Wrangell women take a whack at tribal house restoration

Mike Dunham
A viewer examines the housposts in Chief Shakes House in Wrangell which are recarvings of posts done by master Tlingit carver Kadjisdu.axtc, who also did the Whale House posts in Klukwan.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
master carver Wayne Price adzes a cedar plank in the carving shed on Wrangell's Shakes Island.
Courtesy of Wrangell Cooperative Association
The Eagle Totem soars above the Chief Shakes Tribal House on Chief Shakes Island in Wrangell Harbor.
The adzing team working to restore the Chief Shakes tribal house and surrounding totem poles on Wrangell's Shakes Island. Back row (from left): Justin Smith, Wayne Price, Vanessa Pazaar Front row: Josh Lesage, Linda Churchill, Susie Kasinger, Tammi Meissne.
Joy Prescott For Wrangell Cooperative Association

A unusual crew of woodworking women has been flailing with adzes over the past several months as part of the Shakes Island renovation project in Wrangell. The seven-person team charged with the task of shaping 7,000 feet of wood by hand includes four female adzers.

The Wrangell Cooperative Association or WCA, which is managing the project, thinks this is the first time that females have been a significant part of an adzing team.

Wielding an adz is a job traditionally performed only by men in the Tlingit culture -- perhaps having something to do with powers associated with females being transferred to tools and maybe leading to unwanted consequences.

"Wrangell is unique in its community support and acceptance of women carvers," said team member Vanessa Pazar, who recalled having to go before a panel of elders to explain herself and ask permission to adz.

Master carver Wayne Price is leading the international, multi-racial team of volunteers. A press release updating work in 2011 said the arduous adzing process was halfway done.

Chief Shakes' house, also called "The Tribal House of the Bear," has long been a Southeast landmark. It's the site of several notable artistic masterworks, including well-known totems and house posts by Kadjisdu.axtc, who also did the famous Whale House posts in Klukwan.

The house, house posts and associated items have gone through numerous restoration and replacement initiatives over the past century. One of the biggest came when the Shakes Island tribal house was completed in 1940 in a collaboration between the Civilian Conservation Corp., the Forest Service and the local Tlingit tribe. Since then, except for minor repairs, no major reconstruction has taken place to the structure until the present effort.

Because the tribal house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the replacement timbers must be hand adzed.

As part of the project, totems have been taken down, inspected, assessed and, where practical, re-erected. Some may be re-carved before the project is finished. Last month, Sealaska Corp. approved donating 12 logs for the restoration. WCA requested six red and six yellow cedar logs from the regional Native corporation in addition to logs it had received from the U.S. Forest Service or purchased on its own.

The website shakesisland.com also noted gleefully that, "Thanks to a State of Alaska appropriation and a grant from the Department of Natural Resources, the architectural fees are paid!"

Fundraiser for potter today

Kris Bliss, well-known Anchorage potter and a veteran of many Empty Bowl fundraisers, has been diagnosed with cancer and has no insurance. The Anchorage Clay Arts Guild will host a fundraiser for her today starting at 1 p.m. at Little Italy restaurant, 2300 E. 88th Ave.

Friends and other artists "from around the country" have turned out to donate items for an auction. "(Now) we need you to attend," say organizers. "We need buyers and supporters." Cash donations will be accepted as well.

Two novelists talk shop

Two local authors with national reputations, Andromeda Romano-Lax and Eowyn Ivey, will present an "onstage conversation" about their work "and their approach to fiction as Alaska writers" at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Anchorage Museum.

"The Snow Child," Ivey's mystical-realism first novel, has become a best seller in some European markets. Romano-Lax's new book, "The Detour," is historical fiction about an art collector sent to acquire a Roman statue for Hitler.

Admission to the talk is free to members of 49 Writers. A $5 donation is requested of nonmembers. Enter on the Seventh Avenue side of the museum.

Alaska groups finalists for grants

Seven Alaska groups have been named as finalists to share in $15 million in "Creative Placemaking Grants" from ArtPlace.

A press release named Out North Contemporary Art House, the Anchorage Museum Association and the Alaska Native Heritage Center, all located in Anchorage, among 127 organizations in 65 cities "working to transform their communities by driving vibrancy through investments in the arts."

Other Alaska finalists were Bunnell Street Art Center in Homer, the Juneau Housing Trust, the Native Village of Savoonga and Alaska Arts Southeast, headquartered in Sitka.

Finalists were chosen from more than 2,000 applications "for their potential to have a transformative impact on community vibrancy" with projects like art spaces, performance venues, music festivals, art walks, something called "streetscaping" and artist residencies.

ArtPlace is a private-public collaboration of nine of the nation's top foundations, eight federal agencies including the National Endowment for the Arts, and six of the nation's largest banks. Last year it gave a total of $11.5 million to 34 organizations.

This year's grant recipients will be announced in May. The full list of finalists from around the country can be found at www.artplaceamerica.org/2012finalists.

Alaska quilt is in international competition

Who knows more about keeping warm than Alaskans? "Girl with a Pearl by the Sea" by local quilter Sandy Winfree is among 201 semifinalists accepted in the 2012 American Quilter's Society Quilt Show and Contest at the Lancaster County Convention Center in Lancaster, Pa.

The show will open on March 14, which is when the winners will be announced. Cash prizes totaling more than $44,000 will be awarded, including $10,000 for the Best of Show and $5,000 each for different categories (Best Hand, Best Machine, Best Longarm Workmanship). The show, which runs through March 17, is expected to draw more than 20,000 people.

The American Quilter's Society hosts four prestigious shows annually, each with its own quilt contest, in Paducah, Ky.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; and Des Moines, Iowa, in addition to the Lancaster show. More information can be found at www.americanquilter.com.

Reach Mike Dunham at mdunham@adn.com or 257-4332.

Anchorage Daily News