Inheritance: makers. memory. myth. was accepted as part of the Alaska State Museum's Solo Exhibition Series, so after finishing at the Anchorage Museum this summer, it re-opened on December 7 in Juneau. I was able to travel there and help install the final tricky pieces, attend the opening with my family and conduct 2 youth workshops. It was so outstanding to see the work in a completely different venue, have a deeper understanding of the process and feel like there's a burnish on the work that comes from the privilege of installing it twice. There are 12 pieces in this body of work, one has sold and will be leaving the collection for its new home in Los Angeles.
I've only been to Juneau a handful of times, but never in the winter. These photos were taken at about 4:30 in the evening...not much different than Anchorage in terms of light this time of year, but for those of you at a lower latitude it might take some getting used to. The bright gallery was a welcome sight.
Some pieces were hung differently in this space.
Others were hung the same.
It still took several hands to install "River," which is 21 feet long.
I gave a talk and slide show on the evening of the opening about personal history, process and my cultural relationship to materials. I don't have a video of this, but I gave a recorded interview you can listen to here. You can also read a version on the Hand/Eye Magazine blog.
I'm excited to share news that the piece, "Descent," (below) was recently accepted into Fiber Art Now's Excellence in Fibers IV in the "Sculptural Works" category. The Anchorage Museum built the beautiful custom light table for it, featuring a diamond-shaped plexiglass window that fits perfectly below the sheer portions of the piece. The electrical cord is brilliantly hidden in the table leg.
Lastly, I led 2 fabulous (and hilarious) kid-filled workshops at the State Museum where we worked with old linens and inserted our own designs and embroideries into the existing handwork, making this old cloth 100% rescued and 100% our own. Their enthusiasm was over-the-top fun to be with.
My gratitude to the many, many people who came together and made this second exhibition and the pieces within it possible. I'm fully aware my work would not exist in this form without the generous donations of rescued or abandoned women's handwork. While the majority of the makers are Unknown and much of their work has gone uncelebrated, I love to think the hours they spent in the making way back when kept those mothers, aunts and grandmothers grounded and sane. I know it's done this for me.
This post is going out right before this exhibition wraps up on February 9, 2019. We'd love for it to come to a venue near you and the Anchorage Museum and I are diligently working on this.
One year ago on this blog:
Two years ago on this blog:
Three years ago on this blog:
For more of my work, best to follow me on Instagram: @amymeissnerartist
Inheritance is a project I've worked on for nearly 3 years. It began in 2015 when a woman in New York state sent me a box of mystery filled with linens and vintage garments, and based on the response I received from sharing that story online, I officially crowdsourced more household, handmade/hand-embroidered cloth, along with associated stories. I offered to become the final inheritor of it all, even though most of the origins and makers were Unknown.
Also unknown, was what a body of work made from cast off, abandoned, sometimes-unwanted, or even still-loved-but-burdensome objects would look like. Even when I submitted the proposal to the Anchorage Museum in 2016, I had little to show, but must have been convincing in my direction. I gave up so much control over my materials during the course of this project that it's changed the way I work. After 12 years in the clothing industry, I already endure a rocky relationship with clothing and fabric, but after this exercise in mindfulness, strange abundance and deep emotional dives, I have more ways to side-eye run-of-the-mill cloth.
Yesterday, I walked into the fabric store to by 1.3 meters of fabric to back a piece I'm finishing, found exactly what I was looking for, pulled out the bolt, walked 5 steps and stopped. My daughter, age 9, who was with me when I opened that first box of mystery and there for the dozens that followed, said, "I think I understand, mom," and then, "I don't want be in here anymore. Let's go." So I returned the perfect bolt of cloth to the shelf and we walked out the door.
We aren't snobs, we aren't garbage pickers (well, sometimes), but going through this process has put me somewhere in the middle -- somewhere between what can be and what was, between old and new, between shouting and silence, between the beautiful and terrible, between confidence and uncertainty, between hiding everything and baring all.
And always, always existing in the Not Knowing.
Here's something I feel strongly about: theme kills. Entering into a project -- whether writing or visual arts -- with a theme in mind is a mistake. Themes emerge from the Not Knowing and from probing the Living Questions.
My work explores the work of women--literal, physical, emotional. Theme emerges from stomping around on this landscape, turning over rocks, lifting dead things to find new growth, or investigating why that thing shriveled and died in the first place.
These materials could have been debilitating, or narrow. They were. But roaming and poking at every single corner inside those confines is the ultimate freedom.
I pushed against the confines of form and these surface-bound artifacts -- base items made for the bed, the body, the table, the wall -- elevating and lightening them, while at the same time infusing them with weight.
I wanted to look at things we generally don't.
And open up the process to as many other hands as I could.
I met incredible generous people throughout this multi-year process, many of whom I now call friends. Some are traveling to Alaska this summer to see this work installed at the Anchorage Museum.
Eventually I'll share more about each of these pieces -- where the components came from, process images and further thoughts. But the next posts will be about the installation process and museum programming. There are so many things I've learned that will continue shaping how I approach future projects.
