Stilt-walker artwork installed at Anchorage high school

Brad Wright and Tam Walsky of Walsky Construction, steady a sculpture of a figure in a caribou costume on stilts during installation on Sunday, July 17, 2011, in front of Dimond High School in Anchorage, Alaska. The Percent for Art sculpture, "Big Game," by Anchorage artist Sheila Wyne, was fabricated on an armature covered by urethane foam and fiberglass and then a glass mosaic tile skin. Two other stilt-walkers, a king eider duck and a lynx, are part of the piece. (AP Photo/Dan Joling)

ANCHORAGE — Driving a student to Anchorage’s Dimond High School will be more colorful this year.


The school’s final Percent for Art sculpture, “Big Game,” was installed Sunday in the circle created by the student drop-off lane in front of the school.

The artwork is made up of three bigger-than-life stilt-walkers in 17th century commedia dell’arte costumes. All three figures wear colorful facemasks. The costumes represent three Arctic animals: a king eider duck, a lynx and a caribou.

Each figure in the school sculpture is about 8 feet tall. On stilts, they rise more than 20 feet off the lawn. The figures sparkle and reflect light with their glass mosaic tile skin. Artist Shelia Wyne said that as drivers move around the circle driveway, the sculptures have the potential to look as if they’re twinkling.

“The piece will wink, so to speak, when the sun is out,” Wyne said Sunday.

Commedia dell’arte is the name for humorous Italian street theater characterized by masks and stock characters, such as Harlequin, a servant in a colorful, motley costume.

The pairing with Arctic animals, one representing waterfowl, one a migrator and one a solitary beast, began with Wyne walking into the school on a day when she had just heard a radio story that left her discouraged about the environment and what it meant for the next generation.

Inside the school, however, she found youthful joy and concluded that the students would respond to life with their own sort of style.

“And that made me think of this art form of these street performers, who also had their own sense of style and were acrobatic and did everything from comedy to political commentary, and they could they could get away with it because they were seen as innocence dressed,” Wyne said. “They were seen as comedic performers. And that just made me kind of pair this attitude of exuberance that I saw within the school to this old style of theater.”

Wyne fabricated the sculpture in Anchorage with the help of subcontractors. She started with armatures welded to the steel pipe stilts. The armatures were covered with urethane foam, carved into shapes, coated with fiberglass and finished with broken pieces of glass mosaic tile or metallic-covered porcelain.

Walsky Construction loaded the figures onto a trailer for a careful morning drive from Mountain View in east Anchorage to the school on the southwest side of the city. The sculpture will be formally dedicated Sept. 9-10 as part of Dimond’s homecoming.

The Alaska Legislature in 1975 passed the Percent for Art in Public Places law, which requires spending 1 percent of the capital construction costs of public buildings for the acquisition and permanent installation of artwork.

According to the Alaska State Council on the Arts, the goals include providing access to works of art in public spaces, offering a variety of visual experiences, and contributing to the development of a professional artistic community.

The artwork was selected by a committee of school representatives, community members, PTA members and artists.

The new Dimond High opened for students in August 2002. Jocelyn Young, Anchorage’s curator of public art, said the sculpture contract was for about $155,000.


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