It started with a spitting contest.
A Day in the Life of: Arnie Weimer 020514 AE 1 Capital City Weekly It started with a spitting contest.

Courtesy Photo

Weimer at work on a piece on downtown Juneau. Much of his work takes "reality" into the realm of the imagination. He fortified himself for outdoor winter art while ice fishing as a child.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Story last updated at 2/5/2014 - 5:13 pm

A Day in the Life of: Arnie Weimer

It started with a spitting contest.

"I don't know," Juneau artist Arnie Weimer said when I asked him about the possibility of a "Day in the Life of" profile.

"Let's make this fun," he said. "How about ... if you can spit farther than me, you can interview me."

So we stepped outside The Rookery, where Weimer has a permanent painting and where he can frequently be found drinking coffee and sketching patrons, and gathered our digestive forces. My spitting prowess has improved dramatically since I first began wandering Southeast Alaska's trails five years ago. Weimer has had since the mid-70s to perfect his Alaskan technique, but alas for him - mine landed on the windshield of a passing car and had an unfair advantage, traveling all the way to Auke Bay, where it boarded a ferry to Bellingham, and, for all I know, is still going.

So, here's a little about Arnie Weimer. *

Weimer is a mystery to himself. The ultimate enigma of human existence is a theme that pervades much of his work.

"We still really ultimately don't know why we're here," he said. "Why we got here. It's all involuntary, all the things that are going on inside of us - vision, your heart beating, blood cells ... I don't even exist, to a large extent, to myself. My body is this strange thing that I carry around with me."

Vision is a theme - the vision of the "mind's eye" in particular, "reflecting."

"I'll have an image in my head, or I'll go home and paint a landscape from my memory. To me it's absolutely amazing that we have these faculties," he said. "To me, vision is astounding. I'm fascinated by my own presence. That's why I am the way I am, to a large extent ... We're always in the presence of what we think is the known, but it's always in the presence of an equal or greater unknown."

In line with these ideas, he likes to take the everyday and move it into the realm of the imagination.

Some of his recent works are a painting of Franklin Street splitting open, with lovers falling through a crack and into space - "falling in love." Another is a vision of Juneau with all Native architecture reflected in the Gastineau Channel, as well as the moon and Northern lights. That, he painted in six hours, all in one day.

He sees various art forms as different instruments.

"It's all the same fabric, to me. The more experience you have, the richer life is," he said. "You can bring more to one medium if you have experience with others."

He's sketched, painted, sculpted snow, metal, bronze and stone, done paper casting, etching, watercolor, oil painting, acrylics and lintel cuts, engraved wood, carved totem poles, and drawn on beach sand, among other things. He also writes poetry and the occasional short story.

"The Chinese believe you shouldn't specialize until you get really old, and I'm on the edge," he joked.

He grew up in a large hunting and gathering family in Minnesota.

Several people in his family are artists. In particular, he had a great-uncle whose paintings hung in his childhood house.

"Every chance I got to talk to him, it was always very interesting for me," Weimer said. "It (art) is kind of rooted in the family."

He attended St. Cloud State University, getting a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Cincinnati.

After he arrived in Alaska, he hand-trolled, long-lined and gillnetted.

"I came in April, when the sun is really bright on the mountains - being a painter, I was totally uplifted. That's one of the things that enthralled me," he said.

The day he arrived in Juneau, he started working for the Juneau School District as a custodian. Soon, he was painting and working as a teacher facilitator at the Alternative High School.

Later, as part of the Indian Studies Program, he worked with Jim Marks, Ray Peck, Pete Marks, Leo Marks, Walter Williams and Eva Marks, among others.

"Native art ... intrigued me," he said. "I'm lucky I got drawn in and able to work with a lot of Native artists."

A 13-foot criticism pole he carved over the course of several years stands in Gastineau Elementary School. An albatross alludes to the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and the idea that man is out of harmony with nature.

Nature, and the need to protect it, is another pervasive theme. Weimer participated in Folk Fest soon after the Exxon Valdez oil spill. He covered himself with garbage, read a poem about man destroying the ocean, and revved a chainsaw to the rhythm of "The Times, They are a-Changin'," by Bob Dylan.

"I have a real passion about nature," he said. "The destruction of nature and the appreciation of it are in conflict ... the beauty and the majesty of creation - it's just a miracle that we're even here. And all this invisible stuff (radiation from nuclear power plant disasters like that in Fukushima) is out to kill us now because of our own stupidity. We think we can do anything with nature and we're going to be forgiven."

He had a gallery on South Franklin Street for ten years, where he and Native artists carved. In April, he'll celebrate his 40th year in Southeast Alaska.

"I feel like I'm just arriving as an artist right now," he said. "Every artist probably feels that way. We're always kind of approaching the wall that we can't see over."

*The opening of this write-up owes a lot to the current version of Weimer's artist bio, written by "Mark Twain," that teller of tall tales.