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Tiny Hawaiian chapel's big surprise: a fresco by France's Jean Charlot

The little chapel above Kahua Ranch features a fresco by French artist Jean Charlot

Above the Kahua Ranch Retreat is a small green chapel, moved there in the early 1950s by Ronald von Holt, one of the ranch's first owners. The quaint wooden structure, built in the 1840s in the now-abandoned town of Kawaihae Uka, has been lovingly restored. Sunday services are held here twice a month, as well as weddings and funerals for friends and family of the ranch.

One of its most remarkable features is a fresco that hangs behind the altar. It was created by French artist Jean Charlot, who first visited Hawaii in 1949 to create a fresco for the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Charlot ended up spending close to 30 years in the islands. "Nativity at the Ranch" was commissioned by Atherton Richards in 1953 as a tribute to Von Holt, his friend and business partner, after his death.

All the figures in the fresco are modeled after ranch hands and friends of the ranch. Von Holt is seen kneeling at the bottom right in his trademark 10-gallon hat; trusted ranch foreman John Iokepa stands behind him; and the Mother Mary figure is modeled after Ida Lincoln, beloved ranch cook.

Charlot endeared himself to the people of Hawaii, and his prolific works are seen in many public buildings and churches throughout the state. Indeed, the Jean Charlot Collection is permanently housed at the University of Hawaii at Manoa Library on Oahu.

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