Americo and Eva Makk celebrate a career of fine painting

Americo Makk was studying at the Academy of Fine Art in Rome more than 50 years ago when he spied a pretty girl playing with children in a courtyard and was smitten by her gentle grace. Pointing her out to his school friends, he announced, “She will be my wife.”

“They were laughing and told me I was crazy – you don’t even know her,” he remembers.

But upon introducing himself to Eva, it wasn’t long before the pair, connected by their Hungarian roots and a shared love of art and adventure, were married, with a vague notion of making a career for themselves “painting the world,” Eva says.

Strengthened by their partnership, the two hit the road and never looked back.

By the time she met Americo, Eva had a wanderlust stemming from her childhood in Africa. Her father, a Hungarian diplomat, anticipated the possibility of World War II and had moved his family to Africa, where Eva was born. But they found there was no escaping the violence that erupted across the continents.

“Three times we were forced to run for our lives,” she says of the experience that took them down the east coast of Africa, from Ethiopia to Tanzania, to the island of Madagascar.

After finishing school in Rome, the Makks were attending a ball with Eva’s parents when they met a Brazilian ambassador who invited them to paint European-style frescoes in his country.

“They had the cathedrals and basilicas – big, huge walls. But very few people knew how to paint on that scale. We had the knowledge,” says Americo.

The couple’s son Americo Bartholomew, known as A.B. Makk, was born in Brazil and, in mimicking his parents’ moves, painting became as natural to him as eating and brushing his teeth.

“Wherever they went they were painting, so I was painting my own version of Brazil,” he says.

From Brazil, the Makks moved to New York, and in 1967 arrived in Hawaii, where they set down roots. Though far from the world’s artistic centers, the family established a gallery in Hollywood in the late 1980s, and Americo Makk was able to paint portraits for two United States presidents, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, that hung in the White House while the two were in office. Eva also painted a portrait of Reagan and his first lady Nancy, as well as Princess Kyoko Osano of Japan.

All three have won multiple awards and honors, doing so while remaining quite humble and relatively unknown in the local art scene.

But that will likely change soon. Eva said she’s wanted to produce a series of works depicting the history of Hawaii and its people. Meanwhile, the family business continues to thrive, thanks in part to the managerial skills of A.B.’s wife Sylvia, also an artist, who paints in a contemporary style.

Although talent plays a part in the Makks’ success, they feel that their strength is in their family connection. Neither Eva nor Americo feels they could have made the most of their opportunities without each other, and Eva believes their experience is instructive for these difficult times as well.

“Every single aspect of life enriches you in a way, even if it’s a negative thing like what happened to us in Africa. You learn from it,” she says. “If you don’t have love and support from someone you can unconditionally trust, then you can be crushed.”