Getting in a good exchange at the Public Market

Crafts, food, other gifts sold at Centennial Hall through today

Posted: Sunday, November 26, 2000

Whether it's caribou moccasins for a string of dried clams or 10 blue beads for a spear point, trade is one of the oldest social institutions.

And although dried clams don't figure in this year's Juneau-Alaska Public Market, which continues from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today at Centennial Hall, moccasins, beads and spear points all do.

That just goes to show that trade, whether it's 2000 B.C. or 2000 A.D., remains pretty much the same. Folk with a surplus of birch syrup arrange to meet at a crossroads with folk who lack birch syrup, but have a surplus of 2001 photography calendars, smoked oysters, candles or Christmas ornaments. Watercolors, stained glass, pottery and prints go on display. And the haggling begins.

Paper money and plastic credit have entered into the process in the past 4,000 years, but otherwise it's a simple exchange of passes for the Mt. Roberts Tram for burl wood boxes, or spruce soap for fleece mittens.

Jeremy Schader of Homer offers Aurora Essences, "oils to help the emotions and release the muscles, oils for headaches and oils for comforting." Schader mixes ylang-ylang with sandlewood and tuberose for comfort, while an essence like Dragon's Blood from China is recommended for mental clarity and protection against malevolent spirits.

Shoppers will find everything from knives with elk horn handles to baleen letter openers and clocks ornamented with dolphins to gleaming18-karat gold bracelets.

The bracelets are pounded into shape by Maria Corwin, a Wrangell-born artist now living in Tok. Some of her silver earrings and gold cuff bracelets sport totemic designs; others bear flowers. "This design I dreamt," said Corwin of blossoms on one bracelet. "It won honorable mention at the Alaska Native Art show in March at the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage."

Textile artist Susan Sloss of Juneau showed her wares at the Public Market for the first time. She works in silk because she likes its texture, she said.

"And silk charmeuse really takes the dye very well." She also sprinkles salt on crepe de chine so moisture moves the dye in ripples across her scarves.

"We wear so much fleece and polypropylene, that scarves of natural fibers make sense; you can't wear full silk dresses here," she said.

Shiela Alexandrovich lives in a hand-built house in the Coastal Mountains 40 miles from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. Craft materials for her jewelry, dolls and baskets include pine needles, trade beads, shells, home-tanned moose hide, glass blown from Mt. St. Helen's ash and red willow.

"I like the old beads," Alexandrovich said as she wove a basket of Yukon willow. "The colors are different, so rich. I suppose not knowing where they have been and where they have gone intrigues me. And they're still here after 100 or 200 years, which means somebody valued them."

This is Alexandrovich's ninth year at the market. She comes to town a week ahead of time to give basket-making workshops through Spirit Beads, visit friends and buy beads. "It's well worth it," she said with a grin.

Jimmie Wiles of Homer has been a traveling craftsman in Alaska for 18 years. He deals in fossil ivory from Savoonga and caribou antler from a petting zoo, as well as amber and trade beads. He slices the antler, dies it, pierces it and then carves it into pendants with the forms of salmon, owls, eagles and nudes.

"I bake it to make it more inert in case babies put their zipper pulls in their mouths," Wiles said.

Many items at the market are aimed at the taste buds: cranberry syrup, rose hip jam, spruce tip jelly, and birch syrup from the Alaska Birch Syrup Co.; chocolate Chilkat blankets, lollipops and fish from Theobroma Chocolate Co.; and a new product from Alaska Seafood Co., canned Deli Salmon, a Spam-consistency spread thickened with carageenan.

And let's not forget the family pet. Gastineau Humane Society is offering flashing safety collars. The battery-operated collars flash a light visible to 2,000 feet.

Several special events are scheduled today. The Juneau Raptor Center will have its barred owl on display, said Sandy Harbanuk. Santa will be on hand from noon to 3 p.m. And there will be magic, balloons and a sing-along.

A Juneau institution since 1983, the market also offers food from local vendors. Gnoshers can choose from taco salad, Vietnamese egg rolls, specialty coffees, Red Bull energy drink, hot fudge sundaes and almond chicken.

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