Alumna Profile: Ayako Linden, '09

Getting her Creative Streak Back

Sometimes in life, we find ourselves in a rut, having wandered away from our passions, struggling to draw from our well of creativity. Then serendipity steps in to nudge us back toward those things that inspire us to be our most expansive selves.

For alumna Ayako Linden '09, a chance encounter led her back to her passion for art, which resulted in an unexpected and prestigious recognition of her talent.

She was visiting Hawai'i from Japan – where she moved to in 2015 – and bumped into her former history teacher at The Priory. They got to talking story and he nudged Linden to contact Sophie Halliday, Director of Educational Programs, with an update on her life and to reflect on what her experience was like as an international student at The Priory.

"I shared that I was having a hard time being creative because I was going through a rough time and was worried that I had lost my creative streak," Linden said.

"We reminisced about when she was a student at The Priory," Halliday said. "I brought up an old issue of the Kūlia magazine that featured her art as the cover and talked about how incredibly talented she was and how I thought that art was just her calling. I also reminded her of the stunning and thoughtful projects she contributed while a student in my US History class."

"Ms. Halliday encouraged me to get back to doing art because she remembered it," Linden said. "I did feel encouraged after talking to her. Believing in yourself is important but also having other people recognize your talents and encourage you is important."

On her most recent visit, the news Linden shared with Halliday was much different. Instead of being stuck in a creative rut, she had exciting news. Following her initial visit, she'd returned home and created a piece called "Sinking in Oasis."

Linden entered it into the Kanagawa Art Exhibition, which is a prestigious annual exhibition recognizing various artists and media. The exhibition has been held since 1965 and the most recent one received 1,236 entries in four different categories.

Linden's entry was created with egg tempera and measures 12.5 x 16 inches. It was selected from 364 pieces entered in the two-dimensional category. Of the entries, 89 were selected as finalists and 10 received awards. Her award was a cash prize of $2,000 – which she plans to save – and having her piece displayed at the exhibition.

The contest organizers called all the winners personally. "I was really surprised and happy," Linden said. She hadn't expected the call because she felt her piece was small and didn't feel confident. "In Japan, it's very competitive and there are many famous art schools. I didn't attend an art school, so I wasn't expecting my art to be recognized."

Early Beginnings

Linden started creating art in Japan when she was a small child. When she was in elementary school, she was told by teachers that she was good at art. She was entered into art contests and won some, but she didn't consider her talent particularly noteworthy. Eventually, art fell to the wayside as other activities began to fill her free time.

By the time Linden's family moved to Hawai'i, she hadn't created art in several years. She had a hard time fitting in and feeling comfortable at her school. Her parents recognized her struggles and sought admission for her at The Priory. Linden was excited to discover that art is an integral part of a student's educational experience at The Priory. "It's important that the school values art," she said. "I don't think people put enough emphasis on art."

When looking back, she says she was grateful to be in an environment where everyone was friendly and supportive. Linden spent her sophomore, junior and senior years of high school immersed in a nurturing environment, which she feels set her up for a path to future success.

"The teachers are really passionate about their students and actually care about each one," Linden reflects. "There is a feeling of security, care and attention here that I feel some students at other schools don't get. Everyone cares about your future and your success and the teachers all share the same goal for students to do their best."

Following her graduation from The Priory in 2009, Linden attended the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa, where she earned her bachelor of fine arts in 2015.

The Journey Home

After graduating from UH, Linden returned home to Kanagawa, which is a coastal prefecture south of Tokyo. She continued to create art and also started a small business that she still manages that specializes in health and beauty products.

Following her visit to Hawai'i and hearing encouraging words from her St. Andrew's 'ohana, she felt inspired to return to her lifelong passion. She knew that despite life's up and downs, following her passion always made her feel better.

These days, Linden is working on three different art pieces and is planning to take a wood carving class in order to learn how to make traditional frames. She is excited to learn from an instructor who has experience in Italian carving techniques.

She now believes that everything happens for a reason and that crossing paths with encouraging individuals from her past came at just the right time. As she continues to explore her artistic gifts, Linden knows that she will always have support and encouragement along the way.