‘ARTrageous diva’ Gaye Wolfe dies

In Homer artist Gaye Wolfe’s last show, “ARTrageous Homer: A Human Tapestry,” she painted 14 portraits of artists, musicians and arts leaders from around Kachemak Bay. A face is missing from the show, one of Homer’s strongest supporters of the arts and most significant artists.

Gaye Wolfe.

Wolfe, 67, died Oct. 14, 2012, at Alaska Regional Hospital, Anchorage, after a short illness. A celebration of her life is at
2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, at Kachemak Bay Campus’ Pioneer Hall. After the celebration there will be a procession through town, stopping at places where Wolfe has work or influenced the art community:

•City Hall, where Wolfe served on the Public Arts Committee, and has a painting near the entrance;

•Gaye Wolfe Art Studio, her downtown home and studio, where she started a print making shop;


•Bunnell Street Arts Center, where she served on the board and had her last show in December 2011;

The Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center, where she organized ARTrageous Homer, an annual celebration of art;

•The Homer Council on the Arts, where 14 paintings hang in the offices and she received the 2006 HCOA Arts Advocacy Award; and

• The Pratt Museum, where she helped hang shows and volunteered for the annual Ritz Arts Extravaganza.

In her 20 years in Homer, Wolfe’s touch spread far and wide. Her art hung in every local gallery and space, even up to South Peninsula Hospital, where people in hospice care would ask that her painting of a sunset over Iliamna be hung in their rooms.

“She was one person who crossed all the boundaries,” said fellow artist and friend Rika Mouw. “She helped everywhere. She’s all about community in every way, on all levels.”

Artist and friend Mavis Muller called Wolfe “an ARTrageous diva of creativity and style, a visionary and mentor, generous with her gifts and talents, who mastered the art of inspiring by example.”

A longtime Floridian, Gaye Taks was born Jan. 16, 1945, in Baltimore. She lived in Miami, working as a hematologist — the health care workers who draw, process, type and analyze blood. After a short first marriage, she settled in West Palm Beach, Fla., in Palm Beach County, where she married Paul Wolfe, an attorney, in 1979. Her stepson, Chuck Wolfe, remembered Gaye and his father as being great entertainers.

“Every Sunday night we’d have family dinner in town,” he said. “They always had friends in the house.”

It was through Paul that Gaye came to appreciate and paint nature, Chuck said. Paul Wolfe liked to hike the Appalachian Trail, and Gaye would be his support crew, dropping him off at trailheads and driving up the road to meet him. While waiting for him to hike, Gaye would paint.

“She always had an interest in nature,” Chuck Wolfe said. “There was an opportunity provided where they could spend more time in it. You could see her paintings change.”

In West Palm Beach, Gaye Wolfe fell into the art community. She had a small gallery, Gallery 1, and then later bought a large building on Clematis Street in downtown West Palm Beach, a run-down area. That became Wolfe Gallery, a showcase for her own work and those of other artists. 

Wolfe helped revitalize the area, said her friend Randy Bianchi of West Palm Beach.

“She was involved everywhere she turned,” said Donald G. White III, a friend of Chuck Wolfe who met Gaye at Wolfe family parties.

“Gaye was colorful in her life,” White said. “She left an indelible mark in my life.”

After Paul Wolfe’s death in 1991, “She kind of just wanted to get out of Florida, the loss of her husband and being there,” said Sam Smith, Wolfe’s life partner here in Homer.

Wolfe came to Homer in 1992 to visit a friend. She saw Homer briefly and then came back for a longer visit— and bought a house on Diamond Ridge with a view down Diamond Creek Valley of lower Cook Inlet.

Smith had known Wolfe through classes at the Armory Art Center in West Palm Beach. Wolfe helped found the Armory after the Norton Museum Gallery and School of Art dropped its art classes and became a museum. After Paul died, Smith ran into her again at an opening of Wolfe’s art.

“Everybody was dressed up. I fell in love with this girl,” Smith said.

After spending a few summers in Homer, Wolfe and Smith began living here year-round in 1996. 

Muller and Mouw both said how easy it was to get to know Wolfe and how when they first met her they knew she was a friend — a soul sister, Muller said.

“She was a good listener in a world where good listening is not a virtue people strive for,” Muller said. “She excelled at that.”

“She was this striking woman with this very short white hair, so welcoming and embracing,” Mouw said she remembered. “I immediately felt comfortable and welcomed by her.”

While probably most known for her watercolors and paintings, Wolfe branched out into printmaking, winning a $2,000 Stranded Art Fund grant — a former Homer cultural grant given to local artists by anonymous donors — to buy a printing press. She also did sculpture and was a regular member of Bunnell’s life drawing class. Smith said she was mostly self-taught as an artist, but took classes in Florida and Homer.

“She was a superb color artist in both positives and negatives,” Smith said.

Even while sick this summer, she worked on Lee Post’s gray whale skeleton restoration at the Pratt, learning how to mix and paint colors to cover up brown spots on the bone.

“Her lifestyle was art. She just lived and breathed it,” Muller said. “It was not a side line. It was who she was through and through.”

Mouw remembered Wolfe as a woman of many hair styles and colors, always willing to change and experiment. That was reflected in her art, too.

“She wasn’t afraid of anything — try this, try that,” Mouw said. “She was fearless and willing to try anything and she did it so well.”

“There were many layers to her,” Muller said. “I think the overall layer was this joy and passion and intensive creativity that she brought into everything she did.”

“She was pretty. She was graceful. She had an eye for strength and beauty,” Smith said. “She could do it all. She sang, she danced. She had joie de vie.”

Wolfe was preceded in death by her second husband, Paul Wolfe, and her sister, Toby Takas. 

She considered the family of Paul Wolfe and Sam Smith her family, too. She is survived by partner Sam Smith; her step-children, Chuck Wolfe, Peter Wolfe and his wife Zoe and their children Sebastian and Gabriel, Ilse Wolfe-Nye and her husband Jim Nye and their children Aliya and Elise; two nephews, George Docekal and Steve Docekal; and Ardeth Smith and Bill Smith.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.