Graceful like a Swan

Gustavus School students assemble a dress for art show

Posted: Thursday, February 19, 2004

At Gustavus School, time has suspended, avian-human disputes have been set aside. And a swan and fairy princess have magically joined forces to make a fancy medieval dress, complete with bustle, for the Fourth Annual Wearable Art Extravaganza, 6:30 and 9:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 20, at the ANB Hall.

That's the narrative behind "Song Swan," the wearable - and recyclable - entry concocted over the last 212 weeks by ninth-graders Elizabeth Barry, Monika Kunat and Neva Schafer, and eighth-grader Hannah Berry.

"We're excited to see how we do, and what other people come up with," said Berry, 14. "We've been having a lot of fun making this dress."

"Song Swan" will be one of approximately 44 entries in Friday's shows, the earliest of which has sold out. Last year's wearable art show, through tickets and a silent auction, raised roughly $11,000-$12,000 for the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council's scholarships and grants, JAHC director Sybil Davis said. This year's auction includes private gourmet dinners and tickets for two to anywhere Alaska Airlines flies on the West Coast, including Mexico.

Berry, Barry, Kunat and Schafer signed up for drama club this year. The program was going to be offered at Gustavus with help from a 21st Century Grant. But when the teacher hired to lead the drama club could no longer lead the program, the kids were left without an extra-curricular activity.

Enter Cecile Elliott, 21st Century grant coordinator for Gustavus school and a Wearable Art show regular.

"I thought about the Wearable Art show and thought it was a great opportunity for kids to understand stage sense," Elliott said. "You need to create a form, you need to narrate and you need to put the whole thing to music. It's all the same things you learn in theater."

The problem was that the kids had never been to a Wearable Art show, so they didn't know what to expect. They also had just three weeks to put together an entry. Elliott secured a video copy of last year's Wearable Art show from Joanie Waller, whose "Anti-SAD Dress" won first place at last year's show. Waller spent the early part of this year in Portugal and is not participating in the event. Her video, though, helped the kids in Gustavus understand what they needed to do in terms of narration and choreography.

"We watched it twice," Barry said. "It was pretty cool to see everybody's idea, and how they turned it into something."

Gustavus artist and Bear's Nest bed and breakfast operator Lynn Morrow helped the kids build the dress.

"I've been doing costumes for years, so I have a lot of junk," she said.

Morrow has experience with fashion shows. She worked in the wardrobe department for "An Officer and a Gentleman," "Caine Mutiny," "Chocolate War" and the Seattle Opera's presentation of "Princess and the Pea."

"They described to me what they wanted, and I took notes and we started putting it together," Morrow said. "If they would have had more time, I would have taught them how to sew and make a pattern. A couple of the girls didn't know how to thread a needle of anything. But they learned how to gold lead, how to make roses, how to strip wire and how to braid wire. "

The dress weighs about 20 pounds and took 212 weeks of Sundays and Wednesdays in Morrow's restaurant to complete. Kunat will be the model.

"The bustle on the back weighs a lot," Kunat said. "It's kind of hard to walk around with it. It doesn't affect my balance, but my balance isn't that great most of the time."

The bustle is made of white curtains and is the body of the swan. The neck of the animal winds up the chest and will rest on Kunat's shoulder as a papier mache head. The detail work includes beads and pearls, strips of ribbon, fabric remnants, aluminum piping and wire. The pieces were sewn together and affixed with a glue gun.

"Just making the costume sounded kind of fun," Berry said. "We've done some drama things, but nothing quite like this."

We didn't have that many materials. We just had to use the stuff we had. It was pretty easy actually. We just found anything we could.

The girls salvaged the materials from the Community Chest (a Gustavus volunteer-run thrift store), the landfill, JoAnn's Fabrics in Juneau and Morrow's collection of odds and ends.

"We didn't have many materials," Kunat said. "We just found anything we could."

Just this week, the 21st Century grant program eliminated some of its state funding. But the Gustavus Arts Council has agreed to fund the group's trip to Juneau. Six adults from the village also plan to attend. The council is also paying for Morrow to attend and model her costume, "Zegraf." It's a Day-of-the-Dead-inspired, one-piece outfit made out of buttons, spools of thread, leftover paint, a gourd and flashing lights.

The kids will also help Morrow run a Gustavus runway show on April 2, a fundraiser for the library.

"I had different levels of hope for this, and it's expanded beyond that," Elliott said. "The kids made an effort to sign up for the drama club, and this fit perfectly and they were fantastic."

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