FAIRBANKS — Landing a grant from the Rasmuson Foundation is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many artists. So when Annie Duffy learned last month that she’d claimed her second award from the philanthropic organization, she knew how meaningful it was.
The Fairbanks sculptor’s most recent honor is an $18,000 fellowship from the Anchorage-based foundation, funding that will allow her to upgrade her studio and work to establish connections outside Alaska. Duffy, 38, hopes to use it as a momentum boost for her growing career.
“It’s really, really wonderful,” she said. “It’s one of the few awards out there an artist can specifically use to support their work.”
The Rasmuson fellowship is a big deal for Alaskan artists, including Duffy, an adjunct art professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She said it takes a bit of everything for most artists in the state to sustain a commercial career — including teaching, art sales and outside support.
“I’m just one of those working artists, plugging away,” she said.
Duffy has spent two decades developing her artistic skills. The West Valley High School graduate received an art degree from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and later attended graduate school at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y. Along the way, she’s shown her work in about 40 solo and group exhibitions.
Duffy has developed a reputation as an innovative sculptor, with a growing niche in the art world that combines the practical and abstract. Inspired by the Alaska Native tradition of gut-skin sewing, Duffy makes opaque vessels constructed from paper fiber in a mold, with added layers of paper painstakingly added a scrap at a time.
“I like the process very much — I find it very meditative and just interesting to do,” she said.
Duffy’s sculpture is full of subtle contradictions. Her paper-based vessels look delicate, but are actually pliable and sturdy. She likes the thought that they can be functional, although they aren’t designed to hold things. She said their creation is probably more about science than art.
Duffy said she’s particularly inspired by her Alaska surroundings — ravens, snow and animal tracks.
“I’m really interested in light — the quality of light is so important up here,” she said.
David Mollett, a University of Alaska Fairbanks associate art professor and owner of Well Street Gallery, is an admirer. Mollett has followed Duffy’s work since she was a teenager, watching her evolve from primarily a painter to an artist more known for abstract sculptures.
Duffy will launch a show at Well Street on June 6, displaying a combination of paintings and sculpture. Mollett said Duffy’s work stands out because of its beauty — a reaction abstract work doesn’t always invite, he admits.
“A lot of work done in that area is not that much fun to look at,” Mollett said. “Her work is very attractive.”
With her fellowship from the Rasmuson Foundation, Duffy plans to pursue exhibits of her work in Seattle, California and Canada, with hopes of broadening her reputation.
She’ll also use the funding to travel to a conference in Sweden on resilience and adaptation in the circumpolar north. Duffy said she isn’t sure exactly what she’ll take from the multi-disciplinary conference, but is excited to learn more about life at high latitudes.
“I’m going to soak it up like a sponge and see how it comes out in my artwork,” Duffy said.