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Earth, Fire and Fibre opens Friday at state museum

Statewide exhibit features work by two local artists

Posted: March 21, 2012 - 11:00pm
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"LIghtning Dance Apron," a Ravenstail weaving by Kay Field Parker.  Photo by Kay Field Parker
Photo by Kay Field Parker
"LIghtning Dance Apron," a Ravenstail weaving by Kay Field Parker.

In introductory text for “Earth Fire and Fibre XXVIII,” the Anchorage Museum’s biennial statewide craft exhibition, juror Andrew Wagner wrote:

“As the world gets smaller with the advent of progressively more powerful technologies, sadly it all too frequently also gets more similar. .... However, art – like that you’ll find in this exhibit – is perhaps the last vestige of true uniqueness, the last place where traces of geography and individual spirit are still plentiful.”

A look at the exhibit, which Wagner culled from 273 to 82 pieces by Alaskan artists, bears out the truth of his words. The works featured in “Earth Fire and Fibre XXVIII” express the singular creativity of each of the 42 individual artists represented, while at the same time displaying cohesion as a body of work created by Alaskans.

There are pieces created out of Alaskan materials, such as fossilized whalebone sculptures from Karen Olanna of Nome, inlaid whalebone carvings by Edwin Weyiouanna of Shishmaref and a wooden sideboard made from Alaskan woods created by Seward artist Lael Gordon, winner of the Juror’s Choice Award.

There’s also work that is Alaskan in representation, such as the glass “Blue Bear” by Carol Lewando of Anchorage, a mosaic of tiles depicting the Denali Highway by Connie Engelbrecht of Eagle River, and a three-dimensional encaustic and oil-on-wood panel of the tundra and the mountains by Janet C. Hickok of Anchorage.

And there are pieces that draw on traditional Alaskan artforms, such as the intricately beaded cedar root and bark baskets from Kathy Rousso of Ketchikan, the gut and sinew forms created by Ted Herlinger of Anchorage, and the ravenstail weavings of Teri Rofkar of Sitka and Kay Field Parker of Douglas.

Finally, there are pieces that reveal their Alaskan-ness in more subtle ways, such as a shibori scarf dyed in glacial mud by Wendy Smith-Wood of Sutton and a glass shovel modeled on a old Treadwell tool by Douglas artist Rachael Juzeler.

The exhibit, which opens Friday in Juneau at the Alaska State Museum, features work by two Juneau artists -- Juzeler and Parker. Both created pieces that bear evidence of their Alaskan identity, albeit in very different ways. Here’s a closer look at that connection.

Kay Field Parker’s ravenstail weavings

Parker’s work is immediately recognizable as belonging to the Northwest Pacific Coast. She is a ravenstail weaver, a distinctive highly sophisticated geometric style of weaving practiced by the Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian and others prior to the evolution of more modern Chilkat styles. Parker learned from Cheryl Samuel, who is credited with revitalizing the form in the 1980s after it had been dormant for about 200 years. As she’s learned the artform, and other weaving styles, she’s not only forged a connection with and appreciation for Alaska Native tradition, she’s established strong cross-cultural relationships that have enriched her life.

Parker, who is participating in “Earth, Fire and Fibre” for the first time, has three pieces in this year’s show: “Moon Woman Dance Robe,” “Lightning Hat” and “Haida Lightning Dance Apron,” which was honored with one of six $500 awards (for a full list of winners, see box at left).

Born in Juneau, Parker said she was first attracted to ravenstail for the beauty of the form.

“I’ve done things with my hands all my life,” she said. “A basketry class with (Haida master weaver) Delores Churchill was my first training in weaving, but I’ve been sewing and knitting and crocheting forever and I’ve always enjoyed doing those things.”

While taking Churchill’s basketry class, Parker was intrigued by what Samuel’s students were up to across the hall. But she had to wait three years before the ravenstail class was offered in the evenings, the only time she could go.

“For three years I’d been going to bed at night reading (Samuel’s) book, that was my bedside book every night, so I kind of intellectually knew how to do it,” she said. “But that’s totally different than doing it.”

At first she was intrigued by the weaving and the patterns, but soon she became caught up in the excitement of rediscovering a lost art.

“It was something you could explore and develop and learn about and bring back so that people could appreciate it,” she said. “Once I realized that, that was a very exciting part of it.”

She took part in the “Hands Across Time” robe sponsored by the Alaska State Museum, believed to be the first original ravenstail robe created in Southeast since the early 1880s. The “Hands Across Time” robe was ceremonially presented at Celebration in 1992, where it was danced in for the first time by Dr. Walter Soboleff.

Since then, Parker has woven three robes on her own and two others with fellow weavers, including one for Haida and Tlingit weaver Janice Criswell’s wedding.

She’s now been teaching since the 1990s, at UAS and in surrounding communities such as Yakutat, Klukwan, Petersburg and Hoonah. She is also the president of the Ravenstail Weaver’s Guild, an organization that formed to strengthen the relationships between weavers and to help organize practical matters such as supplies. The group, which now has about 90 members from all over the world, plans to hold their next gathering at the Bill Ray Center right before Celebration 2012.

“It will be informal, we’ll just get together and weave together, plan projects, hang out,” Parker said. “Or people can come sit and visit, watch and learn.”

Immediately after Celebration, beginning June 11, Parker will lead a two-week class in ravenstail, open to weavers of all levels of ability.

When she is not teaching or working, Parker is at work on several ravenstail and Chilkat weaving projects of her own. The one taking the most time is Chilkat tunic with sleeves, a form she believes has not been attempted in recent history. This project, made possible through a grant from the Rasmuson Foundation, has involved traveling to museums in Denver and Portland to see examples of the work from history.

