Homer Alaska - Arts

Story last updated at 4:17 PM on Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Human Tapestry A unique history of Homer's art scene

By Michael Armstrong
Staff Writer


Photo by Michael Armstrong

Gaye Wolfe's portrait of Mavis Muller.

Anyone who knows Homer's art scene will see familiar faces in the 14 paintings of Gaye Wolfe's show, "ARTrageous Homer: A Human Tapestry," on exhibit through Jan. 4 at Bunnell Street Arts Center.

Some portraits are more traditional, like that of Lynn Naden, scarf over her shoulder, curly hair pushed back with a headband and images of her Homer Public Library alphabet art behind her.

Others are more playful, like Jill Berryman, the 22-year choreographer of the Nutcracker Ballet, with her face on the nutcracker doll. Artist Ron Senungetuk appears as a sea otter and seal, wood carving tools in hand, incising grooves into the painting itself like his sculptural art.

"It's how I see them," Wolfe said of her interpretations of local artists, musicians and art leaders. "It's not how somebody else wants to see themselves. It's what they mean to me."

Wolfe, with writer Sharon Bushell, has been putting together a history and timeline of Homer's art community. Her paintings are part of that project and will illustrate a book they're working on. As part of that project, at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Bunnell holds a "fill-in-the-blanks" potluck and open mic. Wolfe said she hopes people who know Homer's art history will come and share their knowledge. The event was postponed from last week because of bad weather.

"It's sitting around, entertaining each other, telling stories, trying to fill in some of these blanks," she said.

For example, Wolfe said she's discovered pioneer homesteader Ruth Kilcher had a lot to do with the early Homer arts and music scene — and not just because she was mother and grandmother to a small tribe of musicians like children Atz and Sunrise Kilcher and grandchildren Jewel and Atz Lee.

"They had a little playhouse," Wolfe said of the Kilchers. "A lot of little things that they did we have some information on, but not a lot."

There are other mysteries, like how the Art Barn got started and who started the first professional art gallery.

"I've got a good foundation, or what you might call a skeleton, to start with, to put the muscle and skin on," Wolfe said.

Wolfe's paintings reflect part of that history. Her portraits hold elements that illustrate something about the artist's past. A painting of basket artist and sandhill "Crainiac," as Mavis Muller calls herself, has a basket woven around her as she dances with a crane. In a portrait of the late Alex Combs and fellow Halibut Cove artist Annette Bellamy, a raven peeks over Combs' shoulder, with his cabin behind him. Combs holds a stalk of berries, as if he's passing on the Halibut Cove artistic tradition to Bellamy. Quotes from the artists accompany the portraits. Combs speaks of striving for the "lusciousness" of the paint.

"He's more interested in that quality than storytelling," Wolfe said of Combs. "My whole life I have strived to paint lusciously, but it always comes out with the story."

Several paintings show people from behind, and yet they're still recognizable: the silver-gray hair of artist and playwright Shirley Timmreck, pulled back with a beaded barrette, and the long braid of ceramic artist Ahna Iredale. The late music teacher and band leader Renda Horn appears as she often was seen, back to the audience and hands waving as she directs musicians.

"As part of their personalities they avoid that kind of limelight," Wolfe said of why she chose to paint some artists from behind. "They don't seek it out. Their presence is there from the back. You know who they are."

As part of her project, Wolfe also has been querying artists, musicians, writers and arts leaders, trying to build a history of Homer's creative communities. She asks them six questions:

• When did you arrive in Homer?

• Where did you come from and what tools did you arrive with?

• What is the chronology of how you integrated your art form into the community?

• How has Homer supported your passion?

• What special experience about the Homer art scene would you like to share?

• Who inspired you?

Wolfe said she hopes her exhibit and project will prompt people to reply.

Answers can be sent to Wolfe at gaye@alaska.net.

"They'll realize it's something that's really happening," she said of "ARTrageous Homer." "We want that information. We want to include everyone."