Attending the First Friday reception of “Women Who Run With the Tides” last week at the Pratt Museum didn’t feel like an art opening. On a rainy fall night, with visitors and artists jamming the foyer, entering the main hall meant running a gauntlet of hugs — a lot of hugs.
Subtitled “New Work by 29 Women — 25 Years,” the show didn’t just display new pieces by Kachemak Bay artists who 25 to 30 years ago started creating work. It brought together many of the women artists who laid the foundation for Homer’s art culture.
“We’re the old girls. We’re the crones of the art group,” said Nancy Wise, who co-curated the show with artist Kim Terpening.
Artist JLee, now living in Kooskia, Idaho, came up with the idea about two years ago of a retrospective show that would bring together a generation of artists.
“It was a pretty loose concept at that point,” Terpening said. “I said, ‘That would be great. Let’s do that.’”
Wise got involved when Terpening invited her to a meeting to pitch the show to Pratt curator of exhibits Scott Bartlett.
“Little did I know the next year-and-a-half of my life was going to be consumed,” Wise said.
The original concept had been “25 women, 25 years,” Wise said.
“We were looking at a way to contain the numbers and we had to find a way to define how we would be inclusive without being exclusive,” she said.
When she and Terpening started coming up with names of Homer women artists who had been here 25 years ago, they realized there were 29 still living. The curators contacted the artists and asked for new work. Graphic designer Debi Bodett, also in the show, put together a catalog of the exhibit, including biographies and photographs of their work.
Although Homer’s art culture traces its roots back to artists like Diana Tillion, Alex Combs and R.W. Tyler, a movement of new Alaskans in the 1970s and 1980s, many of them women, built a firm foundation around the work of those pioneer artists. Fiber artist Judy Little, who helped start the first Wearable Arts show, said it wasn’t a deliberate movement.
“I think it grew organically,” she said. “I think it was a movement all together: back to the earth, let go, let’s be outside the box, hitchhike, go up to Alaska. Everybody got caught up in the spirit of it.”
Many of the “Women Who Run With the Tides” are Baby Boomers, the post-World War II generation now in their 50s, 60s and 70s. In a time before the Internet, cell phones and even reliable phone service, many of the new settlers to Homer lived in rural cabins with no running water and bad roads.
“Nobody had electricity. Nobody had running water. Very few people had telephones,” Terpening said. “We were trying to do our art and raising babies by candlelight. We developed this really strong bond between women and mothers, really.”
Communication happened through the KBBI Public Radio Bush Lines and organization at meetings.
“It was just a bunch of women who had a bunch of other stuff going on. We were all having children. We were all having gardens,” Wise said. “We shared that commonality that drew us together whether we were social friends or not.”
“There was a lot of tunneling energy,” Bodett said. “There was so much support for whatever you wanted to do. That’s why I moved to Homer.”
The Pratt Museum helped pull that energy together, with group or solo shows organized by former employees Betsy Pitzman and Martha Madsen. The Pratt also held workshops.
“We started having meetings, the ‘how to’s,’” Little said. “People in Alaska have that ‘go for it’ attitude.”
Another institution that helped create a Homer artistic culture was Sharon Bauer’s (then McKemie) Ptarmigan Arts Co-op, started in 1984 from her former husband Otto Kilcher’s machine shop on Pioneer Avenue. Ptarmigan offered a retail venue and even studio space for artists. Sisters Krisann Meyer-Corcoran and Barbara — now River — Meyer made wind socks. Little had a spinning wheel and loom.
“Ptarmigan Arts was such a great place,” Little said. “It was really, really fun. I have to say that everybody was just so encouraging.”
While Homer artists still working make up the core of the show, it reunited artists who have moved Outside like Bodett, Little, Lee and the Meyer sisters. Some artists hadn’t been working in a while and the show jump started their creativity.
“There were three or four women who came up to me who said they were reinvigorated with this reuniting of us gals,” Terpening said.
“The inner art dragon came alive for some women who have been going through personal crisis or had other reasons for not making art,” Wise said.
The show also displays the changes in artists’ careers. Terpening, for example, had done painting, sculpture and book art, but for this show exhibited digital imagery printed on metal. Bodett, who studied fiber art at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, made and sold hats and vests when she lived here, but more recently has done graphic design, photography and film. Her contribution to the show is “The Collective: Jack Epperson, Alaskan Pioneer, Visionary, Healer, Friend,” a multimedia book about the late husband of Homer music teacher Mary Epperson.
Bodett’s piece led to a connection with Epperson’s granddaughter, Shana Baxter, whom she met at the show and who has shown an interest in learning about her grandfather’s work as a healer.
“I feel like I passed the baton on to a family member,” Bodett said.
That kind of connection happened all last week, Terpening said. As women came to town for the show, they got together at Terpening’s house. Over several nights they painted paper then cut into strips and women into a basket, sort of a mini-version of one of the burning baskets facilitated by Mavis Muller, also in “Women Who Run With the Tides.” On the Saturday after the show the artists had a party at the Terpenings and then lit the basket.
“This was kind of what we were hoping for: Reconnect, reconstitute the bonds we had strongly that never went away,” Terpening said. “Everybody really felt the love this week.”
Michael Armstrong can be reached at email@example.com.
Women Who Run with the Tides
New Work by 29 Women – 25 Years
On exhibit at the Pratt through Dec. 31
Artists: Charlotte Adamson, Marian Beck, Annette Bellamy, Debi Bodett, Janet Keating Carroll, Susan Cushing, Cheri Greer, Karla Freeman, Marie Herdegen, Adele Hiles, Barbara Holman, Ahna Iredale, JLee, Judy Little, Toni Maury, River Meyer, Krisann Meyer-Corcoran, Mavis Muller, Lynn Naden, Linda Skelton, Kathy Smith, Linda Smogor, Kim Terpening, Shirley Timmreck, Judy Winn, Nancy Wise, Barb Wyatt, Nancy Yaki and Aleda Yourdon
A printed catalog of the show has sold out, but may be viewed at issuu.com/debibodett/docs/women_who_run_with_the_tides