“DISCOVERED in Saipan, banana painting is native only to the CNMI.”You will see this phrase on T-shirts sold at the Duty Free Shop.
Each shirt is decorated with island scenery, and a colorful display of nature in more than 20 different designs.
It’s not your typical painting because it was created with the tender core of the banana plant’s trunk instead of the usual painting brush.
This is what makes the design “so unique and special,” according to Russel Rankin, proprietor of Top Rankin, which specializes in eco-friendly artwork.
“What better way to capture nature than with nature itself,” he declared in his shirt advertisement.
Russel, 43, arrived on Saipan two months ago after spending 20 years of his life in Seattle. He’s here to fulfill his deceased father’s dream.
It was Doug, his father, who invented banana painting.
“Saipan will always be home to Doug Rankin and banana painting and his legacy lives on through his children,” Russel said.
While living on a farm, his father, who came to Saipan as a Peace Corps volunteer, was able to depict island scenery using only the banana tree.
Russel recalled the day his father came up with the idea of using a banana trunk to paint pictures.
“One day while cleaning, he came across a rotten banana tree and figured out how he’s going to use it,” he said.
Russel said his father was not an artist by profession but simply wanted to do so something different.
His father discovered how the “million patterns” in the banana trunk could be used in a painting by stamping it on the canvass.
“You cut the trunk sideways or in different directions and you’ll see so many designs. It’s so amazing,” Russel said.
It was his father’s dream to spread the word about banana painting.
“I want my father to be proud of me,” Russel said.
With his brother and three sisters who are also into banana art, Russel plans to create curtains and other island souvenir items decorated with banana art.
Russel said he always makes sure to use the banana trunk only after it bears fruit.
Before the end of this year, he said his new undertaking, a banana print shirt for men, will be out in the market.
Russel is also working on painting sets patterned after the banana trunk.
The painting sets can be used by children in school, he said.
He was one of the art volunteer instructors during the recently concluded youth summer camp held by the Division of Youth Services.
Russel also sells “Top Rankin Tribal” shirts decorated with island symbols.
“So far the shirts are selling well,” he said.
Another Rankin original product is “Pugua Wear,” which is also decorated with banana painting.
According to the shirt tag, “If you can’t chew it, wear it.”
Russel is also a musician, and he said he and his group will perform in the next Liberation Day celebration.
In Seattle, he was the lead singer and composer of Indika Mass, a rock band that won a competition in 2000 that drew the participation of 400 bands.