Story last updated at 2/15/2017 - 12:30 pm
On Thursday, Feb. 16, two teenaged artists and a retired professor of fisheries will sit down to sign copies of their collaborative project “Convergence,” the first book printed by the newly formed Dream Farm Press.
The seed of the publishing press was planted two years ago.
In the spring of 2014, Bob Fagen, a retired University of Alaska associate professor of biometrics, participated in a poetry-sharing event at Spike’s Café outside of the Egan Library on the UAS Juneau Campus. As the poets read, Fagen was impressed by their creativity, which got him thinking about starting his own publishing press.
“I thought there was a need in Juneau for not just one or two, but several small presses,” Fagen said. “It’s a good match for Alaska. We have Alaska writers and artists who deserve to be heard.”
“My hunch is that there are a lot of… Tidal Echoes authors out there whose work is enduring and solid enough in at least a book format anthology,” he said.
He kept the idea of a press in mind, and the idea took off when he had a solid idea for his first book. In the spring of 2016, at the baggage claim at the Juneau International Airport, he noticed an exhibit of middle school students’ artwork.
“What a nice thing that everybody walking through the airport can see it, and what a shame that everyone else can’t,” Fagen said he had thought.
So he decided to bring their work to more people via his press. He already knew each of the artists – Bridget Gehring, Roxy Symons and Luna Ewing – from performing with them in “The Nutcracker” put on by Juneau Dance Theatre. He was also interested in writing ekphrastic poems (ekphrastic art is art inspired by other pieces of art), so he began thinking of a collaboration.
“I was looking for some artworks that would really motivate me to do some writing that wasn’t just a creative writing class exercise but was really something more,” Fagen said. “And those three works really grabbed me through their originality and maturity of the work and all the connections they had through life in Juneau and to the environment of Alaska.”
He broached the subject with the students, their parents and art teachers, who were supportive of the idea.
“Then we had the perfect basis for a successful project – students, families, and teachers — all on the same page. Then I knew that it had to happen.”
With the contributors on board, Fagen began the journey. He wrote a poem for each art piece and polished them for several months. In the meantime, he took his idea of a publishing press and breathed life into it. He credits his friend Roger Lathbury, who runs Orchises Press, for educating him on the needed steps to successfully launch one.
First, Fagen got an Alaska Business License. He needed a name, so he picked Dream Farm Press after the farm of Abel and Mildred Fagen back in Chicago; Dream Farm frequently housed visiting artists, including those of the New York City Ballet, so he wanted to further the farm’s vision of nurturing artists through naming his press Dream Farm Press.
Next, Fagen created a publishing list for the year; “Convergence” was the only book in the works, so that was relatively simple. Then he purchased the ISBN, making it easy for customers, libraries and bookstores to find it.
When he got to the design phase, he quickly learned he was out of his element and would need help. He asked Jessica Thomson (mother of artist Roxy Symons), who worked at Alaska Litho, if she knew of a designer, and got pointed to Maggie Frank of FuRANKu Design of Juneau.
As the book came together, the unifying theme became apparent.
“There’s this Juneau connection between myself, dance, Roxy, her mom at Litho and her mom’s connections in publishing and the visual arts business. Perfect. And I needed a photographer, Art Sutch. And the parents contributed the pictures of the [artists’ biographies] so it was really a Juneau project,” Fagen said. “It was like an extended family where everyone was on their best behavior and trying to make sure the turkey got out of the oven on time.” He pointed toward the book. “There’s your turkey right there.”
There was a private book launch on Dec. 10, poet Emily Dickinson’s birthday. The first public appearance for Gehring, Symons, Ewing and Fagen will be on KTOO’s radio program “A Juneau Afternoon” between 3-4 p.m. on Feb. 15. The book signing at Hearthside Books’ Nugget Mall location on Feb. 16 will be at 6:30 p.m. and only Ewing will be absent. Books cost $5 and are sold at Hearthside Books, the Kindred Post, and the Juneau Art and Culture Center.
“I think we would like people to know that we’re saying thank you to Juneau for making it possible for us to do what we have done. I could never have done this in Summit, New Jersey, where I grew up, and I certainly would never have done it in New York City. When you see this book, and hopefully read it, one thing to think about is how special Juneau really, really is, and how we all have a stake of making sure it stays that way,” Fagen said. The Juneau School District’s art program, he said, was extremely important in that process. Without it, the art exhibit which sparked the idea for “Convergence” would never have been born.
Fagen said he has other book ideas in the works for the 2017 lists for Dream Farm Press — maybe a collection from a UAS graduate. He’ll also likely do another ekphrastic collaboration, this time with Juneau painter Alan Salsman.
Contact Capital City Weekly staff writer Clara Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org.