HAINES, Alaska (AP) - Haines hasn’t been known for its art scene, despite having more than 80 professional artists in a town of only 2,500. But the Alaska Arts Confluence has campaigned to change that perception, Carol Tuynman told me as we toured the town’s public artworks on May 14.
The Confluence’s Art on Main Street campaign has filled previously empty windows with local art and the “Rusty and His Cart” sculpture on the waterfront has become a favorite with tourists and locals alike. But it’s not just the Confluence’s work anymore: As we passed the Sheldon Jackson Museum, Tuynman pointed out two new stone sculptures that have sprung up in their yard. The whole town is getting in on the action, Capital City Weekly reported (https://bit.ly/1sqamf9).
Tuynman took me to Historic Fort Seward, where the Confluence’s sculpture garden is taking shape.
Growing out of the abandoned ruins of the barracks building that burnt down in 1981, the sculpture garden will eventually see pieces by 16 local artists. During my visit, there were only four or so installed, but walking with Tuynman let me envision the site’s future.
“Jim Heaton, who is a carver, he came up with this idea of doing a Tlingit welcome figure and that’s going to go right here,” she said of one empty stretch of tumble-down wall at the site’s entrance. “We’ll prune back a little of the vegetation so people can see (it) from the port.”
But right now it’s just a ruin, large chunks of wall fallen into the grasses below.
“We’re not going to reconstruct all the walls but we want to stabilize them,” she said as we walked on. “You can see where it’s kind of white there? We’re starting to figure out how to repoint.”
In April, the National Park Service led a workshop for the public here to teach repointing, a process of renewing the mortar in old stone buildings.
Inside the ruins, the sun shining off the exposed concrete floor, Tuynman showed me “The Tank with the Crank.” Sea creatures and marine scenes sculpted out of metal have been added to a rusted water tank. When the crank is turned, the top of the sculpture rotates.
It was made by David Pahl, who found the tank in the ruins and used his forging skills as former executive director of Haines’ Hammer Museum to craft an interactive sculpture.
“What the artists have all done is used their experience and found ways to interpret either the materials or life at the fort in some way,” Tuynman said.
Nearby is one of Katie Craney’s two pieces of permanent wallpaper. An artist working in found metal, she stenciled historic wallpaper designs from the officers’ quarters onto the ruins’ coal chute doors.
“It’s kind of ironic because probably the lowest ranking guys were shoveling the coal, but they get the (officers’) wallpaper in history,” Tuynman said.
Well, Craney is hoping the wallpaper is permanent. “This is kind of an experiment to her. She hadn’t exactly done something like this that was going to be outdoors,” said Tuynman. “But it’s been up since last fall, so it seems to be holding up.”
We continued walking over the the uneven and cracked concrete. “This whole area was full of debris. We cleaned out over 20 dump truck loads,” she said. She told me about ideas for a boardwalk and making it a botanical garden as well as a sculpture one.
Suddenly a pit opened up in front of us. It will become either a fountain or a pond, Tuynman explained, but nothing definitive has been planned though the earth has already been dug up.
“So maybe an artist will get inspired and will come up with a commission for that.”
Also unplanned is what to do with the courtyard space between the two wings of the U-shaped barracks. “It could be a really great farmer’s market,” Tuynman suggested.
Along the ruins’ most complete wall is a line of rusted metal objects. It’s the beginning of Andrea Nelson’s “Stratigraphy,” an archaeological profile of the building using all found objects. Some of its most unexpected and ornate elements are old radiator pieces, their floral design still visible through the wear-and-tear of the years.
“It’s amazing,” Tuynman said of them. “She’s been collecting radiators for years.”
On the other side of the wall will be a piece by Kerry Cohen, a ceramicist who for several years now has been working on getting pottery glazes to look like glacial ice.
Cohen was the one who came up with the idea for the sculpture garden, back when the Alaska Arts Confluence was first contemplating using an ArtPlace America grant to do interpretive panels around the fort.
“The artists all met down at the docks and we decided we would walk the tour route and then we got up here to this ruins and one of the artists, Kerry Cohen said, ‘We should do a sculpture garden.’ And in five minutes the project changed from just doing interpretive panels with art on them to artists doing art installations.”
Tuynman overlooked this part of the ruins, overgrown with vegetation, a light breeze stirring the trees. “I think this will be pretty wonderful,” she said. “And it’s pretty much, except for the commissions, it’s all being done by volunteers.”
She reckons 85 volunteers have come and helped out with the sculpture garden. “One thing that’s been wonderful about this whole project is it’s really opened up our community to creativity. I hear that more and more in conversations talking about creativity and talking about beauty.”
For example, she told me major renovations have been brought up by the Haines Borough and harbor community for the harbor, including adding a 40-foot steel wall and expanding the boat parking lot into where Lookout Park is today.
“There’s a lot of concern about the aesthetics” of the project where they may have not been in the past, Tuynman said. “They actually formed an aesthetics committee.”
But more conversation doesn’t necessarily mean more art. She has given presentations to the Borough about a giant formline bracelet that would form an arch 9 feet high, 12 feet across and 5 feet wide. She had proposed putting it at Picture Point but ran into opposition from the community.
“There’s new controversy about it,” she said. “I actually like the conversation, but we may not end up doing a sculpture there.”
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