I'm so happy with this work, even when I thought it wasn't enough, or too much, or that I shouldn't have started down such a path in the first place.
I'm still wandering around on it, somewhere between lost and found.
Many thanks to Brian Adams for taking these gorgeous photos, to the Anchorage Museum for all of their unfailing support and guidance, to the Rasmuson Foundation and the Sustainable Arts Foundation for funding assistance to do this work.
1 year ago on this blog:
A history of intention. (The piece in this blog, "Fatigue Threshold," is part of this body of work, but is currently touring with Quilt National until October 2019).
2 years ago on this blog:
3 years ago on this blog:
I've lived in Alaska for 17 years, but I'd never been to Nome. With distances as vast as this state's, I haven't been many places, but hope to change that. First off, props to my husband's architecture firm who completed the Richard Foster Building in Nome last year. It houses the Carrie McLain Memorial Museum, the Kegoayah Kozga Public Library and the Katirvik Cultural Center -- three entities with individual histories and voices that united to create a space of beauty and heritage. We came to attend the grand re-opening, now that all the museum exhibits are fully installed.
This structure, like others built on permafrost, is erected on stilts. Unlike other places in the world, stilts in the Arctic have little to do with one hundred-year flood plains and everything to do with drifting snow and -- more importantly -- the heat generated from the building itself, which will melt the permafrost beneath.
Think about that for a bit, then consider the large-scale consequences. Of course, the most blatant destruction doesn't point fingers at single buildings, but, in part, to the actions of an entire world.
Maybe Nome sounds familiar, but you aren't sure why. If I explain it's the official finish line to the 1,000-mile long Iditarod sled dog race, this might jog your memory of its recent history, but the area's deeper culture spans thousands of years. If you study the map below, it begins to build a picture of Alaska that most people don't fully understand. What I've seen on some language maps referred to as "Eskimo" doesn't exist on this one. And what might seem like an empty, stark landscape is full of culture and tradition that resonates in the various arts practiced by its inhabitants, native and non native.
The work of Alaskan artist, Sonja Kelliher-Combs, hangs prominently in the Katirvik Cultural Center's entryway, with additional work in the gathering room. Sonja grew up in Nome, but is now based in Anchorage. Her work is immediately identifiable and much desired; I feel even more of a pull to it now that I've been to the landscape of her childhood. (Please visit her website and body of work. Hers was some of the first Alaskan art I encountered 17 years ago at the Decker/Morris Gallery when I moved to Anchorage from Vancouver, Canada, and thought, "Hang on, this place might be ok").
Her work still punches me in the gut.
I was so honored to bring my children to Nome, even if it was for a short time. I'm honored they have the privilege of growing up in Alaska, honored we get to live and work here, inspired by land, culture and an extreme, changing climate.
Children who come from this place will be forced to solve problems we can't yet imagine. Crossing cultural divides with grace and empathy is a major piece of their future. Understanding consequences is another. Taking risks is another part of the equation.
Some of the largest storms in the world begin in the Bering Sea, but consider the origins of the greatest sea change.
If you think this post prods at a lot , you're correct. I'm thinking about all all of this, all the time.
One year ago on this blog.
Ice. (Because, Alaska).
Two years ago on this blog.
Splitting open the idea. (The brave seed to the Inheritance Project, which I continue to generate work for, and therefore blog less).
Three years ago on this blog.
A history of chaos. (And here's where I'll reveal my own #metoo, although the extent isn't divulged in this post, and feel I'll never do more than dance around what still has very little clarity for me. I understand so much about women's silence, and am grateful I had the choice and resources -- emotional and otherwise -- to simply slip away).
On March 24, 1989, the super tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef -- a charted location in well-traversed Alaskan waters, a known marine hazard -- spilling nearly 11,000 gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound. Accounts list wildlife fatalities as high as this: 580,000 sea birds, 5,500 sea otters, 200 harbor seals and 22 orca whales. Fishing families lost their livelihoods, many marriages didn't survive this environmental, financial and community devastation. Think about the long term effects of that last part.
At the time, I was about to graduate from high school thousands of miles away, on the cusp of my own self-centered life, with television images shaping the memory of this thing I never experienced. 6 months later, I would meet my husband. 28 years later, we are bringing our children to this place. Still wild. Still seemingly pristine. But probably a shadow of what it once was. We are not a part of that collective memory. Our experience is in its infancy, this, only our 8th season on these waters.
We have been cleaning beaches for 4 of those seasons. 2 adults, 2 kids (sometimes a few friends), a couple of double kayaks or a dingy, and a roll of contractor-weight trash bags ready for unfurling, snapping and often re-use. We've found everything from rubber gloves to Happy Meal toys, rusted wheels to cargo nets to balloons and syringes, and more exploding styrofoam buried in moss and seaweed than I care to recount.
We've also found dead animals.
