If ever the statement, "there's something for everyone" rang true, it would be in reference to "Spirit of Alaska: The Inner Landscape," the contemporary art show that opened Wednesday at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center.
The show contains work from 90 Alaska artists in various mediums, including paintings, sculptures, photography, stained glass and textiles.
"I would have to say that the huge diversity of works here makes this show extremely exciting for everyone -- there's literally something that everyone can relate to," said Celia Anderson, curator of the show. "I would tell people to spend some time with each piece because each piece has a great deal to say. But diversity is, I think, the biggest selling point of the show."
"Spirit of Alaska: The Inner Landscape" is the third major summer show the Kenai Convention and Visitors Bureau has sponsored with the Kenai Peninsula College and hosted at the KVCC. In comparison to last year's show, themed "2001, A Fish Odyssey," the theme for this show is much broader and allows the artists more freedom in their submissions.
"I wanted artists to speak to something a little less concrete than the theme last year," Anderson said. "I wanted them to concern themselves with something more internal. I wanted to get at the idea of what makes this place home for people, what is it that constitutes this special place and why do people live here. And when people go away, what is that something -- that spirit -- that lives within them and draws them back to this land? I wanted artists to somehow bring that sense of place to some sort of visual form."
The way artists responded to this challenge was as diverse as the artists are themselves. Some artists chose to respond to the Spirit of Alaska theme in an external sense and submitted pieces representing landscapes and natural settings.
David Mollett of Fairbanks, for instance, painted an arctic scene titled "13th Century Winter" full of cartoonish polar bears, moose, seals, wolves and other animals. The animals and sky are painted in bright, heavily outlined colors that jump out at the viewer from the snowy-white background.
Fran Reed of Anchorage took an external approach as well with her "Kenai Star Chart" construction. She fashioned a model of the Kenai River with fiber, reed, bamboo and king salmon skin representing the water.
Others responded more introspectively, like Shala Dobson of Anchorage who created a multimedia mono print on canvas paper titled "Layering of Emotions." The print has no discernible shape or pattern, just a mixture of bright aqua, teal, purple and blue colors intermingling in seemingly random patterns.
William Heath of Kenai said his submission is a combination of those two approaches.
"It is partially my response to Alaska -- I've lived here for 40 years," he said. "(And) actually, it is kind of morbid in a way because it is a response to the death of my daughter in January."
Heath's piece is a tall rectangular mixed digital and photo montage. The picture is composed in layers of four separate photographs taken in the Kenai River flats area -- one of a sandhill crane, one of the grasses on the flats, one of a stand of trees and one of snow-capped mountains. Heath digitally layered the pictures so the crane is standing on the flats in front of the trees with the mountains crowning the trees. Then he digitally created a night-time sky complete with shooting stars, which gives the piece it's name of "Calling Down Stars."
Although Heath took the photos in broad daylight, he manipulated the colors so the piece is a monochromatic scale of blue. Heath had originally planned to submit a piece full of bright colors for the show, but the death of his daughter altered his inner landscape, he said.
"It is very personal,' he said. "I think there are a lot of personal pieces here. Last year it was more commercial."
Walking through the Spirit of Alaska show gives viewers 90 opportunities to interpret what Alaska means to others. Each piece in the show, whether it's hand-thrown pottery, a wood mask, a woven tapestry, a painting or photograph, is a window into the deepest sentiments each artist feels about Alaska. Viewers may find sentiments they share or can relate to, or possibly ones that are too personal to the artist for viewers to fully understand.
"The artists responded very individually, as it should be because each person feels differently," Anderson said. "There are some very interesting and introspective pieces. There's such a wonderful collection of very, very different work, some that speak to very spiritual things from masks to that sense of the spiritual in the landscape itself."
Anderson is an artist herself, working mainly in oil, acrylic and watercolor painting. She has lived in the Kenai area for 12 years. She has spent 20 years as adjunct art professor for the University of Alaska system, 10 years of which was spent at Kenai Peninsula College. For the last two years she has been the arts specialist for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.
This long-running involvement in the arts community both on the peninsula and throughout the state was useful to Anderson when it came time to choose which artists to invite to participate in The Spirit of Alaska. Several factors came into play, Anderson said, the main one being the artists must be Alaska residents.
Twenty-four of the artists hail from the peninsula. The rest are from around the state, including Cordova, Wasilla, Nome, Juneau and Naknek.
The majority of the works on display are for sale, ranging in price from $85 to $10,000.
Preparing for a show of this magnitude has been a major undertaking of coordination, promotion and general preparation for Anderson, the staff at the center and others affiliated with the show. Invitations to the artists went out in November and the artwork arrived in April. For the last three weeks, Spirit of Alaska organizers have been busily arranging the show. Modifications were made to the layout of the center's galleries to accommodate all the pieces. Then each piece had to be displayed in a complementary position and properly lighted. The end result is an open atmosphere that draws viewers from one display to another.
"It's very soothing," said Ricky Geese, director of the KVCC. "It's kind of a respite from the busy-ness of summertime. It's a great place to bring people for a different perspective of what Alaska is."
Spirit of Alaska includes an educational element that makes it a great show for children to view as well. Activities have been designed for children to complete while seeing the show and workshops for children will be offered during the summer, Anderson said.
The show opened Wednesday and will run through Sept. 8. A First Thursday sneak-preview event with Anderson will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. today at the center. A free gala opening will be held Saturday and another free admission event will be held on Mother's Day. Admission to the show is $3, although Kenai-area residents only need to pay the admission fee once. Admission for students is free. The center is open Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Starting Memorial Day the center will be open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday.
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