Figuring out how to weave the shoulder has been very challenging, she said, as the only direction she had on how to do it was to study the photos she’d taken of the Denver robes, which were created by Vivian Benson in the 1930s.

“I looked at it long enough until I knew how it could be done,” she said.

Parker said she enjoys seeking out new interpretations of the form, but recommends solid training in the traditional styles before branching out. One of the new forms she has developed is a ravenstail hat, woven in the round; the “Lightning Hat” selected for Earth Fire and Fibre is an example of this design. One of the reasons she thought of doing hats was because she wanted something she could incorporate into her everyday life. She also makes round ravenstail bags, partly for the same reason.

Parker sells some of her pieces through the Stonington Gallery in Seattle, but most are created just for the “sheer pleasure” of weaving.

“Weaving is what gets it for me, that’s the draw,” she said. “Sitting there with my hands in the wool, watching the patterns appear ... All artists say this, it takes all your focus and everything else goes away.”

Rachael Juzeler’s “Shovel - Found”

If Rachael Juzeler hadn’t purchased a house on St. Ann’s Avenue in Douglas, many of her works -- “Shovel - Found” among them -- would likely have never been created.

“Shovel - Found,” made of glass, driftwood, tin, fiber and sand, was inspired by and made from materials sourced from near Juzeler’s home, where she has easy access to both Sandy Beach and the Treadwell Trail. The original rusty shovel, used to create the mold for the glass shovel head she created for the piece, was left on her doorstep by a neighbor who found it in the woods near Treadwell, and the handle is made from a piece of driftwood Juzeler dragged up from the beach.

“I have lots of driftwood just hanging around in the living room, but I went down to the beach (for that piece),” she said.

All of the work on the piece was also completed in her home, including firing the glass, which was done in the kiln she recently purchased with a grant from the JAHC.

“I matched that with my own cash and bought myself a really nice kiln,” she said, instead of trying to fix up her old one, which she’d had for more than 10 years.

The new kiln is suitable for both ceramics and glass, expanding Juzeler’s creative output in exciting new directions. For the shovel piece, she created a plaster-of-paris-type mold for the glass out of pottery plaster and silica, and then sunk the shovel head into it and let it dry. The glass, in plate form, was cut into rough shovel shape and positioned into the mold, where it was allowed to “slump” into form in the kiln. Juzeler said it’s taken some experimentation to figure out the best temperature changes for slumping the glass; she wants it fluid but not so hot it puddles.

Most of the art glass she uses in her pieces gets shipped up from Seattle, but she hopes to incorporate more recycled glass in the future.

“I’m probably going to try to work with recycled glass a bit more because glass is expensive and heavy,” she said.

Recycled glass is something she has easy access to at her job at the Alaskan Brewing Co., where she works as a quality control analyst, She’s already begun playing around with old bottles, recently donating two glass pieces made out of bottles to the JAHC’s Wearable Art auction. She’s also been contemplating creating architectural glass blocks from recycled glass, maybe with inclusions of found objects.

But glass is just one of many media Juzeler’s got her hands in.

For her most recent show, “Work,” at the JAHC gallery, which featured the shovel now in the “Earth Fire and Fibre” exhibit, Juzeler created works out of ceramics, felt and wood, in addition to glass. Prior to “Work,” she had a solo show at the Juneau Douglas City Museum that featured large-scale textile projects, such as a quilt embellished with rusty nails, and a series of shadow-box style three dimensional pieces, including an arrangement of bullet casings surrounded by layers of resin. That show also featured felted vessels, some of which incorporated found objects, such as a felted bowl surrounded by rusted chicken wire.

Another show, “Hidden Work,” at the Plant People, featured three-dimensional boxed pieces that contained rolled up segments of previously painted canvas, often in combination with carved or molded wax. Stretching back even further, in 2006 she had “Rust, Dirt and Deer Legs” at the Two Crow Studio and Gallery, which featured the unused by-products from a friend’s hunting trip, and in 2003, at the former Rock Paper Scissors gallery, she showed “Beach Work,” featuring large-scale mixed media pieces, including hand-made ceramic masks mounted on Sandy Beach sand solidified with Gorilla glue.

Though her media is wide ranging, Juzeler’s work is often recognizable as being her own and no one else’s, in part due to her appreciation for rusty and repurposed objects, many of which served a practical purpose in a former life (deer legs included).

Getting a piece into the “Earth Fire and Fibre” exhibit was for Juzeler the realization of a long-time hope.

“I have admired the show forever and I like to make goals for myself, so that was my goal,” she said.

Next up: She hopes to apply for a solo show at the Alaska State Museum within the next few years.

“That’s my far out goal,” she said.

Juzeler is also looking ahead to doing more metal work, and recently designed the trophies given out for the High Gravity Games at Eaglecrest. One of the advantages of metal is that it offers much more immediate gratification than glass, she said.

“When you do casting you can’t open the kiln for three days, which kills me,” she said.

She also wants to keep going with the tools idea, but hopes to bring in a wider selection, perhaps pullies, hooks, or block-and-tackle hoists.

Whatever comes next, its unlikely Juzeler will soon move away from incorporating the tangible and intangible raw materials she finds in Douglas, Alaska.

“I am heavily influenced by where I live,” she said.

•••

“Earth, Fire and Fibre XXVIII” runs through April 21 at the state museum. In addition to Friday’s opening, a reception will be held on First Friday, April 6.

• Contact arts editor Amy Fletcher at amy.fletcher@juneauempire.com.

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