Story last updated at 3:12 p.m. Thursday, December 19, 2002

Trio of 'stranded artists' gets early Christmas gift
by Carey James
Staff Writer

You could hear Rebecca Lee Yates' screams of joy through the phone clear across the newsroom Tuesday afternoon.

Yates, a poet who has been plagued with illness for the last year, had just found out she was the recipient of the 2002 Writers Contest. And she could not possibly have been more grateful.

"I've had some severe stomach stuff going on, and then a pulmonary embolism, so I haven't been able to work. I've just really been sleeping on a sheepskin on the living room floor," she said. "I've been trying to recover, but needless to say, it's been hard to bring money in, and I have a lot of bills, so this is very good."

Yates, the winner of the 2002 Writers Conference adult poetry category whose resume includes many other awards and publications, has more than a few stories to tell of her health woes during the last year. She's been in and out of the hospital constantly, and despite the kindness of friends, doctors and strangers and her strong belief in God, 2002 hasn't been an easy one for her.

"I've almost died so many times in the last year, God still must want me here," she said. "I realized poetry was my legacy, my reason for being here, and that it would be OK for me to die because I was leaving my words and God's words to help people. At the same time, I realized I didn't want to die because I felt the need to write more and get it published and out there more."

Yates' intentions for the Stranded Art Fund dollars are simple: food, bills and an ink cartridge and paper for her printer. But the impact for her is huge.

"I need to thank these people for giving this to me," Yates said. "I'm blessed through all this horribleness, and this is a wonderful thing."

Yates, along with artist Judy Winn and artist and teacher Brad Hughes, are this year's recipients of the mysterious anonymous grant program. Each year, the Stranded Art Fund takes one-page applications from artists all over town and awards in "a private effort of working artists devoted to the support of other working and developing artists in the Homer area."

In the one-page letter announcing the winners, fund officials stated of Yates, "Rebecca Lee Yates is a fine poet whose work has received much recognition from without and within the Homer writing community. She has overcome much personal hardship and yet retains her powerful poetic voice with grace and dignity. Homer is fortunate to have her, and the Stranded Art Fund is honored to acknowledge her talent and her courage."

For Hughes, the award is perhaps less personal but no less gratifying. Hughes, an accomplished artist known for his signs as well as other art, intends to use the grant to offer scholarships to deserving students with financial challenges.

"That's great for the students," Hughes said. "I have kids who have a lot of talent but not a lot of money."

Hughes teaches students from ages 12 and up, who have interest and desire to learn. His classes, which are small, are more of a mentorship program, he said.

"It's very individualistic," Hughes said.

Of Hughes, fund officials wrote, "Brad Hughes is an indispensable strand of the fabric of the Homer arts community -- both for the art he creates and for the spirit of invention, joy and humor he elicits in the art of others. This award is to recognize his continued effort and vision in teaching young students to develop their artistic talent based on their individual experience and desire to learn. It is a modest return for all he has given to Homer."

After hearing the fund's high opinion, Hughes said, "You can't ask for better than that. That just about brings a tear to my eye."

For Winn, the money will go a long way to help her buy a high-tech printer that will allow her to make her own prints. Winn was quite surprised to receive the award, she said, and applied somewhat on a whim.

Winn is known for her light-switch plates, which sell at Bunnell Street and Fireweed galleries. She said she has been an artist in one medium or another all her life. The printer will create new artistic opportunities, she said.

"I've been getting everything done at print shops, and it costs quite a bit. I also don't have control over the fine-tuning," she said.

Of Winn, fund officials wrote, "Judy Winn is a multi-talented artist. She has generously shared her tremendous talent in so many ways for the benefit of the Homer community.

"This award is an effort to thank her for her continued generosity, acknowledge her great talent and give her the boost she has asked for in broadening her output."

Winn said that her community volunteerism, which has included projects like set-painting for the Nutcracker Ballet, is not so one-sided.

"It's worked both ways. I've gotten so much from the Homer community. I've had the opportunity to do a lot of these things, and it's been a lot of fun to do. It's not just a matter of giving, it's getting too," she said.

The three artists were selected from a pool of 43 applicants.

Carey James can be reached at cjames@homer