My Turn: Quality local art still plentiful

Posted: Tuesday, November 27, 2001

I am writing in response to Alan Munro's letter regarding the unfortunate closing of Portfolio Arts Gallery. Portfolio Arts was a special mix of quality local and Alaska Native art, a balance of old and new, a gallery with an open mind to a variety of styles and media.

While staffing the gallery I was able to present documentation we had on the remote carvers and artisans, many of whom were from families whose names go back through generations, the same names we see in the museum's collection and historical books. Last fall, when an Empire investigative article brought to light the practice among many Juneau shops of misrepresenting non-Alaskan art, I felt secure that quality and honesty would surely survive in the long run. It diminishes Juneau and saddens me to see Portfolio Arts close, especially in consideration that the minor downturn in tourist spending that our community has grown to depend on was a cause for the end of a long tradition of excellence. It remains to be seen what effects a more drastic reduction in tourism that we depend on will bring.

Nevertheless, Juneau still holds a unique environment that fosters and benefits artists. The currents of artistic creativity here run much deeper than one gallery. Alan Munro's show in New York illustrates not only the quality of our local artists, but also serves to remind us what bargains we can get by shopping our own local galleries and local artists. We may be a small town but our art scene is big time. Our art shows are well attended and people here buy original art. We have new artists emerging every year as Juneau students take a high proportion of statewide art honors. In every household I have visited in my year here, I see original art on the walls, a mirror of the beauty that surrounds us everywhere. Just having been here over a year now I still notice the prevalence of quality art here in Juneau.

I look forward to more local shows this winter at the Juneau Douglas Museum and Arts and Humanities Council, like Jim Fowler's excellent current show at the Arts and Humanities Council. Devita Stipak Writer, another Portfolio artist, is painting and selling more than ever with her own downtown studio. John Stoll, who managed Portfolio during its better times, has been painting and we will surely see his curious mirth in his glowing egg tempura somewhere soon. The Beasleys' modern treatment of their native traditions far surpasses in inspiration and quality anything you can find at the summer-only galleries. I am encouraged by the opening of the new cooperative gallery at the Mendenhall Mall, and am especially pleased to have found a warm welcome and encouraging sales at the Juneau Artists Gallery cooperative downtown.

In spite of the ups and downs of tourism, we have local art and galleries of high quality to choose from. All of these venues are owned and operated by the artists themselves, providing lower-than-typical gallery overheads, a savings to the consumer. We will welcome all of Juneau during Gallery Walk and year round, and encourage you to spread the word to your own visitors.

Mark Vinsel moved to Juneau last year from Northern California, where he was a telecommunications engineer and one of the first artists on the Internet. His etchings, watercolor and ink paintings are available at Juneau Artists Gallery and at

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