Sunlight is destroying Native art collection

Expert says pieces in airport gallery could be ruined in five years

Posted: Monday, April 02, 2007

ANCHORAGE - After three years in a light-saturated airport gallery, one of the state's most important collections of contemporary Alaska Native art is rapidly deteriorating because of sun damage.

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Some Native artists represented in the collection worry their works, made of natural materials and dyes, won't be moved quickly enough from the mezzanine at the Stevens International Airport.

The 150-piece collection includes a floor-length Tlingit ceremonial garment, featuring a 2-foot-high raven painstakingly shaped from tiny glass beads. Other works include Inupiat etched ivory tusks, Cup'ig beach grass baskets and a Tlingit carved canoe paddle. Many of the state's most renowned artists are represented, as well as those from remote villages who had never shown their art publicly before.

The state conservator reported in January that the pieces could be ruined within five years if they are not relocated or protected.

"It's unfortunate they picked a really sensitive collection ... and then brought it into a location with a lot of daylight on it, which will cause it to deteriorate more rapidly than it should," said Scott Carrlee, conservator and curator for Alaska State Museums.

Airport officials said they are committed to protecting the pieces, but aren't sure yet how to do it.

"There's a real challenge here," said Rich Wilson, the airport's development director. "We will resolve it."

Wilson said an Airport Art Committee will rely on experts from the state arts council and arts community to help them understand the airport's options.

Wilson said the mezzanine gallery design was a response to complaints from passengers who wanted to see the art collection all in one place. The goal, he said, was to create a high-quality presentation that didn't interfere with passenger traffic.

Some Native artists are baffled as to why their art was placed in the path of direct sunlight.

"Everybody knows you don't put art in front of windows. It's just common sense," said Delores Sloan, an Athabascan artist from Fairbanks who has a beaded baby belt in the airport collection. "I wouldn't put baskets in the sun, or any beadwork, or anything that I treasure."

Alaska Native artists are particularly concerned about the fate of this collection. Some of the work is ceremonial or spiritual in nature, and some of the artists have since died.

The Native art collection at the airport was started in the late 1980s as part of the airport's Percent for Art obligation. Under state law, public construction projects of $250,000 or more must set aside 1 percent of the project's cost for public art.

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