On July 1, an exhibition that two other Fairbanks artists, a University of Alaska Fairbanks scientist and I have been working on together for more than three years opened at the Pratt Museum in Homer, Alaska. Boreal Birch: Art and Science in the Northern Forest includes 20 of my paintings, 26 of Barry McWayne's black-and-white photographs, and 15 of Margo Klass's constructions, as well as a number of her small, handmade books--all about birch trees and the boreal forest. Accompanying our images are wall texts developed by Kimberley Maher, a PhD student at UAF whose research is all about birch trees. Kimberley not only challenged us with questions about our work and new information about birches over the three years we worked on this project, but developed curricular materials for use in grades K-12 in the schools in conjunction with the exhibit.
This very large show will be on view at the Pratt Museum in Homer through October 2. It travels to the Alaska State Museum in Juneau for November, December, and early January, and will come to Fairbanks, filling all the gallery spaces at Well Street Art Gallery, in February of 2012.
It was a delight to work on this collaborative effort. The four of us met regularly, comparing work in progress, talking about birches and the northern forest, and influencing one another. We visited one another's studios. We went with Kimberley into the woods to tap birches for sap and take cores from trunks, and we peppered her with questions about the physiology of the birches themselves.
Barry McWayne, whose untimely death ended his direct participation last August, was the only artist I know who has devoted as much time, thought, and imagery to birch trees as I have. Working in two entirely different mediums, we shared similar visions of the individuality of the birches' trunks, the moods and atmosphere of the forest, and what we both called the "pelts" of the birches themselves. He and I had talked for more than two decades about doing a show of birch images together. Fortunately, Barry had already taken and printed many photographs in preparation for this exhibit, and we were able to use a large number of them, along with some of his earlier birch images, to represent him and his vision fully in the show.
Margo Klass has delighted in birch trees for years as well, incorporating images of them in her work long before she came to Alaska in the last decade. Her exquisitely crafted, three-dimensional, magical and mysterious altarpiece-like boxes and handmade books combine natural elements from parts of the trees themselves with found objects related only visually or metaphorically to the trees and the forest--all of them transformed by juxtaposition and artistic alchemy.
In the last several years, I have been involved in several collaborative projects with other artists and writers, and the experience each time has been energizing, broadening, and surprising. From a very large scale public art project for the Anchorage International Airport on which I worked with Anchorage sculptor Sheila Wyne and Franz Mayer of Munich Studio in Germany, to two collaborative projects with Alaska's current State Writer Peggy Shumaker and several with Alaska writer Frank Soos, each project has led me to think differently about my own work, posed new challenges for me, and opened up new directions. I like working alone in my studio, and would never want to change that basic way of life, but these collaborations have been rich leavening for both my life and my work, and I'm looking forward to more of them in the future.
Kimberley, Margo and her husband Frank Soos, who wrote the essay for the brochure we produced about the exhibition, Barry's widow Dorli McWayne, who allowed us to use his images and helped me mat and frame them, and I worked together on the installation in the beautiful exhibition space at the Pratt Museum, with great support from the museum's staff. We were even more pleased with the results of our collaboration than we had hoped or imagined. If you can make it to Homer, Alaska, this summer, we think the exhibit is one you will enjoy. The following are the dates for the show at its various venues:
Pratt Museum - Homer, Alaska - July 1-October 2, 2011
Alaska State Museum - Juneau, Alaska - November 4, 2011 - January 14, 2012
Well Street Art Company - Fairbanks, Alaska - February 3-26, 2012