SITKA — Sitka artist Liz Zacher has sculpted a human skull and the skeleton of a human hand — all 27 bones.
“I’ve also worked on some vertebrae,” said Zacher, assistant art professor at the University of Alaska Southeast, Sitka Campus.
And she’s far from done. If it sounds like a morbid exercise, maybe it should.
Zacher is the local coordinator of the One Million Bones project, a social, educational and artistic endeavor to raise awareness about genocide.
Sitkans became part of the project Jan. 12 by creating bones out of clay, which will be turned into a national art installation. The ceramic bones will be shipped along with other art pieces from Alaska to become part of a display of one million bones across the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The installation will be up from June 8 to 10 this year.
Zacher said the purpose of the project is to raise awareness about genocide and other atrocities, and also to bring people together.
“The thing that’s really great about this project is it brings people of all different walks of life, artists, non-artists and people of all ages,” she said. “The goal is to discuss the idea of genocide and create awareness about it. I think a lot of people can have some type of connection to it.”
A figurative sculptor, Zacher was hoping to get a huge number of Sitkans taking part in sculpting bones — or vague representations of bones — with the 500 pounds of clay she has set aside for the project. The sculpting will take place in the UAS construction workshop off the ceramics studio. No experience is needed, the event is free and all ages can participate.
Zacher emphasized that it’s an art and educational project, not an effort to make exact replicas of human bones. That means people shouldn’t be intimidated by their lack of skill.
“It’s about getting the idea of a bone across,” she said.
Zacher said she first heard about the project from educators around the country last year but hadn’t made any immediate plans to participate.
The Sitka event came together with the help of Juneau artist MK MacNaughton, who visited Sitka on a project for Southeast Alaska Independent Living, and enlisted Zacher to participate.
MacNaughton received a grant from the Albuquerque, N.M.-based One Million Bones project for shipping the pieces to D.C. She also received grants from the Association of Alaska School Boards and Veterans for Peace in Juneau for clay.
MacNaughton volunteered as the statewide coordinator and committed to creating 10,000 bones from around the state. So far, studios and schools in Juneau, Unalakleet, Gambell, Wrangell, Petersburg, Anchorage, Stebbins and Koyuk have donated or committed to donating bones in plaster, cast bronze and clay.
“We have enough to make 2,500 bones in Sitka,” MacNaughton said. That will bring Alaska close to the 10,000 goal by the end of the month, she said. MacNaughton has counted 6,000 from around the state, including about 3,000 now sitting in her own studio.
MacNaughton said that the project is to raise awareness about genocide, but in a positive way.
“When people ask, ‘why bones?’ I think about how all bones are the same, they’re what remain,” MacNaughton said. “It’s our humanity. It’s such a hopeful way to address critical issues. This is such a positive way to create art, to have a good time; it’s fun to work with clay.”
MacNaughton, who was in Sitka to help out with Saturday’s event, said she hopes the project reminds people to speak up against injustice, small and large.
“When you can’t speak up about the little things, when people are being picked on at school or on the bus, how can you speak up about bigger issues? This is a way of addressing difficult social issues, but it’s a positive take on it,” MacNaughton said.
Zacher said participating in the project will mean that Sitkans are part of a message being conveyed against genocide and injustice from across the country.
“It’s inspiring hope, to feel that they have a voice in something that’s so huge,” Zacher said. “It’s a very powerful way to have a voice on different levels and connect to a lot of things. It’s starting a conversation on a larger level.”