Alaska art show juror surprised at lack of Native submissions

Mike Dunham
Kathryn Rousso's "All Worlds Intertwined" (red and yellow cedar bark, woven abaca) won a $500 award in Earth, Fire and Fibre XXIX at the Anchorage Museum.
Photo courtesy Kathryn Rousso
Lael Gordon won a $500 Earth, Fire and Fibre XXIX award for "Endgrain Parquet Cabinet," made of Douglas fir and eastern maple.
Photo courtesy Lael Gordon
Amy Meissner won the Juror's Choice Award for Earth, Fire and Fibre XXIX.
Photo by Brian Adams
From left, Tommy Flanagan as Filip 'Chibs' Telford, Kim Coates as Alex 'Tig' Trager, Charlie Hunnam as Jackson 'Jax' Teller, Mark Boone Junior as Robert 'Bobby' Munson star in the FX series 'Sons of Anarchy.'
Prashant Gupta / FX via Associated Press
A rocking husky complete with saddle by Scott Thompson will be part of the auction at the Willow Dog Mushers Association symposium on Saturday.
Photo courtesy WDMA
Sandra Mander's "White Bird" won a $500 award.
Photo courtesy Sandra Mander

A wordy quilt by Amy Meissner of Anchorage has won the $1,500 juror's choice award in the Anchorage Museum's 29th Earth, Fire and Fibre art show. Juror Andrew Glasgow announced his top picks for the exhibit of craft-based art by Alaskans at the museum Tuesday night.

Merit awards of $500 each went to Sandra Mander of Auke Bay for a porcelain vase, Diane Melms of Anchorage for a small quilt (Glasgow characterized is as "jewel-like"), Lael Gordon of Seward for a wood cabinet and a basket with a geometric top pattern by Kathryn Rousso of Ketchikan.

Meissner's quilt, titled "Spontaneous Combustion," features the phrase "Mama, what in this house can catch on fire?" in block capital letters repeated nine times, arranged in 21 rows. Most of the letters are black on a white background, but each word in the sentence is also given once with white letters on varied backgrounds. (The slides at Glasgow's talk made them appear red, but photos from the artist show multiple colors.) The white words appear in the same order as they appear in the sentence and one word is so highlighted in each repetition of the sentence.

"Any fabric object that has narration in it is always interesting," Glasgow said. He spoke about how his mother's house had burned down when she was a girl and how, decades later, the event still held an enormous spot in the family history.

He also admired how most of the neat stitching in the piece was done by hand.

Glasgow, of Asheville, N.C., is the retired executive director of the American Craft Council. He's particularly known as an expert on furniture. He excitedly described on a project about chairs, "everything from the most modern sculptural chairs you can imagine to country chair-maker. They were all there, everyone talking about the philosophy of chairs." He also selected the pieces featured in "500 Tables," part of Sterling Publishing Company's 500 series.

He said he initially reviewed 635 submissions, from which the 41 pieces for the show were ultimately selected and was surprised that he didn't spot an "Alaskan trend or much that was uniquely Alaskan. It was different from what I expected. I was surprised by the lack of work by Native Alaskans or influenced by Native Alaskans. But that can be good or bad.

"One of my pet peeves is misappropriation. We have a huge issue with that in North Carolina. Cherokee baskets are ripped off quite a bit. It's easy to spot, hard to stop. The same thing with outsider or folk art."

There might be valid personal or artistic reasons for appropriating designs from another culture, but those should be made clear up front, he said. He pointed to the geometric pattern in Rousso's cedar bark basket titled "All World Intertwined" as something that, to him, suggested Native American basketry. But he didn't imply that it was misappropriation; in fact the piece was one of his picks for a merit award.

I had the sense that the Alaska audience wanted to probe the issue further, but weren't quite sure how to put it into words. Alaskan artists and art consumers tend to be more aware of Native art -- what constitutes quality, originality and authenticity -- than is probably the case elsewhere. I can't say that Rousso's diamond design is a specific indigenous pattern or something facilitated by the mechanics of basket-making and, hence, found around the world.

In her online biography for Stonington Gallery, Rousso identifies herself as non-indigenous. She has an international reputation as an expert, having received a Fulbright fellowship to study woven containers in Guatemala. She's researched folk basket techniques from Peru to New Zealand to Indonesia and, when not in Alaska or Latin America, serves as the textile coordinator at the Mendocino Art Center in California. She got her start, she writes, under the tutelage of Haida master weavers Delores and Holly Churchill at the Totem Heritage Center in Ketchikan, where she has taken several other classes and from which she has received a Certificate of Merit in Northwest Coast Basketry.

