Leilehua Brazing

About Leilehua Yuen

Leilehua and Don
Leilehua and her father, Don Yuen, with kiʻi (sculptures) at Leilehua’s 2005 art show at the Wailoa Gallery in Hilo.

Both of my parents are professional artists, and my grandparents all were involved in the various arts. When I was little, they were attending the California College of Arts and Crafts, so my earliest years were spent around some of the Bay Area’s foremost artists and artisans.

I never was given any of the children’s art kits. I just copied my parents and used their things, so creating art and crafting was just a normal part of life. Kind of like little kids following their parents around in the kitchen and climbing on a chair to stir the gravy. Making things was as normal as cooking dinner. Just something we did.

Although my first career was in journalism, and I have a second career as an educator, I never stopped making things, crafting and creating art. It’s been a continuous thread through my life.

Growing up, I hung out at Daddy’s workshop and swept up, sorted scrap, that kind of thing. Then, as an adult, I started apprenticing with him. When Manu and I met, he also started apprenticing with Daddy. Se we are the second generation to be making the Malama Torches™.

Brazing a light fixture
Leilehua enjoys the interplay of heat and cold, as colors ripple across the warming metal.

There is really no single thing I most enjoy about my craft. Well, maybe when I meet someone who bought something years ago who still loves it. It’s a wonderful feeling that something you created has given someone else joy. But among the things I love: The interplay of colors as the torch heats the metal. Seeing something as cold and inorganic as a piece of steel become warm and organic in form.

Monstera leaf in copper.

But on the other hand, I am actually a huge fan of the brutalist movement in art and architecture. So I love to create things that honor the intrinsic honesty of the material. In my lighting, rather than try and hide the wiring, sometimes I’ll use it as a design element.

I really love everything about my craft. From initial design to construction, to final product, to meeting someone 20 years later who says, “Oh, I still use the lamp I bought from you!” or, “My daughter has the piece now!” I’ve even had people tell me about pieces they have that my father made. That’s a really nice feeling, to have such a sense of history.