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French-born artist finds inspiration in remote Easter Island

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Rapa Nui, Chile (AP) — Rapa Nui — the remote Chilean region in the middle of the Pacific Ocean known more widely as Easter Island — is home to a Catholic church that features artwork that reflects the islanders’ ancestral culture as well as Christian beliefs. Among the eye-catching works are the stained glass windows – created by a French-born artist – depicting figures resembling the inhabitants of Rapa Nui.

Artist Delphine Pauline was born in Paris 52 years ago and fell in love with Rapa Nui since her first visit in 1994. She smiles at the memory.

She said: “I was riding a horse on the beach when I first thought ‘I want to live here'”.

At that time, Pauline lived in Tahiti, worked as a professional sailor and often traveled to other islands of Polynesia. A trip to Rapa Nui was enough to imagine a future home in this land of extinct volcanoes and monolithic statues called moai, though it would be nearly three decades before that dream came true.

Pauline sometimes worked as a nurse. I became a boat designer. She occasionally returns to Paris, but her fascination with Polynesia brings her back again and again to the Pacific Ocean.

On one of these trips to France, she fell in love with the man who was her teenage boyfriend. They now have two children and all four have been building a home in Rapa Nui since 2014.

Pauline says she enjoys the freedom and peace on this isolated island, which is home to about 7,700 people.

Last year, Pauline expressed gratitude for the blessings Rapa Nui had bestowed on her, and made a gift: stained glass windows depicting the Fourteen Stations of the Cross at Holy Cross Church, located in Hanga Roa, the island’s main town.

Currently, the Rapanui community is predominantly Catholic, but their religious practices are closely related to the beliefs of their ancestors.

The musical themes sung by the faithful while reciting passages from the Bible translated into the Rabanui language. The wooden statues representing the Virgin Mary and the Holy Spirit are not inspired by Western iconography, but by the architecture and heritage of the islanders’ ancestors.

It looks like a statue of Mary near the altar of Moi Church. Near the main entrance, the third symbol of the Holy Trinity is not a dove, but a manotara – a bird considered sacred in the 19th century.

The adaptation of Catholic iconography to the ancestral culture of Rapa Nui was essential in maintaining adherence to the religion spread by European missionaries during the eighteenth century.

The Rapanui are protective of their identity and tend to be fully welcoming to outsiders only if they strive to embrace the culture of the islanders. On a grave outside the Church of the Holy Cross, where the remains of beloved missionary Sebastian Englert are kept, the epitaph reads: “He lived among us and spoke our language.”

Gaining local acceptance wasn’t easy, Pauline said, but she was patient. His stained glass windows were one more step on the way: Since he began standing in the church on December 24, 2021, some Rapanui who had not previously greeted him have waved their hands when they saw him pass.

“I have a lot of respect for the island and the people,” she said. “Before, I was alone, but now people know my husband and children.”

Pauline’s commitment to blending in with the island is part of her daily life. Her family lives on the beach because she has always dreamed of settling down here. The color of their house resembles the rocks of the volcanic region so as not to alter the landscape. The water used in the house is collected from the rains. They rely on a solar panel for electricity.

When they settled here, the family only had one tent to protect themselves. Today, their home is a repository for what the island gave them.

The roof is sheet metal and the rest is wood. you wash dishes on what was once the bottom of the bathtub; Above the dining area is a lamp that was once a metal trash can.

“There were a lot of hardships, but there was a lot of joy,” said Pauline.

Inside his studio, a tree next to the temporary office is where the artist finds inspiration. He begins his work with sketches on a white sheet of paper. Then she paints her pictures onto canvas with acrylic paint.

For the stained-glass windows promised for the church, she needed a pigment that could only be found in France, so it took her time to get it and she still had 10 of the 14 stained-glass windows to finish.

Boleyn never formally studied art. But her parents had books at home and she remembers reading one of them about the mysteries of the world, which is where she first discovered Rapa Nui. His art style has varied over the years, but the Polynesian aesthetic has been consistent

In addition to his artwork, Bolin owns seven horses and generates income by offering tours to tourists.

Sometimes she sat outside her house, sipping wine and watching her horses come up for her evening meal. The scene could be an imaginary image of one of his paintings. Instead, his longtime dream came true.


Associated Press religious coverage is supported by an Associated Press collaboration with The Conversation US, funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. And the AP is solely responsible for such content.

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