Come on, I'll say a prayer.'

"I heard her beautiful words thanking the Lord that the patriarch of the family was alive, and that through the skilled hands of the physicians and prayers of the priesthood and hers, I'd become well again. I felt like a guilty person. I am a high priest, and we are temple people."

As he sat in the kitchen wondering what work he could do, he noticed his daughter's notebook and a pen resting on a chair.

"I pounced on it without any more thought and there started my first picture," he recalled. "That first picture - you wouldn't have wrapped your fish and chips in it - but it was my child."

He explained that he disregarded his first efforts, but his wife took a few drawings to be photographed. The photographer was so impressed with the drawings that he carried them to an art connoisseur from the Netherlands who was visiting in Auckland.

The connoisseur recognized the value of the highly original art and immediately came to visit him. "Rei, keep going," he said, and offered to sponsor an exhibition in a year.

At the exhibition, every one of Brother Hamon's drawings were sold. His first one, made in the kitchen on his child's tablet, at first was priced at about $10, but later sold for more than $2,000 as a collector's item.

Speaking of the painting that Brother Hamon donated to the Church, Richard G. Oman, senior curator of the Church Museum of History and Art, said it was "one of the greatest works of art ever done by a Polynesian Latter-day Saint that celebrates the gospel."

"Brother Hamon springs from within his own culture and celebrates the gospel in a glorious way."

He said the artist describes the gospel through nature. In the foreground of the painting, Moroni is delivering the plates to Joseph."Then he moves down a long path with stones, because life is not always easy, to where the landscape opens like a book and seems to grow broader and bigger. He uses the landscape as a metaphor about how the Book of Mormon opens new spiritual vistas."

In the background, "The big rock mesa is not only a symbol of the American West, but also of the temple, which brings us back to God. The picture is cyclical.

"We all speak in different ways. Some speak with music, some with words. Rei Hamon communicates with landscapes. I don't know anybody who communicates more clearly.

"He is self-taught, and he moved into using figures for the first time in this work . . . but he had such a passion to communicate that he was willing to take the risk. He was willing to expose his own limitations to communicate the gospel.

Brother Oman suggested that the artist, a former logger, may be painting landscapes in a spiritual dimension to re-create that which was lost.

"He is pulling out of his mind metaphors of nature [to explain what he feels areT the most profound, significant, spiritual interpretations of this dispensation.

"He uses nature because he wants to use for his visual language the creations the Lord made.

"And his images are incredibly powerful, unique and original."

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