I've been waiting for this photography exhibition.
I've been following it for a year on social media, where one image a day was posted -- portraits on weekdays, images of place on the weekends -- and I've cared about the importance of such an undertaking, not only because I have the privilege of living in Alaska, but also because I have the privilege of knowing the photographer, Brian Adams.
You've obviously noticed by now that I am no photographer. Welding an i-phone at last night's opening does zero justice to this exhibition. Folks, if you live in Anchorage, please visit the Anchorage Museum to see this work in person and read each of the interviews/descriptions alongside the 50 images (out of 500 medium format photographs) curated for this installation in the ConocoPhillips gallery, 2nd floor. For the rest of the world, please visit the I AM INUIT website, where you'll be blown away by the humanity and resonance of this project.
You can also follow I AM INUIT on Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook where images and interviews are posted and archived. This exhibition is a part of the Anchorage Museum's Polar Lab series -- "a reflection of the cultural, political, commercial, artistic and scientific attraction exerted by the international Arctic and subarctic" -- which seeks to connect art, science and the environment through various exhibitions and programs.
Brian gave a well-attended talk on the evening of, February 24, 2017, despite the slippery roads and intermittent freezing rain. Alaskans come out to support our artistic community, especially for someone as talented and -- as many of us agreed -- as nice as Brian.
(Even my slinking-terrified-Bethel-rescued-neurotic cat likes him.)
The work will travel from here to various venues, with a goal to travel the exhibition to other circumpolar countries. Follow I AM INUIT to find out where it will be heading next. In the meantime, check out Brian's website for other important work such as Disappearing Villages and Standing Rock-The Black Snake.
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One year ago on this blog: A history of relics.
Two years ago on this blog: Finer.
Other posts about the Anchorage Museum:
AIDS memorial quilt in Alaska.
Sami stories in Alaska.
A collection of images and words that hum in this after-solstice but still-so-dark season. The companion post to Ice.
Holding the Light
for it’s not only our
it all comes down to this:
with compassion and wire.
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Thank you Stuart Kestenbaum for permission to use this poem and to Juno Lamb for sharing it with me in the first place. These words continue resonating with these collected images, working toward making sense of my work's next turn.
I could just as easily apply them to my hopes for the world.
“I hold with those who favor fire.
I'm going through photographs, sorting them into themes -- Fire, Ice, Blood & Bone. These images and words pull me into contemplation for the work that lies ahead. Some of it is literal, but the deeper work is personal. This far North, at this time of year, I descend into myself. Every time.
It's a seizing, clamping rhythm.
But it's seriously productive.
Most of these images are somewhere in my Instagram feed. Follow if you're hanging out there, too.
The summer of 2003: I was between children's book illustration jobs, doing a swell job of simultaneously fretting about and ignoring my creative writing MFA thesis ("Hey look, I should teach myself how to knit..."), hauling my husband from one fika to another while visiting as many aging family members as possible in a 3-week trip to Sweden, and somewhere in there I was commissioned to make a really big dragon.
The work hung in the Samson-Dimond Branch Library in Anchorage, Alaska for 7 years, until budget cuts closed that space. Luckily, a manager for a library 20 miles away in Eagle River knew about the dragon banner and personally relocated it to the Chugiak-Eagle River Library where it's hung for 6 years in the children's area.
This public art installation was designed as a double-sided triptych, 15 feet long, made with cotton, wool, recycled clothing and various commercial fabrics. The original location was tight -- the tail faced a small new computer lab and the head faced the program/story time area. The suspended panels fit above computer stations and between small columns.
The work honors a young woman named Jessie Withrow who was killed by a drunk driver while riding her bicycle on an Anchorage sidewalk. She loved the library and fantasy books, so we made a dragon for her. When that little library closed, a piece this large could have disappeared forever into storage.
That is the short history of a multi-layered, important story, which involves a lot of people, their support and a willingness to hang on to memory.
Sometimes the very best stories go to sleep for a while, when they have a cozy place to dream. They probably deserve that rest.
But then something wakes them up.
And here's where this piece of artwork rises, after many years, to becomes a story again.
In 2014 I approached the library with some questions -- was there any interest in re-configuring this piece to better fit this new space? If it became a 6-panel, 30-foot dragon...would the library support an expansion like this? And what if we pulled together as many library users as possible -- children, moms, dads, grandparents -- to help make the reverse panels in a multi-step community art project?
