The Pratt Museum’s Root shows invite lots of interpretations. Tree roots abound in both paper artist Lynn Marie Naden’s solo Root show, upstairs at the Pratt, and in the Root International Mail Art show downstairs. The shows end with the Root Ball, 5-7 Saturday, Dec. 30, at the museum.
There’s a grounding in Naden’s “Big Rooty,” as she calls a root ball hanging on the stairway wall, with its snakelike tendrils reaching down to the mail art show below. As it turns out, if there’s a message to the show, Root looks at how we’re connected as a community and the stories we tell.
Stories wrap around “Big Rooty.” Naden invited visitors over last summer and this fall to write thoughts on scrolls of rice paper. She created the piece in her studio and over the exhibit’s showing about once a week she collects those scrolls, photographs them, and then attaches them with rice glue to the sculpture.
“I kept seeing story wrapped upon story. The root seemed to be a great metaphor for that,” she said. “… The thing was a monster. It wouldn’t even fit in my truck. It was out of control.”
Originally intended to be a traveling piece that Naden would take to her home state of California, she realized “Big Rooty” had gotten unwieldy. Her plan is to create a similar sculpture and invite family and friends to add their own thoughts on scrolls. The Homer stories belonged here, she said.
“It seems like our stories — that’s ours,” Naden said. “That’s our roots. It really doesn’t pertain to people Outside.”
Naden said she hopes to find a community home for “Big Rooty,” a public space where it could be shared.
“I think it belongs in this town. It would be so cool to keep adding to it. I don’t know who has a wall to accommodate it,” Naden said. “I would keep it rolling, to add to the root ball.”
The show also inspired a discussion where people were invited to talk about the concept of roots.
“It gave us an opportunity to have a community conversation about ‘What are our roots?’” said Scott Bartlett, Pratt curator of collections. “Are roots where we come from or where we are?”
Naden’s solo show features personal pieces that look at her family history through sculpture. The show’s biggest work — bigger than “Big Rooty” — is “The Square Root of 49 is Seven,” 49 square panels arranged in a 7-by-7 grid. Naden invited 49 people to come to her studio for several hours and bring with them an object of personal significance. Some things got put into the paper sculptures, but because others had personal value, Naden made casts using alginate, a molding material. They also chose a color from a box of 64 crayons, with that color matched to dyes added to the pulp. The visitors also had to stay for a bowl of chili.
“People started telling you these stories about the object they’re bringing,” she said. “Create something and have some chili, just have a chat. We don’t do that anymore. To me that was a gift.”
Naden said she sees a hunger for telling stories. Electronic communication promised that, but it devolved into texting and emojis, “knowing less and less,” she said.
“It wasn’t high art. It was more about community and sharing experiences,” she said. “I really like that piece a lot. I could see that being held in any community.”
Works from “The Square Root of 49 is Seven” will be returned to the people who shared their stories. For the mail art show, the artists donated their works as a fundraiser to the Pratt. They will be sold in a silent auction going on now and ending at the Root Ball, with minimum bids the cost of postage.
In a mail art show, the work must be mailed, and the label and stamps are considered part of the art. Naden has curated mail art shows before, but said she didn’t know what to expect for this one. Nearing the end she hadn’t gotten many pieces.
“Then Homer flooded the post office,” she said. “The postal workers were really cool about hand cancelling everything, not sending it to Anchorage.”
The show brought works from Germany, Italy, Brazil and the United States. A prisoner from California, Jack Boyle, sent a work through a Homer contact.
“He was tickled. … Art has saved his soul,” Naden said.
“It’s very inclusive. Anyone can submit. I like that,” Bartlett said.
Many of the mail art pieces were done as postcards, but some included complete paintings. Atz Kilcher mailed an entire basket. Naden hung a lot of the cards on a big sprawling root across one wall of the lower gallery. One wall is taken up by art done by Little Fireweed Academy and other local students.
Bartlett said the Root shows set up some future shows as the Pratt enters 2018, its golden anniversary year.
“This is sort of a ground to that process,” he said.
Coming in February is “Curators Closet,” a collection of pieces from the Pratt collection acquired over the years by past and current curators.
“What’s the value of this to the community? How is it important to the community?” Bartlett said the show will ask.
Another show that explores the idea of community is Sharlene Cline’s “Ties Us Together,” coming in May, that looks at things that bring us together. Also showing is a group open invitational exhibit, “Kachemak Bay 2068,” which invites people to speculate 50 years into the future.
Reach Michael Armstrong at firstname.lastname@example.org.