From creating metal jewelry to teaching metalsmithing in classrooms and community spaces to volunteering his time with groups and organizations around the state, Art Koeninger is dedicated to a life of creativity and compassion.
Since 1966, Koeninger has been a self-taught, self-employed jeweler and metal artist, motivated by a sense of curiosity and playfulness.
“As human beings, there’s something innately a part of us that compels us to create,” he said. “My creativity is my way of interacting with the world, of being a part of it, and contributing.”
Drawing inspiration from ancient to contemporary culture and nature, Koeninger works out of his log home studio in downtown Homer. While he creates numerous items from metal, he has a special fondness for making jewelry, from the silver medallion pins he provides to Haven House for their annual Women of Distinction awards, to necklaces, earrings, bracelets and rings that he produces on commission and that he sells at galleries around Alaska, including his own gallery, Spirit Mountain Artworks in Chitina.
“As wearable art, jewelry is a more affordable and personal expression for the wearer, is more visible to a wider audience than something on a wall or pedestal, and is generally quicker to make,” he said. “Most everybody wears and appreciates some sort of jewelry, which often takes on sentimental value of its own and, along with its durability, can be passed on for generations.”
Koeninger’s love for metalwork grew out of a sculpture class he took in college where he learned how malleable the medium is.
“I like that you can change the shape of whatever you’re working on and then change it back and that there’s an interplay between the materials and the tools,” he said. “And metal is easily manipulated, so there are so many different things you can do with it, and it’s also very durable and will last forever. My goal is to corral the materials into the best idea I can, with the tools, talents, materials and time I have.”
A metalsmith who bends and shapes metal, he is also a waxsmith, working with waxes in a variety of consistencies, from play dough to almost ivory, in the process of lost wax casting by which a single metal object is cast from a wax model.
Eager to share his passion for metals with others, since 1971, Koeninger has been teaching jewelry design and fabrication and lost wax casting to artists and non-artists and community members of all ages, in private and public schools, through the Artists-in-Schools program, Homer Community Recreation, the Anchorage Museum, and as an adjunct professor with the University of Alaska. Earlier this month, he taught an Introduction to Silversmithing community class and a two-week Artist-in-the-Schools residency at the Homer Flex School. At the end of March and beginning of April, he will teach a Lost Wax Casting class and an Intermediate Silversmithing class.
As a working artist, Koeninger has also dabbled in a variety of professions through the years, in addition to jeweler, metal artist, gallery owner and teacher, including as a volunteer service organizer, mount maker, cartographer, food service worker, working in remodeling and construction, manufacturing, plumbing, and facilities management, always bringing his commitment to creativity and compassion with him.
Born in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, Koeninger’s foray into the arts began as a youth when he took painting classes and later, at Rice University in Texas, when he took a sculpture class and found himself drawn to welding and metal work. Learning by doing, reading books and taking workshops, he branched out into jewelry fabrication and lost wax casting.
For a year, he worked as the house jeweler in the Mission District in San Francisco where he learned production techniques in both casting and fabricating, as well as disciplined work habits. Soon after, he became self-supporting through his own work, doing custom orders, attending craft fairs, marketing through galleries, and teaching jewelry fabrication workshops in schools.
When he moved to Alaska in 1975, Koeninger got a job as the house jeweler at Nick Begich, Jr.’s jewelry shop in Anchorage, doing custom jewelry and repairs. After a couple of years, he got studio space in the metals department of the Visual Arts Center, where he continued doing custom design, taking advantage of many of the center’s visiting artists workshops. He also began holding two-person exhibits in local galleries, and taught fabrication and casting workshops. Traveling the state with the Alaska State Council on the Arts Artists-in-Schools program, he was an adjunct instructor for 25 years through Prince William Sound Community College and other campuses.
In 1977, Koeninger bought a dilapidated false front frame building in Chitina, Alaska, and after getting it listed on the National Register of Historic places and renovating it through state and federal preservation grants, he opened Spirit Mountain Artworks, representing a couple of hundred artists from around Alaska and the United States, and continuing his jewelry work and teaching. In 2003, Koeninger moved to Homer, though he continues to spend his summer months running the gallery.
Dedicated to pursuing and sharing his creativity, Koeninger is equally as dedicated to living a life of compassion in action. Between his freshmen and sophomore year in college, he participated in a Quaker-sponsored service project in a Guatemalan village. The group built pews for a small Catholic church and worked building gravity-fed water systems, among other projects, a transformative experience for the young Koeninger.
“Being in that exotic culture, the positive group dynamics of working with other volunteers and community members, the morning silent meditation we engaged in before we went to work, and the Quaker model of working through consensus were all very transformative for me,” he shared.
Since 1966, Koeninger has volunteered with a variety of projects and a variety of groups and organizations, including as a Youth Volunteer Services Organizer, on the American Friends Service Committee with the Quakers, on volunteer committees to plan projects serving migrant farm workers, self-help housing for former migrant farm workers, and in juvenile homes, mental hospitals, homes for the developmentally disabled, and with inner city at-risk youth.
In Chitina, he managed grants for a new fire truck, fire hall renovation, fire fighting equipment and a community water well and served as an ETT/First Responder, and has also organized music and arts festivals in the community. He has worked on advocacy for community with State, National Parks, Native Councils and Corporations, Chambers of Commerce, and Economic Development Council, and advocated for the Copper Basin region on environmental issues, to name just a few.
He currently participates on the Alaska Quakers Seeking Right Relationships with First Alaskans, focused on Missing and Murdered Indigenous People and historical Quaker Indian Boarding Schools, participates with Hands of Peace/Alternatives to Violence Project Alaska doing conflict resolution, communication, and empathy training in prisons and various communities around Alaska, and volunteers with Hospice of Homer, moving medical equipment between the office and clients’ homes and visiting homebound people.
In 2019, when Anesha “Duffy” Murnane went missing, Koeninger, who is a friend of Murnane’s family, joined in the searches, created the “Bring Duffy Home” Facebook page and several email list-serves to help spread the word, serving as an integral part of a small group of individuals working behind the scenes to keep Murnane’s disappearance in the public eye, and supporting her family.
He also lent his creative expertise to the Loved & Lost Memorial Bench, which Murnane’s family commissioned artist Brad Hughes to create to honor their daughter’s life and raise awareness to the issue of missing and murdered individuals. While Hughes created the sculptures, Koeninger touched up the background textures, did detail finish work on the figures, and assisted with the mold making and casting processes that makes the bench reproducible.
Most recently, he created a bronze lotus blossom that will house an LED light that will illuminate the sculptures and add an element of hope to the bench. This bench now permanently resides outside the Homer Public Library.
“This has been a very moving experience, working on the bench,” he said. “Each character has their own personality and manner of dealing with grief and separation. For the most part, I had to focus on the clay and the detail, rather than dwell on the subject matter. It was good to have something physical to do to help process all my thoughts and feelings.”
Koeninger’s short-term goals include selling his gallery in Chitina and retiring so that he has more time to work on his own artwork and enjoy life in Homer. His long-term goals include continuing to be both curious and useful.
On March 24 to 26, Koeninger will teach a Lost Wax Jewelry Casting class that is open to middle school students with a parent attending with them, as well as adults. April 1 to 2, he will teach Intermediate Silversmithing for students who have taken his introductory class or have prior experience with silversmithing. Both classes are through the City of Homer Community Recreation. For more information and to register, contact Art at 907-235-1014 or email@example.com.