Ever wondered about someone you pass on the sidewalk, see in the grocery store, or heard mentioned in stories? This is our attempt to track those people down, and grill them, lightly.
Will you be my friend? Elisabeth Saya 021313 AE 1 Capital City Weekly Ever wondered about someone you pass on the sidewalk, see in the grocery store, or heard mentioned in stories? This is our attempt to track those people down, and grill them, lightly.

Photo By Amanda Compton / Capital City Weekly

Elizabeth Saya strikes a pose for the camera.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Story last updated at 2/13/2013 - 2:48 pm

Will you be my friend? Elisabeth Saya

Ever wondered about someone you pass on the sidewalk, see in the grocery store, or heard mentioned in stories? This is our attempt to track those people down, and grill them, lightly.

Elisabeth Saya, (she goes by Lis), is a relatively collected whirlwind of creative energy and passion. If curiosity generated energy she would light the town. Just in her presence, one on one, it is difficult not to get wrapped up in her undying thirst to turn over cultural rocks.

Her formative years were spent in various locations, ("To abbreviate: the East Coast," she said), with three sisters, one brother and a musically and artistically inclined father and mother, respectively.

Her father was a musician, composer and songwriter, and a teacher and editor by trade. Saya said he was a major influence on her musically.

"There was always music in the house," she said, "No way of escaping. We were definitely an arts family."

Creative people are often vibrant and eclectic, and it appears the Saya's family was no exception.

"My oldest sister was very dominant and strong, she's an architect," Saya said. "We had to share a room and she would often try to boss me around. I tortured the next sister down, and she's now a harpist who runs a harp festival in San Francisco. She's coming up to perform in March."

Saya said literature and art were also pervasive in her household. One of her grandfathers ran an arts supply store in Philadelphia. The family was also quite into the outdoors.

"My dad was one of those men who was really engaged," she said. "He took us sledding, ice skating, camping, skiing, swimming."

Art and music, however, are the most apparent threads in her family.

"We have generations of artists marrying artists," Saya said. "No wonder we're all crazy. It's what happens when you breed for creativity. You keep seeing the same traits cropping up in different family members. Like the ability to draw. I had an ancestor who was the Court Artist for a crown prince of Austria. Before they had photography, he would go out on hunting trips, to Egypt, and exploring trips to draw. I have no doubts that it's been carried in the gene pool."

Saya didn't walk with her high school class on graduation. Instead, she jumped on a jet with her first boyfriend, her older sister and her sister's boyfriend, and landed in Luxemburg. She remained in Europe for two years, traveling in a Volkswagen bus.

"That was pretty liberal," Saya said. "Our parents provided the van for their unmarried daughters. We had a deal to ship it back (to them)."

Saya spent time living with a family in a town in the French Alps, which is where she said she developed her affinity for the mountains. After enrolling in a French university and studying political science, she said she realized she had a higher propensity for arts and literature.

"I wanted to be a diplomat but I really had no grasp, I can safely say, of politics," Saya said.

She moved to Boston and received an undergraduate degree in French Literature, where she met her first husband and the father of her two children. He was standing on a street corner selling underground newspapers. She said it was love at first sight, and lasted for two decades, long enough to get the couple up to Alaska and start a family.

"We set out with a 30-6 (rifle), a shot gun, and packs so heavy we could hardly carry them," Saya said. "And no car. We hopped onto the ferry in Seattle, around 1974."

The couple's goal was to relocate to Haines.

"We picked that on a map before coming up north, but, as fate would have it, in Haines we met other people who told us about Atlin, another magical place, and we ended up hitchhiking to Atlin, fell in love with it and bought a cabin."

The couple spent two years in their Atlin cabin. They lived off the land, and Saya worked on making batiks, using wax melted on a wood fire.

"Everything was so perfect, peaceful, still, quiet, it was like something was missing," Saya said. "That's when we had the idea to take out the birth control. And bingo I was pregnant."

The couple moved to Juneau and built a wall tent near Fish Creek on Douglas Island. That is where her first child, Angus, was born. Saya traveled around a bit after the birth. She lived in Cordova, Chitna, Santa Fe and Washington, where her second child, Leif, was born.

"That was a difficult birth because I also had cancer," Saya said. "He was a miracle baby and a miracle birth. I fought for his life before he was born, and he was meant to be. I struggled with that too. I got over it, knock on wood, and then moved back to (Alaska)."

She started working at Head Start in Juneau, as she had experience in teaching preschool. She's been volunteering and working there, off and on, for 28 years.

Her husband moved south, and it was an amiable breakup. Saya was living in a trailer when her current partner came to help out.

"He was strong, capable, handy," she said. "He put a roof on my trailer. He was the kind of guy I'd never met. We had a two year friendship before it developed into a romance."

She said this was a bright part of her life. It began to feel more solid, and she and her partner organized many musical concerts, which, she said, were highly influential on her youngest son.

"Angus is incredibly artistic, creating big acrylics," Saya said. "He's a really good artist. And Leif got the music gene. Neither can do the other medium."

Saya said she's currently searching for the next phase of her life, with her two sons grown and out on their own.

"I call it the 'feeling up' phase of life," she said. "I don't have the same parenting duties as before. But I'm still looking for where I can contribute and give my gifts, whatever they are, to others."

When asked about her positive qualities, Saya said she's quite intuitive.

"I really care about other people, their stories, and I like to know what makes them tick," she said. "I seem to have a knack for inspiring enough confidence that people tell me their stories, people tell me their lives. That's a great gift."

She also added her musicality and persistence to the list.

"If I really want something I'll keep going for it," Saya said. "And I'll keep asking. I was always told to ask for what you want."

Saya can be found at almost any public music, art or cultural event.

"If I'm not in them I feel like I should be there," she said. "It's like your duty to support (creative endeavors). Sometimes I say I eat and drink culture. I have an appetite for culture that is just as important as food. The arts are crucial to my mental survival."

Amanda Compton is the staff writer at the Capital City Weekly. She can be reached at