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Review: Earth, Fire & Fibre; Alaska Watercolor Society

Art Snob Blog
courtesy of the artist

You have to get close to Amy Meissner’s quilt titled “Spontaneous Combustion” to get the whole story. The main field of the piece, which won the Juror’s Choice Award in the Earth, Fire & Fibre exhibit, consists of the words, “Mama, what in this house can catch on fire?” Juror Andrew Glasgow said he liked the sense of storytelling contained in the piece; but much of that story is not told in words. It’s read in childlike drawings of pets, people, a house and a fire truck stitched into the dark frame with dark thread and invisible in photos.

The statewide juried show is on display at the Anchorage Museum through Jan. 5, after which it will travel to Fairbanks and Juneau. 

Glasgow’s Merit Awards — to Lael Gordon for a wood cabinet, Sandra Mander for a porcelain vase, Diane Melms for a woven abstract piece and Kathryn Rousso for a bark basket — reflect a predilection for simplicity. I was more impressed with a different Rousso basket in the show, “Not Everything is Black and White.” Where her honored piece, “All Worlds Intertwined,” was basically two-toned and unabashedly functional, “Not Everything” featured multiple colors, beads and a fascinatingly complex design of triangles. It was hard to imagine what it might be used for except as pure decoration. 

Other notable items include a lively stone bust by Jill Mandt titled “Man” and a copper and found-object sculpture of a woman with a fish net by Jane Van Atta, two of perhaps five human representations in the show, and three book forms by Margo Klass with the rounded trunk of birch used for covers.

I’d always considered Earth, Fire & Fibre to be drawn from craft-based art like clay, woodworking and fabric. But Aurora Sidney-Ando’s “Guenevere” is a straight acrylic and latex painting of an approaching owl with no reference to the practical arts. On the extremely practical side, however, is Lowell Zercher’s tall “PIA Clock,” the face mounted on a high pedestal calling to mind art deco styles. The clock is working and set to the right time.

Earth, Fire & Fibre is not the only group show at the museum right now. The Alaska Watercolor Society’s 39th Annual Juried Exhibition is hanging in the atrium. Juror Donna Zagotta, a nationally-known artist based in Michigan, selected “Hometown Holiday” by Jean Watson as the Best in Show. The central image is kilt-clad pipers and a drummer approaching officials dressed in colonial uniforms as a crowd looks on and snaps photos. The faces are on the primitive side, even crude. I had to look twice to see what the juror found so interesting about it and decided it must be the figure of a smiling woman reclining in the shadows of the left foreground. She’s almost missed at first glance, but she’s the largest person in the painting, her face is much more carefully rendered than the others and she wears what looks like a kuspuk, the only clear suggestion that the scene might be taking place in Alaska. 

Dot Bardarson’s “Paddle To The Glacier” won first prize; it shows a boy in a modern kayak staring at a pair of traditional Alaska Native canoes. They’re large enough to be war canoes, with a dozen or more people in each, but the figures seem dressed in ceremonial robes, indicating they might be on their way to a festivity.

“Moo Valley, California,” a scene of grazing cows by Frank Eber of Redondo Beach, was awarded second place and Heather Tauschek’s “Out My Window” was awarded third. For my money it’s the most memorable piece on the walls, an explosion of cloud and light and mountain that borders on the abstract while retaining the rootedness of an actual alpine view.

Zagotta gave Honorable Mentions to Christine Fortner for “Creek in Winter,” Mark McDermott for “Pont St-Benezet, Avignon” and Elizabeth Dawn Gillette for “Giving.” The trio depicts nature, architecture and the human figure and the show in general is balanced among those subjects. But I was more impressed with another landscape painted by McDermott. His “Juneau Creek” contrasts icing water with alpenglow on distant peaks in a composition that is simultaneously beautiful, accurate and very cold. 

In the upper floor of the atrium a third exhibit is under way celebrating Alaska footwear. Dug out of the museum’s closet are snowshoes, ice grips, old style bunny boots, older mukluks, hip boots, fancy shoes and even a pair of Sami boots with fur on the bottom of the soles and upturned, pointed toes. In my youth we called them “Lap boots” and I’d still be wearing them if an honest friend hadn’t told me they’d make me look like a pink, six-foot tall elf. 

What many may find most fascinating items in “Footnotes: Shoes with Stories to Tell” are those associated with animals, booties for sled dogs, mud shoes for mules, the mukluks made for Annabelle the Alaska elephant and the tennis show pulled off the foot of an intrusive Alaska Zoo visitor by Binky the polar bear. One really wants to touch it — but it’s behind glass. 

Both “Footnotes” and the watercolor show will remain on display through Feb. 16.

FREE DAY AT THE ANCHORAGE MUSEUM, courtesy Wells fargo, will take place in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, noon-6 p.m. Sunday. The museum is located at 625 C St. 

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

 


Mike Dunham
Anchorage