What if we unfurled this whole story so it soared over the top of the entire children's section? What if we invited people to be a part of this kind of magic? Would they come? Could we teach them a new skill they could also do at home?
It took 2 years of grant writing, but the "Dragon Flight" project took wing and this month we started a series of community art workshops to create the reverse panels. If any of you follow me on Facebook or Instagram you've probably seen some of the images from these workshops and my studio ... and not a whole lot else. Even the Inheritance Project has been put on hold.
I've never used Wonder Under before. I'm not a super star stitching with monofilament thread (but I've gotten pretty good). And releasing 200 pre-cut squares to eager hands who've never done this kind of work before has been serendipitous and fulfilling.
The third and final "Sky Full of Stars" workshop is on Saturday, October 22, 2016 from 3 - 5 pm at the Chugiak Eagle-RiverLibrary. The large workspace is in the back of the children's area (you get to walk beneath the current dragon to get there). At the end of the month, the dragon banner will come down and I'll take it apart. All 6 new double-sided panels will be installed before Christmas, 2016. More on that to come in a future post.
Dragon on the front, party on the back.
My immense gratitude to the Chugiak-Eagle River Foundation, Friends of the Library and the Anchorage Library Foundation and to all the hands who've made this project possible. I'd like to thank fellow SAQA regional co-representative, Maria Shell, for posting about her experience working with a community on a large-scale textile art project. I'm not going to lie, I learned a lot from her post and you will, too.
Lastly, my heart extends to the family of Jessie Withrow, lover of libraries, reader of books, vessel for deep imagination. Muse.
Other posts about public art:
No. Not that kind of mount -- although it would be fun to watch (and no, not that other kind of mount either, which is totally inappropriate here) -- I'm talking about installing artwork.
Last week, while my parents visited us in Alaska, we loaded the commissioned painting that's been finished and sitting in my studio since June -- just waiting for flood/fire/riot/acts of god/small children screaming past on yoga balls to ruin it before I could get it installed -- and drove north from Anchorage about an hour to Wasilla.
The Wasilla Public Library's grand opening is at the end of the month. Librarians are stacking shelves, carpenters are finessing details and this was the last piece of public art to be installed. We chose to wait since it hangs in a higher traffic area and we didn't want it to accidentally get dinged by tool belts/new shelves/book carts/children screaming past on yoga balls.
My dad wouldn't let go of the top of the painting while we were rolling it in and sometimes it's clear where I get my everything-that-can-go-wrong-probably-will-go-wrong-all-hopped-up-on-worry-prickly-sweat personality. It was great to spend that hour in the truck with my parents, despite all of us feeling nervous about moving the piece, installing it and hoping everyone would be happy after we drove away. We had some good chuckles about all the unicorns I used to draw when I was the same age as my children are now. Thank you Mom and Dad for keeping me sane that morning.
Thank you architect husband and trusted finishing carpenter friend for hashing out the details on the design and execution of the maple frame and panel, which was created as a complete unit before the painting even began. I removed the mdf panel to do the work, then reinserted it when complete. A double row of French cleats holds the piece flush to the wall. The frame is super clean, all biscuit joined with a 1/4 " reveal around the work -- basically a custom piece of furniture that happens to have a unicorn painted on it. Painting, schmainting. This frame is freaking gorgeous.
"Lost in a Book" hangs at the entrance to the library's childrens' section. It echoes the birch forest that surrounds the building and the materials used inside. It looks like it was made to hang on that wall.
(Because it was).
Below are more images from the children's area (note the Narnia lightpost in the courtyard outside, just waiting for the first snowfall). The librarians are all smiles and you would be too if you got to come to work in a space like this.
Lucky, lucky folks in Wasilla who deserve a lovely library. I'm honored to be a part of it and looking forward to the grand opening.
The Ribbon Cutting and Open House is on Thursday, September 22 from 2 - 6:30 pm if you're in the area -- all are welcome! A shout out to Cornerstone (general contractors) and ECI (architects).
I'm about to start working on a big dragon. More on that below.
More posts about children's book illustration and other illustration:
More posts about public art:
Artist in Anchorage, Alaska, sometimes blogging about the collision of history, family & art, with the understanding that none exists without the other.