My impression of Ketchikan is that every artistically-inclined person with any talent tries his or her hand at Tlingit and Haida styles with differing degrees of curiosity and gusto. The Totem Heritage Center offers classes in skills like making spruce root hats and totem-carving to one and all. Of course stealing someone else's design, particularly if it's considered clan property, is inappropriate in all circumstances. That's true whether you're swiping the work of Nathan Jackson or Norman Rockwell. But that seems to be understood and a topic of discussion in a place where Native-themed kitsch keeps many a tourist shop in business and where a notable portion of our serious contemporary artists -- figurative and abstract, expressionist and experimental -- can claim Native descent.

I got the feeling that Glasgow's specific peeve may spring from his encounters with fraudulent marketing, representing a piece of art or craft as something it is not, profiting from the deceit at the expense of the more genuine artist. It would be interesting to visit North Carolina and find out what the situation is there. Attitudes seem to be different in different parts of the country. What is acceptable in Seattle may be scorned in Sitka.

Glasgow also had advice for artists who enter their work in juried shows. "Get a professional photographer," he said. "Work with a good framer. It's not cheap, but it's worth it."

Earth, Fire and Fibre XXIX will open at the museum on Oct. 4 and remain on display through Jan. 5, 2014. It will then travel to the Alaska State Museum in Juneau where it will be shown Jan. 31-March 1 and then to the Fairbanks Arts Association's Bear Gallery, where it will be on view May 2-13.

A link to the full list of pieces juried into the show is available here.

Former Alaskan salutes bike gang's parsimony

In the "Where Are They Now?" department, the former Daily News columnist now known as Abby Perry is living in Arizona and writing a personal finance blog Readers who enjoyed her wit may want to check out a recent posting titled "10 ways the Sons of Anarchy are Frugal" in which the Dimond High alumna praises the many ways the bike gang on the popular FX series watches their budget. A couple of examples:

"They barter. The Sons took Zobelle's first protection payment out in cigars. And when they couldn't pay Lin for the guns, they offered an appearance of their, er, actresses at his function."

"They use prepaid cells. Sure, prepaids make it easier to avoid calls being tracked or tapped. But the guys also nicely avoid being beholden to a two-year plan of high monthly rates. Nope, they pay for exactly what they use and not a cent more."

They also economize on clothing and haircuts, she notes.

I Pick Up Pennies is in the running for the "best kept secret" category in this year's Plutus Awards, which are sort of the Oscars of the personal finance blogosphere. The public can vote at through Sept. 30.

Yogurt store offers art space

Shannon Brady of Avalanche Frozen Yogurt called us with an offer to any artists or art groups that may have been, um, frozen out by the abrupt closure of Out North this summer. "We were trying to invite any and all local artists, as well as any that were showing at Out North, to show at our Eagle River store." She said. "We have a huge backroom we use as an art gallery" suitable for up to 10 or more artists in a collaboration or group show.

They recently opened a second outlet at Tikahtnu Commons where they're also showing art, but with less room for display -- like one or two artists. The Eagle River shop is at 11925 Old Glenn Hwy., just south of North Eagle River Loop Rd. They tend to open shows on the third Thursday of each month and will have a reception for their Third Annual Art Show at 5 p.m. on Oct. 3. There is no charge for the first Thursday showing, Brady said, and the space can be rented for 75 cents per day for the remainder of the month -- which isn't exactly free, but awfully close.

Call Brady at 744-7392 for more information or email

World beat party

Returning to matters of indigeneity, the Anchorage Concert Association will present Hawaiian musicians Keola and Moanalani Beamer and Navajo flutist R. Carlos Nakai in concert at 7:30 p.m. on Friday in the Discovery Theatre. Expect Native American singing, slack key guitar, hula and jazz piano. Tickets are at

The day before, they'll all be at the Alaska Native Heritage Center for the Malama Ko Aloha Cultural Exchange. The stars will perform as will local Native and Polynesian dancers. The event is free, even if you don't bring anything to share. But it's a potluck, so the more people who bring a favorite Native or Polynesian dish the more fun will be had by all. Moose, goose, whitefish, sheefish, ham, Spam and pilot bread -- it's all good. Organizers tell us disposable plates, utensils and napkins will also be much appreciated. It starts at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday.

Husky art

If, like Andrew Glasgow, you're in search of unique and identifiable Alaska art, consider the four wooden dogs to be auctioned off at the Willow Dog Mushers Association's K9 Athlete Symposium. The basic forms were the work of Dale Evans; artists donated their time to decorate and paint the pups. In order to big, you must be at the symposium, which starts with registration at 9 a.m. on Saturday at the Willow Community Center. More information at

Reach Mike Dunham at or 257-4332.