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The Brandhofer's Rosendale home has been transformed into a Tiki paradise. The pool area in their backyard hosts frequent summertime bashes, complete with drum and hula performances.

A Talent for Tiki

Tiki takes off in Rosendale

By Karen Angel

Photos by Anthony Puopolo

ROSENDALE MEANS DIFFERENT THINGS to different people. For Mark Brandhofer, Rosendale has always been a little piece of paradise, and he set out to make it even more so. A onetime pharmaceutical rep who traveled far and wide to hawk his wares, Brandhofer became enamored of Tiki art and culture on several trips to Hawaii. "It's just beautiful there – it's paradise – and I wanted to re-create that feeling here," Brandhofer says.

Since his first trip to Hawaii in 2001, the unlikely blond-haired, blue-eyed Tiki artist has gradually transformed his Main Street Victorian into a Polynesian playhouse, beginning with a backyard Tiki bar he built for his wife, Elena's, birthday.

Elena loved it, so Mark kept going. "I made the bar out of bamboo poles I got from Adams supermarket and the thatch from cattail leaves I cut on the side of the road," recounts Brandhofer, who grew up in Ellenville and attended SUNY New Paltz, where he met Elena, founder of the Rosendale Hula-Hoop Jam. "But I thought for my Tiki bar to really truly be a Tiki bar, I need Tiki gods.

Brandhofer has carved more than 30 Tiki statues, ranging from small pendants to 8-foot-tall, 400-pound Goliaths, and sells his creations online.He found a book titled "Taboo: The Art of Tiki" at a shop down the street called Rosendale Wares and started carving — though he had no experience. "My friends and family started donating logs," he says. "I had never carved anything before, and I had no instructions. I just did it. It was an overwhelming inspiration."

Today, Brandhofer has carved some 16 Tiki statues, ranging in size from small pendants and earrings to 8-foot-tall, 400-pound Goliaths — and is hoping to turn his fixation into a business by selling his creations online. When the weather is nice, he carves on his front porch, where a stern-looking Tiki statue overlooks Main Street.


'An absolute wonder'

His Tiki franchise has taken over his parlor, a lounge with a bamboo-and-palm-leaf bar, rattan furniture, fake foliage and lamps fashioned from taxidermied pufferfish that he snags on eBay. In the cooler months, the couple entertains there.

The spirited bashes they throw in their backyard during the summer tend to morph into performance art, including drum and hula performances. There, copper torches illuminate stone pathways lined with grimacing Tiki gods, thatched huts, a gurgling stream, a pool and a red barn adorned with Tiki masks.

It all stems from a creative vision that dates back to the '90s, after Mark and Elena had just graduated from college. "When we lived in New Paltz, we used to ride our bikes at least once a week to Rosendale and sit on the trestle and dream about the possibility of having a house on Main Street," Brandhofer recalls. "It's beautiful and has a very special vibe and aura. It's very creative and inspiring."

After being laid off from his pharmaceutical job in December 2010, Brandhofer started carving full-time, with hopes of turning a profit from his passion. He recently created a website, brandhoferoceanic.com, where examples of his work are posted along with ordering instructions. The earrings go for $40, necklaces for $45 to $75, pufferfish lamps for $75 and statues for $500 to $1,000.

"He is an almost-undiscovered gem," says Michael Sullivan, founder of the annual Ohana Tiki festival in Lake George. "When he finally showed us his stuff, I had no idea of the kind of skill and talent he had. The guy is an absolute wonder."


Tiki transformation

Ultimate Luau DrinkCut 2 cups of fruit (pineapple, mango, strawberries, melon)2 cups dark rum1 cup fresh squeezed lime juicePineapple juice cups1 cup orange juice1 cup mango puree1. Soak cut fruit in rum for at least one hour.2. Add remaining ingredients; serve with ice and a mint sprig if you have it.Two years ago, Brandhofer started selling his works at the 4-year-old festival, which takes place in June and raises scholarship funds for the Easter Island Foundation. Last year, Brandhofer had a breakthrough, selling dozens of tiki necklaces and pufferfish lamps, along with a war club he had carved, and winning commissions for five large Tiki statues.

"It was incredible," he says. "I sold pretty much everything I had."

Brandhofer's technique has evolved over the years. For his first statue, a 4-footer carved from red oak, he drew a Tiki face on the wood and started carving with a cheap chisel.

Nowadays, the process is much more involved. After a period of experimenting with "any kind of tool that could remove wood," Brandhofer settled on a chain saw for roughing out the design and a chisel for fine-tuning it.

He draws plans on paper, measures the log to get the proportions right, trues up the log to "make it nice and round and symmetrical," marks it with chalk lines for points of reference and draws the Tiki on the log with a Sharpie.

As he transforms each log, he too undergoes a transformative process.

"When I start carving a Tiki and I'm roughing it out with a chain saw, I get almost depressed because it's all rough, and I think, "How am I ever going to make this piece of wood look like a Tiki?" he says. "I think I've messed up, and I keep working on it, and there's a point where it transforms and it takes on life or energy. Hawaiians call your life force or energy your mana. I think at some point my mana goes into the Tiki, and it starts looking awesome."

Brandhofer's Tiki lounge includes a bamboo-and-palm-leaf bar, rattan furniture and pufferfish lamps.

The Tiki sceneEven in tiny Rosendale, Tiki enthusiasts Mark and Elena Brandhofer have found kindred spirits.They get together regularly with another Rosendale couple, Pat and Dave Lanspery, who are also tickled by Tiki and own an indoor and an outdoor Tiki bar. “I couldn’t believe someone so close was into it,” says Pat.“We all wear our vintage alohawear, we try different exotic drink concoctions on each other and we play surf rock,” Mark says.Small gatherings of Tiki aficionados are becoming increasingly common, thanks to a revival of interest in the culture.The Tiki movement peaked in the ’50s and ’60s, spurred by Hawaii’s statehood and, earlier, World War II soldiers stationed in Hawaii and the South Pacific who brought artifacts home with them. In the ’70s, disco fever raged, and Tiki died out. Now, spurred by the craft cocktail movement, Tiki bars are once again proliferating, including high-profile examples such as New York City’s PKNY (the PK stands for painkiller) and Boston’s Drink.In Lake George, the annual Ohana Tiki festival, launched four years ago, has been drawing a sold-out crowd of 300. Held at the Polynesian-themed Tiki Resort every June, the event features fire dancers, hula girls, surf-rock bands and Tiki vendors.In regions with a long, hard winter such as Ulster County, the allure of the Tiki bar “really is all about escapism,” explains Ohana festival founder Michael Sullivan.“It’s one of my favorite things to do if it’s mid-January and it’s 4 degrees outside. You can walk into a place with palm trees and be reminded of the tropical vacation you can’t afford. You take your mini-vacation at the local Tiki bar.”

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