Local artists open home, farm to tourists

  • From left to right: Leah Evans Cloud, Jonah Cloud, Jeff Dean, Brad Thornburgh and Ranja Dean chat outside the Deans’ home down East End Road before a tour on Friday, July 6, 2018 near Homer, Alaska. The Deans open their farm and art studios to interested visitors. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)
  • Artist Jeff Dean explains his process and work to visitors at his farm and art studio Friday, July 6, 2018 off East End Road near Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)
  • Artist Jeff Dean explains the process behind one of his metal work art pieces for a client to Leah Evans Cloud during a tour of the Dean family farm and art studios Friday, July 6, 2018 off East End Road near Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)
  • Tools and pieces of art in various stages of completion line the shelves of Jeff and Ranja Dean’s art studio, shown here during a tour Friday, July 6, 2018 at their home off East End Road near Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)
  • A hand-built chicken coop rests in the shade at the Jeff and Ranja Dean’s farm on Friday, July 6, 2018 off East End Road near Homer, Alaska. Ranja built the coop specifically to accommodate weather in Alaska, including raising it off the ground to prevent snow build up. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)
  • Ranja Dean leads a tour through her extensive gardens Friday, July 6, 2018 at her home off East End Road near Homer, Alaska. She and her husband host tours of their property and art studio. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)
  • Ranja Dean shows Leah Evans Cloud and others the upper level of the donkey barn, currently filled with hay, during a tour of the farm she shares with her husband on Friday, July 6, 2018 at the property off East End Road near Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)
  • Several solar panels rest in the sun up an incline at the Dean family farm Friday, July 6, 2018 at their home off East End Road near Homer, Alaska. Artist Jeff Dean uses solar power to supplement a boiler system in place at their home, which was part of the annual Homer Solar Tour this year. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)
  • Ranja Dean shows members of a farm and art studio tour the packs she made for the farm’s three donkeys, on Friday, July 6, 2018 at her home off East End Road near Homer, Alaska. With the help of her husband, Jeff, Dean customized the packs specifically for each donkey. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)
  • A goat leans out of its pen for a scratch on Friday, July 6, 2018 at the Dean family farm off East End Road near Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)
  • A yak, named Yeti, looks out of its pen on Friday, July 6, 2018 at the Dean family farm off East End Road near Homer, Alaska. Jeff and Ranja Dean got he yak by breeding a yak with a cow. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)

Down the road a piece, nestled in the woods just off East End Road, is a homemaker’s paradise. Jeff and Ranja Dean’s home, farm and art studios have taken years to construct, hone and perfect — and they’re still not done.

Even though a farm might be a continuous work in progress, the couple are happy for outsiders to come check it out. They have opened their farm of several acres and art studio to tours for anyone who wants to get a peek at their funky, design lifestyle or to see examples of how to tackle at-home projects themselves.

But it’s not just for out-of-towners looking for the quintessential Homer experience. Jeff said it started after the couple started getting requests from locals about the property.

A recent tour held Friday, July 6, started with an energetic puppy bounding toward the small family group assembled in the front yard. After wrangling the beast, Ranja introduced the visitors (Leah Evans Cloud, Jonah Cloud who was visiting from Portland, and Brad Thornburgh) to Jeff.

“We use a lot of recycled materials,” Ranja said while describing the house itself. “… We didn’t use any treated wood, and probably no plywood.”

One aspect of their home construction drew a surprised reaction from the visitors — the insulation.

“We actually ground up (dried) pushki stalks too,” she said of the ingredients making up some of their insulation.

“Something to do with pushkis,” Evans Cloud cried. “Oh my god!”

The abundant plant, actually called cow parsnip but known locally as pushki, is a nuisance to many a hiker and gardener. If sap gets on skin and is not washed away, when exposed to sunlight it can cause a reaction like a bad sunburn.

The tour began in the couple’s creative space, a large shed turned art studio and workshop, with rooms upstairs as well. Tools and supplies cover practically every surface not taken up by actual pieces of art themselves, in various stages of completion. The couple are particularly fond of sculpture, and explained at length their processes to the curious visitors.

While word of mouth is spreading and some clients reach out to Jeff to commission pieces, a lot of his work is done by reaching out to people he thinks might benefit from his work, he said. Currently, he’s crating a metal work piece for a business sign, and a large, two-part carved wooden piece that will go inside someone’s home, shaped like a whale’s tail.

From there, Ranja took the crew on a tour of the couple’s flower, herb and vegetable gardens. She also let them examine the numerous raised chicken coops, the custom-built rabbit houses complete with underground tunnels, and the larger animal barns. The Deans currently have three donkeys, a yak and a smattering of goats.

The yak, named Yeti, is a mix between a male yak and a cow.

“Yeti, when he was a baby, he was bilingual,” Ranja told the group while leading them through the barn.

Part yak and part cow, Yeti would communicate to other cows by mooing when he was young, and to yaks by grunting, she said.

After traversing the large farm, visitors are reunited with Jeff as the pair open up their official art studio, built last fall. They allow guests to peruse their creations — as well as art from their youngest daughter, M’fanway — and explain all the work and technique that went into them.

Visitors are then filled with a refreshing punch and homemade cookies while taking a break from the heat inside the house before being sent on their way. While in the entry way, Jeff took some time Friday to explain the home’s heating and energy system, which can vacillate back and forth between a boiler and solar power.

For more information about the Dean family farm, or to book a tour, visit their website at jeffreyhdean.com.

Reach Megan Pacer at mpacer@homernews.com.

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