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ArtBeat: Three gutsy women at the Anchorage Museum

  • Author: Mike Dunham
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published December 4, 2014

Three Alaska women have been laying their guts out at the Anchorage Museum this week. Literally. Mary Tunuchuk, Elaine Kingeekuk and Sonya Kelliher-Combs have been working with animal intestines to make traditional items and contemporary art in a weeklong residency in the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center that winds up today.

Gut skin is some of the most rugged tissue in the body, tough and waterproof. It was a staple in many Alaska Native cultures prior to contact, used for parkas, boots, hats and bags, especially those that might be needed to travel by sea or through wet terrain. The most commonly used gut came from sea mammals and bears, though pig intestine appears to work, too.

The trick is how the material is prepared and how it is stitched together. That's part of what these three artists have been demonstrating to students and members of the public during the residency. The workshop is being filmed by Anna Hoover with assistance from Heather McLain. Final sessions will take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and the public is particularly welcome to stop by between 1 and 3 p.m. The Arctic Studies Center is located on the second floor.

Whose hat is it anyway?

Last month we wrote about "Tracing Roots," the documentary film by Ellen Frankenstein about weaver Delores Churchill's investigation of a spruce root hat associated with Kwaday Dan Ts'inchi, the young man whose naturally mummified remains were found on the Alaska-Canada border in 1999. The film had its Anchorage debut at the Anchorage Museum but will be shown again during the Anchorage International Film Festival as part of the "Made in Alaska" lineup. Screenings are at 7 p.m. on Sunday and Monday at the Alaska Experience Theatre in the 4th Avenue Market Place, Fourth Avenue and C Street.

This seems like a good place to note that the headline on the original article, published Oct. 17, misidentified the headgear as a "Haida hat." Kwaday Dan Ts'inchi was an inland Tlingit whose present-day relatives have been genetically identified among members of the Champagne and Aishihnik tribes in Canada and their descendants. One relative called to point out the mistake.

Neither the article nor Frankenstein nor Churchill ever identified the hat as being of Haida origin. However, if Churchill, who is Haida and from the Queen Charlotte Islands, has made one, then that could probably be called a Haida hat. We understand a comprehensive book about the "Long Ago Person Found" will be coming out sometime soon. In the meantime, if you want to know more, go see the movie.

A 'Messiah’ worth catching

At least one performance of Handel's "Messiah" has been given in Anchorage for 65 years by my count, maybe longer. This year's singing will take place at 2 p.m. on Sunday at the West High School auditorium and may be one of the more interesting presentations in recent years for at least three reasons.

First, we hear the chorus is especially large this year. There has been a tendency lately to go for small ensembles, as few as 20 voices, either for understandable reasons of expediency or more debatable reasons of purported authenticity. But when it comes to the "Messiah," I am among those who say bigger is better.

Second, conductor Adam Ackerman has arranged the various moving parts of the oratorio in an unexpected fashion. Tweaking the score is not new; Handel himself did it more than once. The list of major talents who have worked up their own editions since then is long and includes such lights as Mozart and Bernstein. Nonetheless, the Sunday lineup is new to us. Ackerman begins with the chorus singing "Since by man came death," from part three of the work. The overture and the "Christmas" portion follow, skipping over four of the lesser-known numbers and the section's customary conclusion, "His yoke is easy."

The program continues with about half of the "Easter" portion before jumping into the third part with "I know that my redeemer liveth" and "The trumpet shall sound" and ending with the "Hallelujah" chorus, relocated from the end of the "Easter" section.

All in all, more than 20 arias, recitatives or choruses are cut from the score that counts 50-some numbers, depending on which edition you have. A complete "Messiah" is hardly ever heard nowadays, but would run three hours. This one may go 100 minutes. The only real loss in my book is the great "Amen" chorus, but this approach may make more sense for modern audiences.

Finally, we're anxious to hear again Luke Honeck, to whom all solo tenor duties have been assigned. Honeck took first place in the high school division at the Anchorage Concert Chorus Vocal Scholarship Competition on May 17. For the winners' recital, he gave an elegant performance of one of the virtuoso arias from "Messiah." Other solos are listed for Don Endres, Maura Wharton, Amber Gauthier, Marsha Ackerman, Stephanie Courter and Michael Smith.

Sounds of the season

More choral Christmas music is on the horizon.

Celtic harpist Patrick Ball will join two other masters of the ancient instruments, Lisa Lynne and Aryeh Frankfurter, in "The Winter Gift" at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Anchorage Museum auditorium (use the Seventh Avenue entrance).

The Alaska Chamber Singers will present "Noel" next weekend with three performances at St. Patrick's church in Muldoon and St. Andrew's in Eagle River. In addition to classical works, the ensemble will collaborate with local jazz performers Melissa Bledsoe Fischer, Rick Zelinsky, Dirk Westfall and Brandon Cockburn in familiar seasonal songs delivered with a touch of swing.

The Derry Aires will present hits from their "Frozen Assets" collection as part of the Arctic Sirens Cabaret series at 7 p.m. on Dec. 12 at Tap Root, 3300 Spenard Road. Tickets are $15 and available online and at the door. This concert is a fundraiser for the Anchorage Concert Chorus, which will present its own annual Family Holiday Pops program at 4 p.m. on Dec. 21 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts. We hear they'll include some of the tunes from "Frozen" in the show.

Book talk in Seward

A lot of Dave Atcheson's new memoir "Dead Reckoning: Navigating a Life on the Last Frontier, Courting Tragedy on its High Seas" takes place in Seward during the 1980s. He'll return to his old camping grounds to present readings from the book and share stories about commercial fishing and the old days. In an early chapter he recalls fellow campers at Forest Acres:

"They were all kinds, and in the same haggard condition. They were cold, wet, and in the most uncertain of financial quandaries -- yet all at once full of the expectation and promise of Alaska. The fates had landed us here, and for no reason other than that our tents were pitched nearby, we came together."

Atcheson's talk takes place at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday in the Seward Community Library. The event is free.

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