Hangin' around Artists turn works of art into banners

Posted: Thursday, April 06, 2000

Mushrooms in a field of ferns, bears making tracks in the sand, girls playing softball on a sunny day, and the moon takes the form of a Native mask.

These are just some of the designs being incorporated into this year's batch of new lamppost banners for the city of Kenai.

"It's a community project," said Kenai artist Helen Brown, who is spear-heading the banner project for the Arts and Humanities Council.

Brown said scores of designs by area artists, both professional and amateur, were submitted late last year when the call went out. A dozen were selected by Kenai's Beautification Committee and the Parks and Recreation Commis-sion. Now all that needs to be done is to turn the designs into 8-foot-long banners.

Brown said the designs used to be shipped to a company in Seattle to be made, but the company always made changes to the designs, and then would pirate the designs after changing them.

"After their catalog came out, we saw our designs hanging from the lampposts in Soldotna," Brown said. "So we said, 'We want something nobody else can have.'"

The banners are unique. No mass-production going on here, as each banner is a one-of-a-kind original, done by many pairs of caring hands.

Brown said the designs are transferred from paper to the heavy nylon with an overhead projector. The banner material, 420-denier nylon, is hung from from the wall, and the projected design is traced with charcoal. Then the banners are stretched on frames and the colors are added inside the charcoal lines, just like in a coloring book.

"We try to make this so anybody can do this," Brown said. "If you can trace and paint between the lines, you can do this. You don't need to be an 'artiste.'"

The paint used to color the designs are not from your average paint can off the shelf. Brown uses powdered commercial dyes, measured in exact quantities, to create the rainbow of colors needed.

Brown guarantees the banners will hold up for three summers, but during that time, the nearly 24-hour a day sunlight takes its toll.

"The colors are supposed to last forever," Brown said. "But they do fade. Orange doesn't last a very long time -- neither do fluorescents"

Brown said she tries to keep the banners as close to the artists' design as possible, but because of the fading problem, some colors in an original might not be reproduced exactly.


Helen Brown applies fabric dye to a design by late area artist Frances Meeks

Photo by Jay Barrett

"We consult with every one of the artists, so there are no ruffled feathers," she said.

Brown said few people know how many artists live in Kenai.

"There has been very little awareness of the arts community here until the last few years," she said. "It amazes me the number of artists flailing away in their basements."

One of the artists whose designs are represented on the banners include the late Frances Meeks, who Brown said was involved from the very beginning of the project in 1997. This year, her design of mushrooms among a stand of ferns is being used. Other accomplished artists include Brown herself, Laura Faeo, Dorothy Richel, Melinda Nelson, Bunny Swan Gease, Claire Dona-hue, Vesta Leigh, Ida Cockroft and Rob Jolly.

The artists retain the rights to their designs and are paid $25 for them.

"It's a pittance, but it's the principal of the thing," Brown said.

The city of Kenai pays $200 for the right to use the banners for the three-year period. If the city wants a second banner with the same design, the cost is $175 for three more years. After the city gives them back to the Arts and Humanities Council, the banners are auctioned off at its fund-raiser, "Jailhouse Rock."

When Brown has been commissioned to make banners for private organizations, she has charged up to $325.

The actual cost of material is relatively small.

"It costs about $25 each for the fabric, dye and thread," Brown said. "That's our actual out-of-pocket-cost."

But making the banners is time consuming and often takes weeks to accomplish. In past years, the banners have been made in the Kenai Fine Arts Center. This year the banner makers were all set up at a location in Old Town Kenai but had to relocate after the space was rented. The project is now located in the Economic Develop-ment District office, three miles north of downtown Kenai.

Brown said the project is set up so any volunteer can help. She's there from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

"I'd like to get kids involved," she said. "It's a little civic pride and a bonding experience for all of us."

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