Art show takes viewer to far places

Marilyn Kay Johnson and Ralph Van Dusseldorp are birders who love to travel in their retirement. They spend summers in Kenai, winters in Tucson, Ariz. and a good portion of time traveling the world. For the couple, they have combined the love of birds, travel and quilting to form a delightful art show held in the Kenai Fine Arts Gallery Too.


In essence, the show is about the couple’s retirement and travel, both domestically and internationally. While Van Dusseldorp, with camera in hand, is eagerly takes photos on trips to Africa, Papua New Guinea and the South Pacific, Johnson spends her down time on the trips hand sewing and piecing together quilts that represent the regions they travel.

“We thought we will just do this together,” she said.

The show, located in the rear gallery, is broken up by the regions the couple has visited.

One quilt that is a sure focus is the “2000 Traveler’s Path” traveling quilt. Johnson fabricated the quilt during the couple’s trip to Africa. While the backside features black and white images of African animals, the front is a combination of scraps of fabrics from her life.

“I see it as my Africa quilt, not because of an African theme, because it was done in Africa,” she said.

Johnson pointed out the pieces of fabric from a junior high dress she and her mother made together, as well as the curtains they made for the Volkswagen Van she drove to Alaska in the late 1960s.

“Mom and I made everything I owned until I was married,” she said. “(We) never threw away anything.”

To the right of the 2000 Traveler’s Path traveling quilt is a wall of quilted squares with molas. Molas, handcrafted by Kuna Indians of Panama, are colorful images of birds and animals. Johnson has used several molas in her collection and designed them as the focus her own artist quilts blocks. In the corner, under the mola art, are Van Dusseldorp’s photographs of the Kuna ladies dressed in the same colors that are represented in the quilted blocks.

The couple has traveled to the continent of Africa nine times and each time they return with vivid images of the regions wildlife, including giraffes, lions and area birds.

“The most photogenic are the zebras,” Van Dusseldorp said.

Alaska is represented in several glossy images, including a dining brown bear, a vibrant Himalayan poppy and a Alaskan chocolate lily.

“(The lily) grew wild in our yard,” Johnson said.

Another far away place depicted in both fiber and photography is Papua New Guinea, a place the couple has visited twice.

They had a wonderful time and said the people were very friendly to them.

“They are just wonderful,” she said.

The large quilt, named “Gauguin Redux” which originally started from a scarf from Marquesas Islands, is hand sewn, hand painted and been around the world.

“They guy has really traveled,” she said.

The final wall is a combination for Van Dusseldorp’s bird, bug and flower photos and Johnson’s quilted bags. The bags are made from various materials and many have antique or special buttons.

One in a series of quilts, named “I dream in color,” is a wall quilt from the couple’s bedroom that is a part of the show. Johnson explained that before bed she thinks of colors and shapes.

“This is what I do to put myself to sleep at night,” she said. “It gets my mind off of what is occupying it.”

“Encore Performances: The Second Time Around” show will be in the Kenai Fine Arts Center through August. The closing event for the show is Aug. 30 at 6 p.m.

“It is a wonderful space for this sized show,” Johnson said.

Sara Hardan can be reached at