Not your mom’s ‘Wearable Arts’

Every Wednesday evening and Sunday afternoon for the last month, Bunnell Street Arts Center has been a hub of happy activity. 

Amy Winehouse plays over the speakers, hands dip into bowls of popcorn and pita chips and the hum of the sewing machine provides a soothing backdrop to the sound of women working. They’re exchanging advice on how best to attach wire antlers to a deer costume or put shimmery fabric tentacles on a jellyfish, catching up on the births of children and grandchildren and life at work and reminiscing about Wearable Arts shows of years past — where the wine poured freely at the Elks Lodge and the outfits on display, while wacky and creative, were handmade clothes that people would buy to wear in regular life.

This year’s Wearable Arts Show, at 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 24, will be a little different. Its theme is “Animalia,” so the clothes on display are more costume and less everyday apparel. The collection is a true menagerie of beasts both fantastical and realistic, from a wolf with angel wings to a tropical bird made of multicolored tarps meticulously pieced together by a woman in Juneau.

And this year, Wearable Arts is kid-friendly. The venue for the show, the fifth since Bunnell took over production from the Fiber Arts Collective, will be Homer High School’s Mariner Theatre. Sponsored by the high school and the Homer Foundation, much of the 2015 show is a product of Bunnell’s “Artists in the Schools” program. Bunnell’s founding executive director, Asia Freeman, says that thanks to that connection, almost two-thirds of the nearly 60 costumes on display were created by students.

At Homer High School, Bunnell board member and long-time wearable artist Ann-Margret Wimmerstedt has taught a sewing class each week during the “focus on learning” period, and several of her students are contributing pieces: a rabbit adorned with lotion bottles and fake blood to protest animal testing, a peacock, three jellyfish and more. 

At the middle school, Melisse Reichman’s students have crafted handmade masks to model. 

While Wearable Arts in years past has mostly been a fashion show, the 2015 event will incorporate dance and performance art — students at Fireweed Academy have created costumes with LED lights and prepared a dance routine under the guidance of resident artist Kara Clemens, and all the show’s models will be dancing.

The event will also feature Native Alaska elements. Inupiaq rapper Aku-Matu is stopping in Homer between trips to Greenland and New York City, and she’ll embody multiple animals during the show — both in costume and in song.

Then there’s the grand finale.

In a traditional Alaska Native legend, Raven brings the light of the sun to the people of a dark world. Homer storyteller Skywalker Payne has adapted the legend into a “free loose poem story” and she’ll close out Saturday’s show by performing it in a raven mask created by Desiree Hagen. The dramatic production will include special lighting effects and bring all the costume-clad models back out on stage.

The seasoned fabric gurus leading workshops at Bunnell say the show’s new format has provided them a special opportunity. They’ve been able to pass on their expertise to a new generation of seamstresses (and seamsters — Freeman says the emphasis on student art has brought in many more male creators).

At Bunnell last Sunday afternoon, Fiber Arts Collective founders Kari Multz and Lynne Burt supervised Homer High freshman Ellie Syth on the sewing machine. Syth was putting the final touches on a peacock costume made out of an old prom dress. She’d already finished an iridescent green feathered mask. Across the table, sewing veteran Marie Walker helped senior Tara Hueper work on a fish-scale dress.

“The thing that made me most excited about the whole project was not really the product of all these workshops, but that these kids don’t usually have time to make things,” says Wimmerstedt. Between sports practice, college applications and schoolwork, she thinks many of the students she worked with were lacking in creative outlets.

“A lot of kids go through all four years (of high school) without taking an art class,” she explains. “So just the fact that they got to come in and even touch materials and play with ideas was so special.”

To see the products of those community-wide explorations, you can buy a ticket to Saturday’s performance online at or in person at Bunnell, The Fringe, or the Bookstore. Admission is $20 for Bunnell members, $10 for youth under age six and $25 for the general population. Proceeds go towards the Artists in the Schools program.

Annie Rosenthal can be reached at

ANIMALIAWearable Arts Show

when: 7 p.m. Saturday, October 24

wheRE: Mariner Theatre

ticket info:
$20 Bunnell Members
$10 Youth (under age 6)
$25 General

Tickets available online at, Bunnell, The Fringe, and The Homer Bookstore.

A bird costume made of recycled materials

A bird costume made of recycled materials

A Juneau artist models her tarpaulin bird costume

A Juneau artist models her tarpaulin bird costume

Jessie Hiller and Johnny Hamilton model deer costumes by local artists

Jessie Hiller and Johnny Hamilton model deer costumes by local artists

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