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Homer celebrates beauty of boats starting Thursday

Classic Bristol Bay sailboats carry passengers on a short ride outside the Homer Harbor during the 2010 Wooden Boat Festival.
Photo courtesy of the Kachemak Bay Wooden Boat Society
Mandy Gonzalez portrayed Elphaba in the Broadway musical "Wicked."
Photo courtesy of The Hartman Group
Brian Adams: "Basketball Hoop in Shishmaref"
Courtesy Brian Adams
Knot-tying demonstration at the 2011 Festival.
Photo by Jim Lavrakas

We've had a wealth of images associated with aircraft flying our way recently. But on the Homer Spit, the Kachemak Bay Wooden Boat Society is preparing for the 20th Annual Wooden Boat Festival.

There's history associated with these vessels, of course. For most of human history, wood was the material of choice for epic voyaging -- Roman merchantmen, Viking raiders, Chinese trading fleets all sailed on wooden hulls. The battles of Salamis, Lepanto and Trafalgar were all won (and lost) with wood. And Alaska would have been a different place without the fishing scows, sloops and riverboats that served the gold fields and made the canning industry economically possible.

Then there's the utility of the things. Boats made of wood are "more sea-kindly," said David Seaman, president of the nonprofit society. "They don't make so much noise, they don't vibrate," he said. The relative density of wood is close to that of water, which means that a wooden hull is part of the water rather than riding on the water. "It gives with waves," Seaman said. "The waves don't push it around so much."

But the real charm of wooden boats is in the craftsmanship required to make one that floats and goes where you point it. It is sculpture, as the late John Hoover -- a shipbuilder before he became a successful artist -- noted.

"Its such a collection of parts, put together with such craft that it seems to imbue of love of the boat and its owner," Seaman said. "They are things of art and practicality, beauty and utility at the same time. You can get that in a fiberglass boat, but they're more machined."

Seaman comes from a maritime family in Rhode Island; as a naval cadet his father skippered the sailing crew at Annapolis. He's a boatwright and has always worked on the water. "With a last name like 'Seaman' I didn't have much choice," he quipped.

He acknowledged, "Some things that make (wooden boats) lovable also make them less practical" than boats made from more modern materials. On one hand, every part is replaceable with enough time, timber and carving tools. But the kind of constant maintenance required by a wooden hull was perhaps more suited to an era when people thought they had more time for such tasks. Steel and fiberglass can be a lot easier to keep up.

Wooden craft are still working as scows, skiffs and fishing boats in Alaska. Several are docked in Homer. "But there are less and less all the time," Seaman said.

Hence the festival, which starts on Thursday.

"The mission statement of the Kachemak Bay Wooden Boat Society is to preserve wooden boats and educate people about them, to encourage the continued creation and maintenance of them, to glorify the craftsmanship and encourage people to continue the tradition," Seaman said. "And it gives us an excuse to throw a big party."

The schedule is posted at kbwbs.org. Highlights include:

Thursday, 7 p.m.: Sea Chanteys and Tall Tales and Fisher Poets at the Salty Dawg on the Homer Spit.

Friday, 7 p.m.: Keynote speech at Islands and Ocean Visitor Center (admission $5).

Saturday, 5 p.m.: Wooden Boat Show on the Spit, with demonstrations of knot tying, net mending and bronze casting. Live auction and dancing starting at 6 p.m. at Alice's Champagne Palace. ($5 cover charge when the music starts at 9 p.m.)

Sept. 9, 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m.:The boat show continues with kids' boat building and the chance to sail in a Bristol Bay double-ender -- a real piece of Alaska history.

If you can find him, Seaman may fill you in on how he accomplishes the magic of turning straight wood into graceful bows. "The fitting part is very interesting," he said. "You have to use jigs and patterns to get the shape to go around the curved surface. If it won't bend you use steam, heat, hot water -- whatever it takes to get it in there. Every board is a victory."

Champagne and Broadway

Broadway stars Mandy Gonzalez and Gary Mauer will join the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra for the annual Champagne Pops concert on Saturday. Gonzalez may be best known as the green-skinned Oz witch in "Wicked." Mauer has been featured in productions like "Phantom of the Opera" and "Les Miserables."

The program, which is sponsored by the Anchorage Symphony League and takes place in Atwood Concert Hall, is billed as a dazzling black-tie affair. The champagne is served at 7:15 p.m., music starts at 8 p.m. and dessert will be dished out during intermission.

The music will include big band, rock, jazz, xcountry and -- you bet -- Broadway. Individual seats are $130, with tables of 10 at different prices. More information is available and reservations taken at anchoragesymphony.org. Call 974-8668 with questions.

Alaska avant-garde in Big Apple

"Process Alaska," a show of work by 10 cutting-edge Alaska artists, will open on Friday at the Good Question Gallery @ the DUMBO Spot, 160 Water St., in Brooklyn, N.Y.

The show, somewhat similar in theme to the "True North" exhibit at the Anchorage Museum (and including some of the same material), includes work by Michael Walsh, Gretchen Sagan, Jimmy Riordan, Sonya Kelliher-Combs, Brian Adams, Deborah Tharp, Garry Mealor, Nicolas Galanin, Julie Decker and Michael Conti, co-curated the exhibit along with Richard Cutrona of the Good Question Gallery.

In a press release, Cutrona said his interest was stimulated when the rash of Alaska-themed "reality" shows on television led him to ask "Where is the Alaska I'm not allowed to view from my living room?"

Well, this is one answer.

The show will move to the Peanut Underground gallery at 215 E.Fifth St. in Manhattan, Sept. 14-21. It will then be seen at Bunnell Street Gallery in Homer Oct. 19-21, and the International Gallery of Contemporary Art in Anchorage Dec. 7-31.

"True North," which incorporates the work of international artists as well as Alaskans, will close at the museum on Sept. 9.

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

Blog: Art Snob