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Waimea’s ‘Waiomina Boot’ Returns Following Face-Lift

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The “Waiomina Boot” was reinstalled last week at the Waimea Center in Waimea. The 8-foot sculpture of a cowboy boot underwent a face-lift and repairs for nearly two months. (Photos by Kevin Burke)

A symbol of Waimea’s paniolo heritage has returned.

The “Waiomina Boot” once again stands tall in front of KTA at the Waimea Center. It was reinstalled Aug. 4, nearly two months after it was moved to be repaired and redesigned.

One side of the newly refurbished and redesigned Waiomina Boot features an image of Waimea bull rider and rodeo champion Dusty Miranda.

The sculpture, an 8-foot-tall cowboy boot, was installed in 2008 by the Paniolo Preservation Society to commemorate the 100th anniversary of three Waimea cowboys winning the national steer roping championship in 1908 at the Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo in Wyoming, which is “Waiomina” in Hawaiian. The three paniolo — Archie Ka’au’a, Jack Low and Ikua Purdy — won first, third and sixth places in the event.

The achievement, which elevated Hawaiian cowboys in the worldview, was celebrated in 2008 during the Great Waiomina Centennial Celebration.

The boot was originally designed by cowboy artist Ross Lampshire, a frequent visitor to Hawai‘i, and has weathered the Waimea rains since being installed. But after 14 years, it was in need of a face-lift.

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There were cracks in the fiberglass and its colorful images had faded. The clearcoat also had detached from the painting, allowing water to get inside.

So, Pat and Billy Bergin, founding members of the Paniolo Preservation Society, commissioned local artist Patrick Ching, known for his intricate paintings of birds and other wildlife and large-scale public murals, to redesign the boot. Ching was assisted by local paniolo David Benevides, who repaired the sculpture and prepared it for painting.

According to Pat Bergin, the newly refurbished boot features a “Hawaiianized” design that highlights two Waimea rodeo champions. Ching said the two paniolo honored in the new painting are Dusty Miranda and the late Holī Bergin.

Miranda is a local bull rider who rode in Cheyanne as well as in many states and throughout the Hawaiian Islands, Ching told Big Island Now in an email. The painting of Miranda on one side of the boot was inspired by a photo by Chuck McKeand of the cowboy riding a bull named Arthur at Parker Ranch Arena.

“We rode bulls together on all islands,” Ching said, adding that he later became a rodeo clown, but Miranda continued to win rodeos. “He was our hero, and always with class.”

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The other side of the newly redesigned boot features a painting of Holī Bergin roping a calf from his horse Sugar. The painting was inspired by a photograph by Christy Lassiter.

“It is a strong image with lots of actions going on at once,” Ching said.

He might have been the lead artist on the project, but Ching said there were about 20 people who put some strokes of aloha on the boot. Contributors included some artists from ranches in the Waimea area who helped paint their brand on the boot.

“If they want to put some strokes in, I tell them to make like they are cooking for family,” he said. “The main thing to add to your brush strokes is love.”

There was one artist Ching and Pat Bergin both mentioned who stepped up to put in extra time and effort on the boot’s redesign.

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“The one who contributed the most is Tom Mehau, who spent many days working on leather and the blue palaka fabric design on the toe and heel of the boot,” Ching said.

The refurbishment was also aided by Hawai‘i Fire Department Battalion Chief Bill Bergin, son of Pat and Billy Bergin, who spearheaded the project. Moving the boot took skill and finesse to ensure it arrived in pristine condition, Pat Bergin said. Bill Bergin was assisted in doing so by his father; son, Keli‘i Bergin; brother-in-law, Terry Sudlow; and Keli‘i Bergin’s friend, Spencer Hess.

“We also want to express our appreciation to prominent artist Harry Wishard for allowing us to host a celebratory event at Wishard Art Gallery after the boot was in place,” Pat Bergin told Big Island Now in an email.

She said the Paniolo Preservation Society has welcomed the newly redesigned boot positively and with a renewed enthusiasm. The society played a major part in moving the project to fruition, including tremendous support from its president Joan Greenwell Anderson.

She hopes the Waimea community gets a sense of pride and appreciation for Western art in public places when they see the boot and residents can reflect on how fortunate they are to live in a community that takes pride in its paniolo heritage.

“It preserves history of the cowboy culture for generations to come,” Pat Bergin said. “It helps educate young people about the values the cowboy community has lived by throughout their lives.”

Ching echoed those comments.

“Whenever I do a work of public art, I constantly think of the people who live in the town and hope I can paint something that they will enjoy,” he said. “I really hope folks feel good when they see the art, and proud of the paniolo of Hawai‘i Island.”

While there are many factors that can affect the duration of an art piece in full Waimea weather, those involved with the boot’s face-lift hope the sculpture will endure the test of time.

“We hope that with new applications of the art and preservation elements it will last far longer than the previous boot’s 14 years,” Pat Bergin said.

Ching is also committed to caring for a piece of Waimea’s history.

“I consulted with mural restoration experts to use the materials I believe are the best,” he said. “I do pledge to help maintain the art as long as I am able.”

And for those interested in helping preserve Waimea’s cowboy heritage, there will be more opportunities.

Pat Bergin said the Paniolo Preservation Society is planning the return of its Heritage Fundraising Dinner, which has been on hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year’s event is scheduled for Oct. 29 at Pukalani Stables.

“We invite everyone interested in preserving the cowboy culture in Hawai‘i to join us for a fun evening of food, auction and dancing,” she said.

Nathan Christophel
Nathan Christophel has more than 20 years of experience in journalism, starting out as a reporter and working his way up to become a copy editor and page designer, most recently at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald in Hilo.
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