A giant squid hangs on the second floor of the atrium at the Anchorage Museum, a papier-mache and clay construction that stretches six feet from its tail to the tips of its tangled arms. It's the work of South High School senior Kaitlyn Schwalben, part of the annual Anchorage School District Student Art Exhibition, on display through March 23.
Schwalben's squid is surrounded by other fanciful marine images: fish, lighthouses, otters and octopi -- something of a theme in this year's show.
"We realized that the 'Gyre' show would be up at the same time and decided to tie in with that," said Mary Wilts, curriculum coordinator of music and fine arts for the ASD, who's coordinating the show. "We decided to call it 'Creative Tide.'"
"Gyre: The Plastic Ocean" is an international exhibit that incorporates art and science to raise issues of ocean pollution. So oceanic images, like mobiles of jellyfish forms, are prevalent in "Creative Tide." One part of the show, on the wall with the squid, is referred to as the "Creative Tide Theme Wall" and particularly emphasizes coastal and oceanic ideas.
Also prevalent, and linked to "Gyre," are items made from recycled materials. The jellyfish, for instance, are made from repurposed plastic. There are assemblages of empty tissue boxes and old CD cases.
One of the biggest pieces uses paper bags, corrugated cardboard, Styrofoam meat trays and thin magnetized calendars -- the kind you stick on refrigerators. Everything has been painted black and arranged as a giant raven. It's the work of the "Recess Raven Group," led by teacher Rosie Morgan at Birchwood ABC Elementary, who said about 50 students participated in the piece, "usually about 10 or 12 at a time."
Most pieces in the show are individual works. They represent all grade levels and schools from across the district. The work involves a variety of styles and materials. There are portraits, landscapes, abstracts, drawings, paintings, photographs, sculpture, jewelry and ceramics.
Though student work, there are always a surprising number of pieces that appear totally professional, particularly from students in the secondary schools whose work is arrayed on the second level of the atrium. The works on display are selected by art teachers in the district, mostly looking for the best single piece from each class they teach.
But several of the large pieces are group projects, mostly quilt forms, containing the work of a dozen or more students, usually on the same subject. These let a teacher show the work of several students in the class. Wilts called them "banners." There's a fish banner, for instance, and a sled dog banner. Another shows lighthouses and boats. One particularly interesting composition has figures posed like the Mona Lisa but with an array of animal faces.
The last-described is actually a "mini-banner," narrower than the biggest pieces. Size is limited, Wilts said, by the width of the wall sections around the atrium: 85 inches.
The school district show is one of the most popular art openings in town. Wilts said it drew more than 1,600 people last year. The number of submissions obliges the school district to spread out the pieces in five locations this year. In addition to the museum, work is being shown at the Loussac and Chugiak-Eagle River libraries, the Mall at Sears and the school district offices at Boniface and Northern Lights.
Wilts estimated that there were more than 1,000 works at the five locations, 600 of them at the museum.
During the course of its 42-year history, the show has often been coordinated with other First Friday openings. This year, however, it opened on February 28.
"We realized that First Friday in March would hit just before the first weekend of Spring Break," Wilts said. "So we had to move it."
But the first Friday of March, the 7th, is still a pretty good time to see the show, she added. "The museum will have free admission that night."
Reach Mike Dunham at email@example.com or 257-4332.
By MIKE DUNHAM