We clean up trash because it's there and because we see it. Does it make a difference? Not really. This year was our season to leave much of it behind -- our shore vessels too small to safely transport large objects back to our boat. Our boat too small or too full to safely haul objects back to the Whittier harbor for recycling or disposal.
This area (above) used to be a neatly stacked detritus pile above the high tide line on the east coast of Perry Island (outside of Day Care Bay), but it's a jumble this summer -- animals, weather and perhaps other well-meaning beach goers to blame. Despite the sprawl, much of it is bagged and contained, waiting for pick up...but we don't know who intends to do this work, where the money or man/woman/kid power will come from. We've watched it grow for 3 seasons. We remove what we can, when we can.
At other locations this summer, we've been the ones to haul and stack items above the high tide line. These are hiked-to beaches, reached through bog and mosquito forest, spilling onto rocky shores or weather/tidal conditions too unsafe to land a dingy or kayak -- a description that fits so much of Alaska's 6,640 miles of coastline. We've left bright markers (like that green plastic container), but don't know who to share them with or who will see them.
We tell ourselves we'll go back for retrieval. When it's safe. When there are more of us, or better, less of us on the boat.
We've found human forms. Mythical and unreal.
We've found evidence of celebration. And fragile, intact reasons to celebrate.
I've read that the spilled oil is still there, black sludge just a few inches below the surface on various gravel beaches. Of course it is. It has to be. I haven't dug for it, but sometimes I'm convinced I smell it.
But how do you distinguish one smell when low tide is such a combination of the beautiful and terrible?
30 years from now, this place will have changed again. My children will return, or not, but theirs will be the voice of recollection -- so much louder and insistent than my own. They will describe salmon streams filled with enough wriggling bodies to bump and lift their kayaks, family hikes with so many piles of bear scat and obstacles back to the boat that by the time we return, it takes an hour for the hair on the backs of our necks to settle. They see more animals in one morning out here, than some children see in a year or more. Their earnest childhood conversations are peppered with words like "juvenile," "sign," "habitat," "species," "identification." I was still breast feeding Astrid when we began the first tentative journeys into Prince William Sound. Our children are now 11 and almost 9.
Their perception of abundance moves forward from this point in time. It breaks my heart to know they will recognize a difference some day.
* * *
To view a NOAA timeline chart for post-spill recovering species and habitats, click here.
We aren't alone in this endeavor, here or elsewhere. There are a number of other people all over the world who also clean beaches. I follow some of them on Instagram. They are a mixture of scientists, biologists, wandering gypsy souls and artists:
@kittiekipper -- Ghostnet Goods
@joannaatherton -- UK coastline
@kellyalance -- Central California coast
@balloons_blow -- BalloonsBlow.org
To read more about our family commitment to clean beaches, check out the blog sidebar category
Beach Work, then scroll past this post, which will show up at the top.
One year ago on this blog:
Two years ago on this blog:
As an artist living in Alaska, I face some challenges.
But. As an Alaskan of over 16 years, I consider myself one among a resilient, capable, hearty -- sometimes a little scrappy -- population, solving problems with duct tape and slip knots and a freezer full of moose meat and last year's salmon. We're those people who, when told they can't do something, go god-damned do it anyway. Sometimes with a back hoe.
But I'll tell you right now, all scrappiness aside, what sets the tone for art and artists in Alaska is the class act support of the Rasmuson Foundation. In 2016, they awarded $14.6 million dollars in grants spread across various programs -- from environment and research, to arts, culture, humanities and organizational development.
(You can learn more about the history of the Rasmuson Foundation here.)
In your artistic search for nation-wide grant opportunities, perhaps you've noticed there aren't many individual artist awards out there, and this is a shame. Because we need them. Not because we're lazy, or don't want to work (do you know any artists who don't work their asses off?) or because we're asking for a hand out. We need support for the same reason artists for centuries have needed support -- because there is rarely a price appropriate for creativity, and it's easier to breathe when someone's hand is resting on your shoulder.
This year, 450 Alaskan artists applied for this type of individual artist award through the Rasmuson Foundation and 35 artists received them. I'm beyond honored to say I was one of those artists, receiving a $7500 Individual Artist Project Award in support of the Inheritance Project. This year's $18,000 Fellowships fell into the disciplinary categories of Choreography, Crafts, Folk & Traditional Arts, Literary Arts/Scriptworks & Performance Art. While a number of good friends received Fellowships (and Project Awards, too), I was thrilled three of us happened to also be members of Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA). This trio includes Maria Shell and Beth Blankenship and me.
So, not only were we honored for our work as artists, we were honored for work as textile artists.
I'm incredibly grateful and blown away by the support I've received for the Inheritance Project -- strangers, friends, the Anchorage Museum, the Alaska State Museum, the Sustainable Arts Foundation and now the Rasmuson Foundation. That's a lot of skin in the game for something that didn't exist 2 years ago.
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Artist in Anchorage, Alaska, sometimes blogging about the collision of history, family & art, with the understanding that none exists without the other.