Community art reaches new heights

SoHi students seeing stars

Posted: Thursday, May 10, 2001

The greatest challenge in decorating 280 acoustic panels from the Soldotna High School commons ceiling was allowing every student to create his or her own unique design.

"Logically, you don't want to paint each one a different way. It would be chaos," said Margret Hugi-Lewis of Anchorage, designer of the project and artist in residence at SoHi.

"The idea came around the star. It just fell into place like pieces in a puzzle."

Hugi-Lewis, who came to SoHi under a grant from the Alaska State Council on the Arts, decided a star, the SoHi emblem, should form the center of every design. One side of each panel would be black-and-white, and the other would be in color.

"The unifying part is the star in the center. They can do their own designs around that," she said. "The other unifying thing will be the colors. They'll all be the same 10 colors, but they can put the colors anywhere they want. Six colors is the minimum."

The panels all will face one direction, so that facing one way, a visitor will see black-and-white, and facing the other, only color panels will show.

"I designed it and sent (the design) to the school. It arrived two days before I did, so they didn't have much choice," Hugi-Lewis joked. "For this huge ceiling, I can't imagine to have done something different."

Soldotna High School art teacher Ann Wilson said more than 150 students, parents, teachers and artists have helped paint the panels since work began a week ago. Each day, six SoHi classes have painted, and the school has held open studio daily until 6 p.m. This week, there will be open studio daily until 8 p.m., and everyone is welcome.

"Anybody can come do a design," Wilson said. "We have people from Skyview High School and Kenai Alternative High School. We have some artists from Homer who are helping us. We're trying to make it a community art project for the whole peninsula."

On Sunday, painters worked all afternoon and into the evening.

"It's just fun. It's nice to be able to make designs, and they don't have to be realistic. I (stink) at realistic," said SoHi sophomore Riley Kent, as she used a yard stick, pencil and black marker pen to sketch her design on a panel.

Her mother, Lisa Kent, painted panels, too.

Joy Falls, of Kenai, who teaches art at Kenai Peninsula College, painted a series of overlaid stars across.

"There was one of the students who had a lot of stripes, a lot of repetition. I tried to capture some of that repetition," she said. "It's really fun working in a group like this, because it's a really fertile atmosphere."

Ideas travel around the room, she said, and with so many panels, there is plenty of opportunity to experiment.

She said she can hardly wait to see the panels hung.

"I'm so glad they're doing it this way. This is right up my alley," she said.

SoHi senior Isaac Hutchison, who has painted every day, said he just likes art.

"This is my third black-and-white panel, and I've done maybe 30 panels just painting them white," he said.

The panels were yellow before the school took them down from the commons ceiling. Hugi-Lewis said it took 160 gallons of acrylic house paint to make them white. Then, the painters started the black-and-white designs. The painters were to work on color designs this week. The school plans to hang the finished panels in the commons Sunday beginning at 1 p.m. Local businesses have contributed materials and equipment for the project.

Hugi-Lewis said she works in mixed media.

"I painted a whole ceiling in Hawaii for the Dole company," she said. "I made a 28-foot pineapple hanging down from metal."

Closer to the peninsula, Swiss-born Hugi-Lewis was the designer of the 29-foot-long salmon seen each year at the Kenai River Festival.

Hugi-Lewis left Switzerland in 1960 and spent 24 years living in an artists' village in Israel. She moved to Anchorage in 1984 and to Hawaii in 1992, continuing her art all the while. She and her husband, Rod Sisson, returned to Anchorage in 1997. A year ago, Hugi-Lewis and Sisson took first place in the Anchorage Fur Rendezvous parade with an orca whale float -- a wooden skeleton with plastic ribs, which the artists covered with cloth soaked in wallpaper glue.

In April, Anchorage Mayor George Wuerch awarded Hugi-Lewis the mayor's Youth Arts Award for her efforts to advance art among the city's young people.

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