Artist residencies at Bunnell Street Arts Center tend to go in two directions. Sometimes an artist works solo, setting up a studio in a gallery where people can come and watch the artist at work or learn about techniques. Other workshops create collaborations between the artist and the community, making public art that becomes part of an installation.
Anchorage artist Sheila Wyne falls into the second camp, but like pretty much everything Wyne does, as Bunnell director Asia Freeman put it, “she’s out of the box.”
Wyne came to Homer for October to help local fiber artists — the word “fiber” is used loosely with her — expand their ideas and focus for the annual Wearable Arts show. Sponsored by the Homer Fiber Arts Collective, Wyne has been holding workshops and open studios all this month. This week, she helped artists work on their own or community projects, slouching toward completion of wearable art — again, the word “wearable” is used loosely with Wyne — for the 2017 Wearable Arts Runway Show, to be held at 6 and 9 p.m. Oct. 28 at Land’s End Resort. Tickets are $25 in advance at Bunnell or $30 at the door.
Wearable Arts challenges fiber artists to create couture in both traditional (i.e., stitched or knit fabric) as well as avant garde forms. An exhibit of Wyne’s fashion shows where she falls on the wearable spectrum. One piece, Polar Wear, made of 1,000 plastic straws, mimics the hollow shaft fur of a polar bear. Another dress, Princess Buzzkill, has a hoop skirt of old bandsaw blades and a necklace of a saw blade.
And if there’s any doubt of what kind of works Wyne and other fiber artists planned, a look at her tool set and some dresses in progress establish the direction they’re going. While longtime Homer seamstress Lynn Burt ran a sewing machine, others used drills, hammers and pliers to shape a dress made of chicken wire and copper piping. Brianna Allen wove 16mm film into a fan design. Linda Johnson crocheted cassette tape film into roses. The film will be draped over the chicken wire.
Meanwhile, Freeman, Linda Skelton and Kara Lee Bechtol aseembled sewing thread spools onto long strings.
“The idea I get to come in here and mess it up is so brilliant,” Wyne said at an artist talk on First Friday.
The movie film, cassette film and spools came from a materials and concept workshop Wyne held on Oct. 7 and 8. She invited participants to bring any objects they had around the house.
“We want to fill the window benches with these,” Allen said.
Homer artists being the pack rats that they are, they brought some strange stuff. Burt, a seamstress who has made hundreds of costumes for Pier One, Homer High School and Nutcracker productions, donated 350 empty spools, an estimated 115 miles of thread. Mallory Drover, a Homer visual art student attending Antioch College, Yellow Springs, Ohio, tore apart orange netting from fruit bags.
Gathering materials and seeing what comes out of that is part of Wyne’s technique. It starts with “What do I have too much of?” she said.
“Once I start working with the materials, they talk to me — or don’t talk to me,” Wyne said.
The first workshop looked at materials, but also sketched out a plan for the works. That’s key to her technique, Wyne said at her artist talk.
“One of my core concepts is if I can’t completely draw it or completely describe it, I don’t make it,” she said.
Drover put a spin on that, though.
“If I plan too far ahead, I don’t get creative enough,” she said.
The workshops also brought together people with different skill sets. Freeman noted the decline of sewing as a traditional art, and how seamstresses like Burt can pass on the craft. At Saturday’s workshop, Wyne worked the room, offering suggestions and sometimes sitting down to help.
“I’m stepping in where there’s something useful that can be done,” she said. “It’s better to hang together than hang separately.”
Freeman credited the Homer Fiber Arts Collective with funding and sponsoring Wyne’s residency. The collective raises money for programs like that through Wearable Arts, so the circle gets connected as Wyne helps fiber artists make new creations — and pumps some new energy into the annual event.
“She got us and we get her,” Freeman said.