When Homer artist Gaye Wolfe died Oct. 14, 2012, at age 67, she left behind several organized collections of works. One group, “ARTrageous Homer: A Human Tapestry,” a series of portraits Wolfe painted of artists, musicians, actors and teachers influential in the Kachemak Bay arts scene, was acquired by the Homer Council on the Arts and is on display at its office.
Wolfe’s estate donated another batch of art works to Bunnell Street Arts Center, and it sold those in an auction in October 2013 for an event called “ARTrageous Gaye-la.”
Recently, an eclectic collection emerged when Wolfe’s stepson and executor of her estate, Charles Wolfe, prepared her Diamond Ridge cabin for sale. Wolfe donated those works to the arts council. This month, HCOA shows that collection, “Selected Works and Sketches by Gaye Wolfe.” It features two large unframed canvases, including a self-portrait of Wolfe showing her painting a scene of an Alaska wildfire that’s displayed next to the self-portrait.
Many of the paintings have been taken off their frames and had been rolled up, said HCOA executive director Scott Bartlett.
“Unfortunately, those big ones, it looks like oil paint is cracking,” he said.
The self-portrait also has a tear in the image of Wolfe’s eye, a mar that adds a poignant note about the loss of an artist. The self-portrait is set in Florida, as shown by a palm tree in the background. Before moving full time to Alaska in 1996, Wolfe lived in Miami and West Palm Beach, Florida.
Another self-portrait in the HCOA show reflects that progression from Florida to Alaska. In a nude seen from behind, a younger Wolfe paints an older Wolfe who paints a slightly older Wolfe, and so on. The young image has the deep tan of a white sun worshipper, her hair slightly gray, and as the images age, her skin becomes paler and her hair whiter.
A few more of the paintings and sketches have Florida themes, but many are of Alaska. Some landscapes are of the view from Wolfe’s hillside home that looked out toward Cook Inlet and the Alaska Range: a view of Mount Iliamna at sunset or fields of fireweed.
The exhibit also has some of Wolfe’s prints. That’s another aspect of Wolfe’s career: She kept trying new media.
Wolfe took up printmaking after she took a class with the late Karla Freeman, said Asia Freeman, artistic director of Bunnell Street Arts Center and, like her mother, a teacher and artist.
“She got so excited, she got her own press,” Freeman said of Wolfe — and then Wolfe got a second printing press, paid for with a $2,000 Stranded Art Fund grant.
The HCOA show has a large collection of Wolfe’s life drawing sketches and paintings. One showcase sketch is of Wolfe’s partner, Sam Smith, who she met after the death of her second husband, Paul Wolfe, in 1991.
“She was incredibly capable and divergent in her figurative work, from print to drawing to pastel and paint,” Freeman said of the life drawings.
For about 10 years, Wolfe helped facilitate the Homer Life Drawing Group, a weekly opportunity for artists to sketch live models. Bartlett said the arts council is trying to identify as many of the models as it can.
“She just stewarded it along so people could pool funds to hire a live model to paint and draw,” Freeman said. “It represented her huge commitment to working collaboratively to strengthen the arts community.
That’s part of the spirit of Wolfe. After her death, her artist and friend Mavis Muller called Wolfe “an ARTrageous diva of creativity and style, a visionary and mentor, generous with her gifts and talents, who mastered the art of inspiring by example.”
Many of the life drawing works are nudes. Bartlett said that when staff prepared the show downstairs in the classrooms for youth Art a la Carte classes, “There were some discussions that maybe the kids might not want to confront it.”
The life drawing works are in a separate area, a curtain slightly open.
“It’s not completely hidden away,” Bartlett said. “… It’s off the main thoroughfare.”
Many works lack notes or context, or even dates, presenting a challenge in understanding where and when they were created.
“I wish I had more to say about it,” Bartlett said. “It’s an interesting collection in that way.”
Freeman said she had been talking about that aspect of an artist’s career recently with her son.
“Museums are challenged to rebuild a story from the ephemera that artists leave behind: photographs, diaries, entries,” she said. “… I’m interested in seeing all of that. That ephemera is interesting. It’s a reminder of how much presence a living person occupies.”
All of the works in “Selected Works and Sketches by Gaye Wolfe” are on sale by donation. Bartlett said HCOA will hold a special showing from 1-5 p.m. Saturday, March 26, to close out the exhibit.