Art inspired by life in Nikolski finds home

Posted: Thursday, May 19, 2011

A collection of art inspired by a Homer artist's first teaching job in Alaska will return to the village where it was created. This month, the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association purchased R.W. "Toby" Tyler's paintings and sketches he did of students he taught in the Aleutian Island village of Nikolski while teaching there in the 1950s.

Tyler, who also taught in Homer and retired from teaching to create and sell his art, went to the village on Umnak Island west of Unalaska for his first teaching post in Alaska. In March and April, Tyler did a retrospective show of his work at Ptarmigan Arts. One corner of the exhibit included about a dozen pieces, including two life masks and several landscapes, that came from his time in Nikolski.

"I happened to notice the paintings from Nikolski and enjoyed them," said Rhonda Ecker, office administrator for APICDA, who went to the First Friday opening of the show. "Two days later it dawned on me how great it would be to purchase them and return them to the village."

Tyler said he was surprised at the connection made by Ecker to the villagers.

"It's kind of interesting," he said. "I haven't had any contact with any of them since I left. ... It's a small world."

The Tyler Nikolski collection will be displayed at the Ugludax Lodge overlooking Nikolski Lake. APICDA also purchased other Nikolski work Tyler had but did not show. Tyler has loaned Ecker his color slides of his time there to scan and share with the villagers. Tyler also did a genealogy of the villagers he knew then, and that will be reproduced as well.

Tyler taught students in first to sixth grade, so the students he taught then would now be in their 60s and 70s. He's identified the students he illustrated. Ecker said the lodge hopes to hold a community potluck once the exhibit is hung.

"I'm really excited to see how many people recognize themselves," she said.

"It's kind of fun," Tyler said. "I might even go back out there and revisit."

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.

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