Hi, my name is Elizabeth Freeman.
I’d love to tell you the story of the Festival of Lights.
I’m an artist and designer and a resident of Kauai. I founded the Festival of Lights in 1997 and have art-directed and produced the event with a small army of volunteers ever since.
First, a bit of history…
For 18 years (from 1978 – 1995) Auntie Josie Chansky turned her Kapa’a, Kauai home into a Holiday Delight! What made it so special was that Josie knew how to turn “trash into treasure”, creating her glorious Folk Art out of what most people throw away: toothpicks, styrofoam cups, flash cubes, bottle cpas, egg cartons and more. Lovingly known as The Christmas House, it became a Holiday Tradition for generations of families.
The Torch is passed…
Joe Chansky died in 1996. In grief from her husband’s passing, Auntie Josie did not have the spirit to continue putting up her display. She planned to sell all her creations at a garage sale.I had visited the Christmas House many times with my young son and was saddened that Kauai might lose such a special tradition. I went to the sale. Spending $3000, I bought everything I could.Next I called former Mayor MaryAnne Kusaka to donate Auntie Josie’s decorations to the County. Knowing that I was an artist and designer, the Mayor asked, “If we find a special building, will you put it up?” Kauai’s Historic County Building was chosen. I founded the event in 1997 christening it “The Festival of Lights”.
Auntie Josie loved the Festival of Lights!
Until her death in 2009 Auntie Josie was there every evening we were open greeting old friends and making new ones.
Wanting Josie’s contribution to the community to be recognized , in 2006 of arranged for her to be honored with a Certificate from the State Legislature and a Proclamation from the County of Kauai.
But Auntie Josie’s decorations only filled a quarter of the space inside the Historic County Building…
In the earliest years my goal was to design a way to showcase Auntie Jose’s fragile decorations…some over 50 years old! However, recognizing that they only filled a small portions of the 2 story interior space, I began to imagine how I could transform the both the interior and exterior environments and create a world of magical beauty for children and families. I began by designing displays and feature trees with the theme “Santa’s Gone Kauaiian”. I had to look at the space with fresh eyes finding nooks and crannies turning them into featured destinations…like the nondescript areas on either side of the stairway which became “Santa’s Cane Train Village” on one side and “Surfin’ Santa” on the other.
With the help of the talented Teens from Kauai High and Kapa’a High, dedicated Artisans and the support of volunteers from the Kauai Community Correctional Center my vision has become a reality.
As well, I made sure that The Park in front of the Historic County Building was filled with dazzling lights. And thanks to the Kauai Fire Department, Oceanic Time Warner Cable, Hawaiian Telcom and Kauai Island Utility Company, Service Rentals, and Toolmaster the Park becomes a magical destination each December!!!!
The Architecture of Light and Aloha
I call my Vision for the Festival of Lights “The Architecture of Light and Aloha.” Trained in art and design, my passion is working with light and space both big and small from the entire two story interior to the tiniest detail on a tree. I see my art as creating a transformative experience for those who step with the cocoon of magical light.
Freeman’s Festival of Lights has become an award-winning Kauai Tradition!
Although my work has been shown through the Smithsonian and the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, it is my annual installation at Kauai’s Historic County Building of which I am most proud. As founder and art director of the Festival of Lights I have showcased Auntie Josie’s wonderful Folk Art as well as designed and overseen the creation of remarkable “Kauai-style” displays and decorations crafted with the help of volunteers to fashion a Holiday Tradition for Kauai uniquely my own.