Best Bets: This weekend: soldier's tale, bevy of art shows

Posted: Thursday, February 07, 2002

Galleries are filled with art and there's no shortage of performances in the coming week, but one event stands out: Brett Dillingham's "Quilt: A Soldiers' Story."

Dillingham was commissioned to write and stage the quilt story as a performance piece at the Alaska State Museum. The quilt, on display in the museum, is amazing, a giant wall-hanging of more than 100,000 tiny pieces of cloth hand-stitched together by a Civil War veteran around the turn of the 20th century. The soldier was stationed in Skagway during the Gold Rush, and the quilt has ties to Southeast Alaska.

Dillingham thoroughly researched the Gold Rush and the Civil War and constructed a history for the quilt, a dramatic fictional tale steeped in facts, that explains why this mysterious old soldier devoted thousands of hours to this project so long ago.

Dillingham and I are friends, but I am not recommending his two performances at the museum this weekend as a favor to him. Over the years I've seen him perform dozens of times. I've never been disappointed. I can't think of a better storyteller in Juneau, a performer who blends theatrics, traditional storytelling, teaching and comedy. He is a compelling storyteller, but he is especially adept at this kind of performance, a tale that is part fiction, part history, part theater and purely entertaining.

Come early, because this is sure to be packed. Another reason to arrive early is to check out the two excellent exhibits sharing the museum's second floor. Artemis BonaDea's book art constructions are amazing. Pictures or descriptions do not do them justice. The range of pieces is impressive and inspiring. She is imaginative and skilled and this is such a wide-open medium to work in.

Mary Ellen Frank shares the gallery with an exhibit of portrait dolls. Carved from wood, sewn and dressed and coiffed, these dolls are sculptures or three-dimensional portraits of Northern Native peoples. In addition to her considerable skills as a dollmaker, Frank has created beautiful settings - a small overstuffed living room chair or a swatch of tundra for each figure to inhabit. Frank has moved her studio to the museum for the month and will be available there to answer questions and talk about her art.

Frank also is featured in a roundabout way in an exhibit opening Friday at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum. Billed as a sneak preview to the Wearable Art Show scheduled for Feb. 22, the museum show features a few pieces from last year's show. In particular it has Mary Ellen Frank's winning entry, "Ode to Sandy Beach."

When I saw this piece last year at the show, I thought it was a creative assemblage of found objects, beach debris such as driftwood, stones and kelp worked into a sort of funky gown that a woodland fairy princess might wear. I later saw it up close and was stunned to see that Frank fashioned virtually everything from glass beads, fabric, material and some flat stones. A good look at this outfit is well worth a trip to the city museum.

The city museum is holding a reception for the exhibit from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Friday, and this also offers a great opportunity to see Dan Fruits' work at the museum.

Just a couple of blocks away, at the same time Friday night, the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council opens a show featuring the work of bead artist Salty Hanes and potter Tom Meyer. Meyer is presenting a range of new pieces that are not in his familiar style. Hanes' bead work is always impressive. Painters Nicole Lantz and McLean Steadman have seized the opportunity to show a variety of their new work at the same time Friday evening in the former Observatory Bookstore space just around the corner from the arts council.

On the music front, two new bands debut in Juneau this weekend. I've yet to hear either one, since they've never performed, but it's great to see new projects coming to fruition.

Guitarist Ward F. Ward has a new group playing at Marlintini's Lounge on Friday and Saturday nights, offering a range of dance music, top 40 and rock. The group may include singer Angela Horton, but the musicians are still putting the finishing touches on the lineup and they're still working on a name.

The Sofa Kings debuts this weekend at the Alaskan.

"It's old swing and rockabilly," said guitarist Albert McDonnell. The band also includes fiddler Bob Banghart, multi-instrumentalist Eric Holle and bassist Patrick Murphy. All sing harmony and some lead, but McDonnell does most of the singing.

"It's a potluck," Banghart said. "Everybody brought their favorite tunes. It's all got a dance groove to it, but it's a real mixed bag, from Thelonius Monk to Leon Redbone to Mose Allison."

I play in a band with McDonnell and Banghart, so obviously I like their musicianship. My recommendation stems not from friendship, but from appreciation for the talents of all four musicians. The Sofa Kings' baptism by fire starts at 9 p.m. Friday at the Alaskan.



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