Juneau carpenter takes grand prize in international art show

Walker's 'Lady of the Wood' wins $18,000 in wearable art contest

Posted: Monday, October 05, 2009

Juneau resident David Walker never imagined his carpentry skills would be the catalyst for his grand prize in an international art show.

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Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire

Walker, 51, was named last week the "supreme winner" at the World of WearableArt show in Wellington, New Zealand, for his wooden replica of a 17th century ballroom gown he titled "Lady of the Wood," the same gown that won a prize in Juneau's wearable art show in February.

He is the first foreigner to ever win the grand prize. The international competition is known as the premiere event of its kind, according to its organizers.

"To go up and get an award and have 3,000-plus all clapping and congratulating you is a pretty big rush, especially for some regular ol' carpenter guy," he said.

The experience was a world away from his day job working as a carpenter for the University of Alaska Southeast, where he has been remodeling the student apartments, Walker said.

The show's entrants include professional designers and costume makers. The organizers receive about 300 entries each year and only accept about half for the competition.

Walker's venture into the wearable art world took root from the first annual Wearable Art Extravaganza put on by the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council in 2000. His sister-in-law was in the show and he began thinking about utilizing his carpentry skills for a future entry.

"I said, 'Oh that would be kind of fun to do,'" Walker said. "Wood is kind of my medium so I thought I would give that a go."

He has entered each of the local wearable art competitions since. This February, the council will host its 10th Wearable Art Extravaganza.

"Each year I've kind of perfected my pieces to the point of where I am now," Walker said.

This is the third year in a row that Walker has entered New Zealand's World of WearableArt show, also known as WOW. He entered a piece he dubbed "Prehistoric Princess" in the 2007 show and was runner up in the avant garde section.

The entry was a wooden dress with a stegosaurus-type tail and wooden spikes coming off the shoulders and wrists of the model. Last year, he entered a wooden bra.

The New Zealand show, which started in 1987 to promote a rural art gallery that has since grown to receive international acclaim, is "a montage of theatre, dance, colour, movement and art," according to its Web site. The two-hour show is held annually in September and is comprised of 10 shows that reached a live audience of about 35,000 people.

Walker described the WOW experience as addicting and said this year, he wanted to perfect the wooden dress design.

"I used some more exotic woods to give it a little more color," he said of using bird's eye maple, lacewood and striped-mahogany. "Really my inspiration was probably the dress before, which the inspiration was a pile of veneer."

This year, Walker won first place for the avant garde section, which made him eligible for the grand prize. However, he felt pretty confident that one of the professionals would take home the grand prize.

"I was pretty much in disbelief," he said of being announced the winner. "I was floored. I really didn't think I was going to get anywhere close. I was hoping to place."

Walker won $25,000 New Zealand dollars between the two prizes, about $18,000 U.S. dollars. The dress also will be used in future WOW events and will periodically placed on display in a small museum in Nelson, New Zealand.

"If you actually win a section or win first place in one of the prizes you pretty much have to sign your garment over to get that prize, which is great," he said.

Walker is not sure what his next wearable art project will be but he said he really enjoys the WOW organizers and the friendly artists that participate.

"I look at it at this point like, 'Well I just won the top award of the whole show so the pressure is off,'" he said. "Now I can just put in whatever, as long as it gets accepted."

• Contact reporter Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or e-mail eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.

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