Homer Alaska - Arts

Story last updated at 12:41 PM on Wednesday, July 11, 2012

'Elements' show spotlights new trail at museum

By Michael Armstrong
Staff Writer


Photo by Michael Armstrong

Nolan Craft and Deb Lowney's "Twister" is one of the collaborative works in the Facing the Elements show.

This summer's Facing the Elements outdoor art exhibit went up as the Pratt Museum put in a new canvas for the long-running show — a rebuilt and expanded, handicap- and stroller-accessible trail.

Fans of the exhibit have had to dodge roots, mud and uneven ground to see the quirky, nature-based art. Not anymore.

Thanks to a grant from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation Recreational Trails Program, the trail behind the museum has been widened and built up with packed gravel, and with bridges going across soggy spots. Part of the trail has been rerouted to allow for future construction of the new museum building, while a few more legs have been added. Although construction of the new building is a few years away, the trail marks the first construction of the museum's long-range capital project.

"I think it's pretty cool," said Museum Director Diana Converse. "After all this time, there's finally a piece that's happening."

What hasn't changed is the spirit of Facing the Elements. Close to 20 years running, the concept remains the same: outdoor art that uses natural materials that can be challenged by the environment.

"The idea is 'the one exhibit in town that never closes,'" said Education Director Ryjil Christianson. "It's one that's open to rain, weather, and it exposes art to the outside elements."

Christianson's two pieces, "Honorific Early Works I and II," test that idea. Paintings on rocks based on Kachemak Bay petroglyphs, Christianson used ground beach rock and baked shale mixed with acrylic. She'd originally made them for the Pratt Museum's archaeology art exhibit, but wanted to see how they would survive a summer.

"Part of the process for me as an artist participating in this exhibit has been the letting-go process," she said.

One design of a human figure with a hand is based on a petroglyph from Bear Cove, where Christianson lived as a child with her family.

"They're haunting, beautiful images to me," she said. "They strike me as the most incredible graphic art designs I've ever seen. They're rooted in this place."

Facing the Elements gives new and emerging artists a venue to try out their art. Nonjuried and open to everyone, it encourages preteen and teen artists especially. Some of the pieces were done by students in a middle school-age nature art class.

The show also encourages collaboration with established artists.

That can be seen in "Twister," by Nolan Craft done with his aunt, Deb Lowney, a retired teacher known for working in wood. Made of alder branches and plywood, "Twister" shows two people playing the party game of the same name.

A long-standing artistic collaboration is "Fern Labyrinth," the oldest continuous work of art in Facing the Elements. Designed by Mavis Muller, each year Muller directs other artists in rebuilding and redecorating her labyrinth.

"Mavis' labyrinth has always been a highlight," Christianson said. "Over the years it's turned into a tattoo on the earth."

Trail work was still being done this week, with a crew from the Homer Soil and Water Conservation District finishing bridges and packing more gravel.

A rough trail that's not ADA accessible also will be built this summer. That will give artists more ways to show their work and more material to work with.

"I'm looking forward to next year," Christianson said. "We'll have a new trail system that provides new locations for art."

Facing the Elements shows through the end of summer, though artists sometimes let go so completely of their art that it remains into the winter.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.