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Bright moments of 2010

Posted: Thursday, December 30, 2010

A solid argument could be made against compiling end-of-the-year Top 10 lists, especially in the arts, where hierarchies tend to be unnecessarily limiting. But sifting through the year's memories to rediscover bright moments is for me always a rewarding exercise, and one I highly recommend. My list of highlights is not intended as a ranking of what was best, but rather as a celebration of the community arts scene as a whole, and of the individuals who pour their hearts into their creative work, enriching Juneau with their efforts.

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Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire

In naming a dozen items, I leave out hundreds; for every time I was enthralled by an artist or event, there were no doubt scores of other opportunities (often that same day or evening) to be led in an entirely different direction, equally satisfying.

The end-of-the-year exercise is also interesting in exploring what it means to be Alaskan. We look to our artists to entertain and enlighten, to provoke and mystify, but also to help us address questions of identity, both personal and shared. Often, this process involves resolving opposing or dissimilar forces: between self and other, man and nature, life and death, thought and action, permanence and loss.

In Alaska, our isolation and proximity to the wilderness tend to make the overlap between those areas unusually vivid. Our artists help us navigate these areas of overlap, often by prompting us to reassess the lines between them. The result is for me a broader and more deeply nuanced view of my neighbors and of the place I call home.

Here are some of the things that stand out for me in 2010.

Reading Lynn Schooler's "The Blue Bear" (2003) and "Walking Home" (2010), Ernestine Hayes' "Blonde Indian" (2006), and David Vann's "Legend of a Suicide" (2008)

(Not all of these books are new, but they are all recent reads for me.)

Lynn Schooler's books, which I read back to back, are thematically linked without being repetitive. "The Blue Bear" centers on a binary relationship (a friendship), and "Walking Home" does too (a marriage), but the latter also explores the concept of community, and its power to heal, support and transcend the limits of individual capacities. Through both works, Schooler deftly weaves philosophical and existential musings with observations about the landscape of Southeast in a way that's always graceful, never forced or overly didactic.

In "Blonde Indian," Ernestine Hayes, who grew up in downtown Juneau, describes through personal history and narration how Juneau's Tlingit community was brutally pushed out of balance with its traditions and connections to the land. Though shot through with sorrow and pain, the book is also a story about Hayes' decision to re-root herself, at age 40, in Tlingit culture by moving back to Juneau after a long absence. Hayes, assistant professor of English at the University of Alaska Southeast, weaves her own story into that of her ancestors and the landscape of Southeast, and in so doing highlights the continuing vitality of Tlingit culture.

David Vann, who was born on Adak and lived in Ketchikan as a child, blends fiction and a real-life tragedy in a series of linked stories called "Legend of a Suicide" that is unlike anything I've ever read. Vann's work is fiction, but with a true-life core: the suicide of his father at age 40. He approaches the chasm that nearly absorbed his own life from several angles, exploring possible outcomes of the same tale. The pivot point of the central story, "Sukkwan Island," is searing, brilliant and unforgettable.

Sue Kraft's exhibit at the Alaska State Museum

Kraft's paintings - landscapes, both natural and urban, done in oil and acrylic - combined a realistic approach with more abstract elements in works that drew me back for repeated viewings. Her larger pieces (30" by 60") were especially compelling, and only grew more interesting under study. Viewed all together in the state museum's upstairs gallery, the 40 works made a remarkable impact. When they were dispersed, in October, among those who had purchased them, I mourned their loss, but consoled myself with the knowledge that Kraft was already busy painting more.

Margo Klass and Frank Soos' "constructions & Conversations

Klass, who lives in Fairbanks with her husband and collaborator, Frank Soos, showed her work at the JAHC gallery in May. Klass' found-object mixed media box constructions were combined with Soos short prose poems in ways that were often quite unexpected and provoking. Klass' boxes - intricate and contemplative, yet simple and elegant - were well matched with Soos sparse, mysterious text. For those that missed it, the pair are scheduled to return to Juneau for a show at the state museum in 2012.

Canadian anthropologist Dr. Marie-Francoise Guédon's lecture at the State Historical Library

Guédon's talk was for me a fascinating introduction to the significant impact her mentor, the anthropologist Frederica de Laguna, made on the Yakutat Tlingit in documenting and helping to sustain their cultural traditions. In speaking about the release of the second edition of Frederica de Laguna's masterwork, "Under Mount Saint Elias: The history and culture of the Yakutat Tlingit," Guédon described de Laguna's wholehearted personal and professional commitment to the project, and the ways she was able to create a true cultural bridge.

Christy Namee Eriksen's reading of her poem, "Juneau girls do it in the Rain"

The first Poetry in the Parks event, organized by Juneau Parks and Recreation director Marc Matsil and others, was held in July at Project Playground, and included readings from well known writers Ishmael Hope, Richard Dauenhauer and Jen Vernon. Eriksen's vibrant reading of her poem was mesmerizing and unforgettable.

This year the poet also made huge contributions in incorporating poetry into the community on a regular basis: She runs a haiku stand outside the Canvas community Art Studio and Gallery on Tuesdays during the lunch hour, and has organized a monthly poetry slam every third Friday of the month, also at the Canvas.

Aaron Elmore performing as Cyrano de Bergerac

Theatre in the Rough's production of "Cyrano," directed by Katie Jensen, was an exhilarating blend of comedy and tragedy. Elmore seemed made for the role of Cyrano, moving effortlessly between goofy wordplay and romantic poetry, and pouring himself body and soul into the complex character he portrayed. Jensen's innovative addition of music and dancing between scenes was also quite memorable.

Wearable art 2010, "Cirque de Pluie"

One of the best - if not the best - example of local creativity on a grand scale, the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council's Wearable Art Extravaganza is one of my favorite events of the year. The 2010 show, "Cirque de Pluie," was in my opinion the best thus far. The winning entry, Lauralye Miko's "Wall Flower," modeled by Amy George, was created with more than 5,000 paint sample pieces, and literally made my jaw drop when I saw it on the runway.

This year's show is scheduled for Feb 12 and 13; those who wish to enter their creation have until Jan. 15 to get their applications in. This year's theme: Illuminate.

New public art

2010 also brought artistic creations and opportunities of a more lasting nature. These include two new public art installations (murals by Dan DeRoux and Arnie Weimer), the acquisition of a new Sydney Laurence painting at the city museum ("Early Morning, Juneau Alaska"), a new totem pole (the Eagle totem carved by Joe and T.J. Young, raised at UAS in April), a new artist in residency program in the Tracy-Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness Area (Barbara Lydon's "Voices of the Wilderness"), a new coffee shop designed by local artist Tanna Peters (The Rookery) and a new gallery (The Franklin Street Gallery in the Baranof Hotel).

For all the creative energies yet to be unleashed, here's to 2011.

•Contact arts editor Amy Fletcher at amy.fletcher@juneaumpire.com



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