How does a new artist emerge into the Homer creative community? How does that community shepherd the next generation of talent gently into a career? And, oh yeah, if that artist happens to be the mother of a young child and has started a small business, what do you do?
Be like Britni.
Last week, Britni Siekaniec, the latest bright light to appear in Kachemak Bay’s fleet of young artists, held her first solo show, “Salt,” at Grace Ridge Brewery. Siekaniec, 24, is part of a growing group of lower Kenai Peninsula artists in their teens, 20s and early 30s that includes talents like Felicity Jones, Oceana Wills and Chelsea Horn. They’re a group nurtured by the Generation X or Baby Boomer artists and gallery owners who have put Homer on the map as one of America’s top art towns.
Siekaniec’s formula goes like this:
• Practice, practice, practice.
“I have a lot of terrible paintings,” she said.
• Find a space to paint and time to do it, a challenge with a 2-year-old daughter.
“I just had to figure it out,” Siekaniec said. “A lot of the paintings I do after she’s gone to bed for the night.”
• Don’t worry about clean dishes and a spotless house.
“I learned to let go,” she said. “You have to feel free enough to paint.”
Raised in western Colorado in rural farm country, Siekaniec at first thought she wanted to be a writer. She loved creative writing in high school, especially short stories. At 16 she graduated from high school and did three semesters at college in Grand Junction, Colorado. At 12 she first came to Homer to visit her aunt, Charity Grimsley.
“That’s when I knew I would live here,” she said.
At 18, Siekaniec visited for the summer with a friend, Kent. In exchange for cleaning rooms, they stayed at a yurt at Bryan and Karen Zak’s Alaska Adventure Cabins. Kent was an artist going to school.
“We were killing time in the yurt with not a lot to do,” she said. “I would write some things. He was doodling in a sketch book.”
Siekaniec had taken art classes in high school, and soon started drawing.
“This community is so inspiring,” she said. “There are so many painters and artists. I couldn’t help myself, I guess.”
That fall, her friend went home. Siekaniec stayed.
“That was a big deal for me to stay in Alaska when I knew my friend was leaving,” she said. “I wanted to see what winter was like here.”
Picking up art books at garage sales and watching video lessons on YouTube, Siekaniec mostly taught herself how to paint. Last spring she took her first class in oil painting with Jim Buncak at the Kachemak Bay Campus.
“He’s great. He’s such a great teacher, too,” Siekaniec said. “I still hear his voice in my head: ‘Don’t let those soft lines get too hard.’”
After settling here, she met her husband, Casey. He’d lived in Homer until he was 14, went away with his family and then moved back after college.
“I decided to stay before I met Casey,” Siekaniec said. “That was just a bonus.”
Siekaniec’s show, “Salt,” focuses on wildlife. She paints from photographs, but crops out images and does things like paint close ups of birds or bears, as if they’re looking straight into the camera lens.
“When Sherry (Stead) asked me to do the show, I did the first brown bear,” Siekaniec said of the Grace Ridge Brewery co-owner. “They were all close ups. I thought that would be funny.”
Some paintings take a broader perspective, like the tail of a whale as it dives or an underwater view of a brown bear fishing for red salmon. She plays around a lot with shadows and texture. The water dripping off the whale’s tail looks like falling ice, for example. In her fishing bear painting, “Salmon Dip,” sunlight falling through a stream dapples the fish and the bear’s snout, while the view of the bear above the water has a hint of abstract impressionism. Siekaniec must be doing something right — she sold five paintings on opening night. With her husband, she also has started a new small business, Alaska Salt Co., packaged sea salt made from Kachemak Bay ocean water. They have a display of their line with the “Salt” show at Grace Ridge Brewery.
That idea started as a hobby to make salt for themselves. One Christmas they made batches as gifts for family and friends.
“It was a huge hit. It instantly became a business of its own we’ve been catching up with ever since,” she said.
Unlike the salt works of warmer climates, where salt water evaporates on its own to make salt, the Siekaniecs make a rapid boil of seawater and then a slow evaporation to create the crystals. In May, Alaska Salt Works opens a shop in a building on Ocean Drive near FAA Road they will share with Salmon Sisters. Britni Siekaniec also worked with Salmon Sisters in its little trailer shop at the same place last summer.
“We’re going all in on this business,” she said.
Being a mom to a young child has long been a challenge for artists and writers. Siekaniec said initially parenthood had been a barrier to her work.
“Since she was born I went for a year, a year and a half, without painting,” she said. “Now I’m able to include her.”
Having a supportive husband also helps.
“Casey is a super dad. I couldn’t do it without him. He’s always present,” she said.
A life outside a 9-to-5 day job also gives her the freedom to create as well as to enjoy family.
“Our work schedule is around her (Hadley’s) nap schedule and what she has going on. We have the freedom to take a walk at 3 in the afternoon,” she said. “… It’s a cool family dynamic we have going on here.”
Family, business, art: Siekaniec said she’s figuring out how to juggle all three.
“I’m feeling happy and at peace with our life,” she said. “…We couldn’t be happier. That creates a space for my painting. I’m not feeling guilty.”