Tucked into the back of Pālolo Valley, Mary Mitsuda’s home studio feels like a part of the landscape. Sunlight falls through the studio’s skylights like sediment settling on a riverbed, and when winds whip through the valley, passing clouds interrupt the beams and change the lighting inside the studio from one moment to the next.
“I like to see how the paintings look in different lights,” Mitsuda says. A pair of unfinished paintings hang on the wall, and she goes over to tinker with them sporadically while she talks. Part of the studio space is devoted to displaying finished works by Mitsuda and her husband, fellow artist Jesse Christensen: totems constructed from discarded computer parts, paintings of ti leaves in various stages of decay, woodblock portraits of fishermen. But perhaps the most interesting piece in the studio is the shell of a xenophora, which Mitsuda presents with an earnest eagerness reminiscent of elementary school show and tell.
The xenophora is a deep-sea mollusk that moves across the seafloor, picking up small shells and stones and attaching them to its own shell as it grows. Atlas Obscura once declared the xenophora “the world’s most artistic mollusk,” a distinction that Mitsuda would likely appreciate—she keeps the xenophora shell around as a visual representation of her own artistic journey. “I didn’t plan to go into art,” Mitsuda says. “It wasn’t really a conscious decision. It sort of just emerged. This life absorbed me…”1