Johnnie ‘Keoni’ Durant chainsaws a rough cut on a tiki he is donating to the city of Evanston, Ill. Called ‘‘Ohana,’ the tiki wears the helmet of the Hawaiian high chief (ali‘i) and represents the spirit of sportsmanship. Contributed photo/Heather Shadur
Durant and Ku, protector of Keloha (The Love), carved on a coconut tree in Ha‘ena. Contributed photo/Dennis Ryder

Kaua'i Artist Brings Tikis to Mainland

By Leo Dubois
September 11, 2009

Kaua‘i artist Johnnie “Keoni” Durant talked to The Garden Island this week in a phone interview from Chicago about his recent art project for the City of Evanston, Ill., and about his life as a world-renowned Hawaiian artist.

In July, Durant and his sweetheart Heather Shadur, traveled to her home of Evanston and took part in the community’s annual Garden Walk, where people are invited to walk through private and public gardens to admire the landscaping.

“First, there was a time we go around to all these people’s gardens and they had no sculptures in them,” Durant said in his local style pidgin. When he returned to Shadur’s home he thought, “I like carve something and make over here also, and share ‘em wit mo’ of da people.”

After experiencing the warmth and aloha from Shadur, her family and her home town, Durant was compelled to give a gift back to the community.

“So I decided to donate them as a gift to the people of Evanston. The reason is cuz dis girl, her maddah, dey show me so much aloha, an’ I talk to da people hea who get plenty aloha too.”

His gift will come in the form of an eight-foot high tiki carved from a white oak tree that was in declining health, cut down and removed from an area known as the Council Ring.

After Durant communicated his desire to carve a sculpture for the city he was taken to a lumber yard with a wide assortment of 20-foot logs to choose. One by one the unqualified candidates were removed until the very last log was revealed as a white oak. It turned out that this was the same tree Shadur often played under as a child when her father took her pole fishing at the lake. Durant is now giving this oak a second life, in a spiritual sense, as a tiki honoring the spirit of sportsmanship.

The tiki Durant is carving for the Evanston community was inspired by a sculpture found in a cave on Kaua‘i in 1850. The carving will represent the spirit of sportsmanship and recreation, and will watch over families and the community as they take part in similar activities.

Durant discovered his passion for art at a very early age.

“I liked to work with my hands so I remember when I was about 5 or 7, I crawled under a house and found some tools and began carving,” he said.

Today, Durant’s custom art includes tikis, natural-edge bowls, mother-of-pearl fish hook necklaces, wooden surfboards, and Hawaiian drums. Many of his handmade art works may be found in private collections, galleries, hotel properties and movie sets. Kaua‘i residents may be familiar with Durant’s carved tiki work displayed on the path along the Marriott’s ocean-front property at Kalapaki Beach.

“My art is my passion, and I follow my instincts that this is what I should be doing,” Durant said.

Durant’s desire is to become an ambassador of aloha, sharing his culture through his art while educating the community about the ways of his ancestors. He recently has had requests to speak at Evanston schools and at least one request to teach a carving class. Durant hopes to create a cultural exchange program between Kaua‘i and Evanston schools.
Durant is calling his sculpture “‘Ohana,” which means “family” in Hawaiian, and it will be carved using a chainsaw and hand chisels.

It will take around a month to complete and when completed will stand around eight-feet tall and weigh close to 1,000 pounds.

Durant said his children encouraged him to reach his full potential.

“They encouraged me to, ‘No waste my talent’ and I should reach out to the people here in Evanston, and I might be able to make a difference in people’s lives,” Durant said.

Durant’s artistic gift will be presented to Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl and the City Council at their Sept. 14 meeting.

• Leo DuBois, contributor, can be reached via News Editor Nathan Eagle at 245-3681, ext. 227 or

It takes strength, precision and focus to finish the ali'i
(high chief) helmet, an impressive part of the tiki's profile
.  Contributed photo/Heather Shadur