Five years ago, Koby Etzwiler was a Homer High School junior and a budding artist. With the school year coming to an end and summer just around the corner, Etzwiler found just the boost he needed to continue exploring his creative side, a $250 Ptarmigan Arts visual arts scholarship. A year later, with graduation looming, Etzwiler applied for a second time and received $750.
The financial award allowed Etzwiler to purchase supplies. It also did much more.
“It really encouraged me to continue pursuing art,” said Etzwiler, who was working in watercolors, pen and ink drawings, and video editing at the time. “It was a great validation that, hey, this is something I can keep doing. Not only do I enjoy it, but it turned into a little side business for myself that I still do years later.”
Sharpening his focus to sticker and print designs, Etzwiler has sold his work at Nutcracker Faire. His stickers can be found at local businesses, in Juneau, and under the name “Ketzart” online at Etsy.com.
The date the Ptarmigan Arts scholarship began as the only visual arts scholarship given to a southern peninsula high school student was around 25 years ago. The date may be uncertain, but the intent remains clear, according to Gary Lyon, one of the cooperative gallery’s artists and the scholarship coordinator.
“We have a very strong local following and we thought it was a way to give back to the community,” Lyon said. “It shows that we’re supporting the arts and trying to encourage young artists.
Artists’ donations of $15 each created a fund of $600, the total amount given to the winning artist. Area high school juniors and seniors were, and still are, eligible to apply. If the winner is a senior, the recipient is invited to return to the gallery with a one-person show that makes clear the scholarship’s impact.
Julia Stutzer was a Homer High School senior, working with water-based oils and acrylics, when she received the Ptarmigan Arts scholarship.
“It allowed me to buy supplies I needed to take art classes at UAA (University of Alaska Anchorage). It also helped me be able to afford taking art classes. Then I had four shows, one at Ptarmigan, one at Fireweed and two in Anchorage. I also had a piece in a show for UAA,” Stutzer said, who went on to major in foreign languages and now teaches high school in Anchorage. “I don’t have time to paint, but mean to pick it up again one day.”
Ten years ago, the scholarship took a step toward stability.
“I probably need to credit (artist) Deb Lowney. She said let’s build the fund so we can make it more of a perpetual thing,” Lyon said.
Rather than relying on artists’ donations, month-long silent auctions of mostly donated art created a more substantial and sustainable fund that is now is administered by the Homer Foundation. While donations continue to be accepted, bidding for donated items was done online. This year donated pieces were put in Ptarmigan Art Backroom Gallery and are available for sale through the month of April.
“We’ve sold a bunch of stuff and this is so much easier. The auction was a real headache,” Lyon said.
The application period has closed for this year’s scholarship. The scholarship total to be awarded in 2021 will be in the neighborhood of $2,000, said Mike Miller, the foundation’s executive director. It won’t necessarily be awarded to a single recipient, however.
“We end up being soft-hearted. We get wonderful applicants and we often donate to more than one,” Lyon said. “It’s not going to change their lives, but we feel like we’re showing support by dividing it up.”
In the past, narrowing the applications to one or more recipients was done by a committee of gallery members. Since 2016 the selection has been made by the full membership.
Ptarmigan Arts coop members will meet April 21 via Zoom to review applications and interview applicants before deciding who the recipient or recipients will be.
“They have to get letters of recommendation, write a statement of where they want to go in life, and they present themselves and answer questions,” Lyon said. “These kids are so impressive. We’re always in awe and the need is often poignant, so that’s why we often can’t give to just one person.”
For information on donating to the scholarship fund, phone, email or visit the Homer Foundation website’s “donate” page.
“This is a way for artists and the community to sew into coming generations,” Miller said.