Juneau crafters create wearable art

Posted: Thursday, February 18, 2010

JUNEAU -- In an aim to go above and beyond the call of duty of most recyclers, several Juneau artists have taken various materials and creatively transformed them into pieces of art.

The 10th annual Wearable Art runway show, "Cirque de Pluie," spotlighted the work of these community members, many of whom strive to create their pieces out of things that would otherwise end up in the landfill. Their creative efforts raised funds to benefit the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council.

When artist Laura Miko received an e-mail offering a large stack of old X-ray test film, her creative juices began to flow.

"Someone Facebooked me and said, 'I thought you could use it for some crafty project,"' Miko said. "I didn't know what I was signing up for, but I took it and then realized that it would be a really cool thing for Wearable Art."

Miko has since transformed the two-dimensional film into a wearable masterpiece titled "Sweet Transparencies." Her friend, Courtney Wendel, will be modeled the piece on the runway.

"If someone were to give me a bunch of X-ray film and say, 'This is what you're going to wear,' I'd be like, really?" Wendel said. "But it's Laura."

The friendship that these women have developed over the past few years adds to the Wearable Art experience, Miko said.

Another friend, Amy George modeled Miko's second piece, "Wall Flower," which is made entirely of paint chip samples that Miko has collected for years. The piece is made of over 8,000 paint chip samples, demonstrating Miko's love for color. The chips have been cut into petals and glued together to create a full-length skirt covered in flowers.

The trio participated in last year's show for the first time, and they enjoyed it so much that they decided to come back for more.

"We're all friends and that makes it special," Miko said. "This one time of year, we know that we're going to see a lot of each other."

Each member of the team contributes to the pieces and presentation in her own way, Miko with her creative strengths and Wendel and George with their stage presence.

"I couldn't do what they do on stage," Miko said. "So I asked both of them because I thought it would be good for them to get out of their shells. Courtney is this little rough Alaskan girl who hikes and wears pants all the time so it's good for her to show off her runner's legs."

"The crowd is really awesome for scared people," Wendel said. "You could fall and they would still scream for you."

Miko has retained some creative control over her pieces, but she has also heavily involved Wendel and George in the process.

"The nice thing about Laura having us be a really big part of it is that we're really comfortable," Wendel said.

"It's the whole kaboodle," Miko said. "The shoes, outfit, hair and makeup-we all talk about everything because we all want everything to be perfect."

Miko said she enjoys working on two pieces at once because she can move between them and avoid burnout. The creative outlet also helps her to stay productive during winter months.

"Especially in Juneau, you get antsy pants this time of year," Miko said. "It's perfectly timed because you have all winter to be cooped up inside and work. Wearable art is a good way to do something with my hands and get into the community."

Following the Juneau event, Miko's pieces will be shipped to Anchorage to be shown at the Alaska Fiber Festival in March. For some artists, the wearable art process is an individual journey of creativity until they hit the runway modeling their own pieces. Amy Dressel has participated in all but one of Juneau's shows and usually models her work.

"It's kind of like you're being somebody else on stage," Dressel said.

Dressel's pieces usually consist of recycled items. Over the years she has formed fashion from sticky notes, discarded CDs and bottle tops.

This year, her materials came from a found box of Lisa Murkowski campaign materials including stickers, balloons and posters. In light of this year's theme, "Cirque de Pluie," Dressel created a raingear ensemble out of the campaign odds and ends.

"I just do it for fun," Dressel said. "I like being able to take stuff that would normally be trash, alter it a little bit and make something that's fun."

Dressel, a former arts council member, enjoys being a part of the fundraiser and feeding off the creativity of other participants.

"Some people seriously spend an entire year working on it, so it's cool to see their efforts," Dressel said. "'Wow, you took blank and made it into that?' People just get so creative."

Kathryn Grant Griffin first created a wearable art piece in Ketchikan's show several years ago, and after she moved to Juneau the trend continued.

"Every year I've done something I've never done before, whether it's a new design, a new pattern or something else that I've never tried before," Griffin said.

Each of her pieces has contained a woven element in the traditional Raven's Tail weaving style. This year she wove a wool shawl that she will model on the runway, also donning felted flowers for embellishment.

Raven's Tail weaving requires a good deal of planning and graphing designs out ahead of time.

"I need a calculator, graph paper and a pencil with a big eraser," Griffin said. "The very first weavers didn't have that. They must have been very mathematical thinkers in order to get their patterns to come out as perfectly as they did."

Griffin spun her own yarn, called warp, out of bulk merino wool she purchased online. The spinning process took her much of the summer and she began weaving in September, working "an hour here, an hour there, or a whole day here and there."

Griffin enjoys the challenge of each wearable art endeavor. She feeds off of other artists' creativity while being in the staging area at the show, asking about their processes and observing their pieces up close.

"It's so exciting to be backstage," she said.

Griffin's enthusiasm for weaving and wearable art has her already planning for next year's piece.

"It will be Raven's Tail, it will be something I've never done before and something I've wanted to do for a long time," she said. "The Wearable Art Show gives me something to shoot for so I can finish a project. And it's fun."

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