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In a place where traditional art supplies can be expensive or difficult to find, why not use what you have on hand to make something beautiful? Wearable Art’s celebration of unconventional materials to create a community fashion show is a perfectly Alaskan art form. The Southeast celebration of creativity started in Ketchikan in 1987 and has since spread to Juneau, Sitka, and Petersburg.
Petersburg’s ‘Freaks of Nature’ Wearable Art show creates a welcome new reality 040517 AE 1 Chelsea Tremblay, for the Capital City Weekly In a place where traditional art supplies can be expensive or difficult to find, why not use what you have on hand to make something beautiful? Wearable Art’s celebration of unconventional materials to create a community fashion show is a perfectly Alaskan art form. The Southeast celebration of creativity started in Ketchikan in 1987 and has since spread to Juneau, Sitka, and Petersburg.

Jane Durst as Lady Polymelia - made with her mom Suzanne Fuqua. She is a creature from an unknown place with more than the usual numbers of eyes and limbs. Her husband was wondering where all of his gloves went when he was heading out to fish. We have our answer in Lady Polymelia, who won Petersburg's wearable art show this year. Photo by Carey Case.


Ivy Worhatch, dressed as a Deer Nymph, waits backstage to model a headband made from horns shot by her father Max (complete with her own very impressive deer call demonstrated on stage), and costume made by her brother Cody from speaker material, face paint by her mom Cena Worhatch. To complete the look is a repurposed tutu. Photo by Carey Case.


Freya Tucker and Iris Case wait to go on stage to represent the Tongass Rainforest Festival committee entry - Rainforest Zombie- The Crawling Dead. A beetle and fungi backstage: typical life on the Tongass Photo by Carey Case.


Kaili Swanson models Eve, by Ketchikan artist Leslie Swada. The first bite out of the apple was set to “Lust for Life." Photo by Carey Case.


A closeup of the eyes in the winning Petersburg Wearable Art costume "Lady Polymelia," created by mother-daughter team Suzanne Fuqua and Jane Durst. Photo by Chelsea Tremblay.


"Moon Jellies," modeled by Mika Hasbrouck, Cadence Flint, and Devyn Flint. Made from umbrellas, recycled/repurposed materials and LED lights. Photo by Carey Case.


Author of this article Chelsea Tremblay models “Church of the Wild” created by Juneau artist Lauralye Miko. The dress is made from pec-plastic piping, plastic sheeting, over 10,000 eyelets, paints, embroidery, thread, and LED lights. Photo by Carey Case.

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Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Story last updated at 4/3/2017 - 7:22 pm

Petersburg’s ‘Freaks of Nature’ Wearable Art show creates a welcome new reality

In a place where traditional art supplies can be expensive or difficult to find, why not use what you have on hand to make something beautiful? Wearable Art’s celebration of unconventional materials to create a community fashion show is a perfectly Alaskan art form. The Southeast celebration of creativity started in Ketchikan in 1987 and has since spread to Juneau, Sitka, and Petersburg.

Former Petersburg KSFK radio station development director Suzanne Fuqua decided to bring Wearable Art to Petersburg to serve as a fundraiser for the station. The inaugural theme was “Anything Goes,” and she transformed the lobby of the middle school into a cocktail reception area before the audience filed into the auditorium to see the costumes on stage.

The logistics of the show shifted over time. Fuqua got approval from the fire marshal to build a temporary stage for the auditorium that extended out into the seats, allowing for the audience to more easily inspect the artists’ fantastic creations. It was the following development director, Mindy Anderson, who moved the show to the Sons of Norway hall, where the temporary stage was put together by volunteers and the KFSK Board of Directors, and the rest of the room was transformed. This year spray-painted branches and black lights framed the runway as the audience prepared to see what the 2017 theme, “Freaks of Nature,” meant to community artists.

The models and artists prepared in their own ways. Some practiced their runway routine; others had last-minute adjustments or makeup to experiment with. Models were two narrow flights of stairs above the small stage that led to the runway; when one model came up another went down, and text messages kept everyone in the loop about the status of the show. The intermission included a live art auction, led by event organizer and current KFSK development director Orin Pierson, where work from local artists was sold as a donation to the station. Artists Pia Reilly, Don Cornelius, Karen Cornelius, Beth Flor, and Susan Christensen were among those who donated their work. A special moment of the evening was the auction of a painting from the late Annabelle Baker, a Petersburg resident and dedicated KFSK volunteer who passed away in 2012.

After all the costumes and models had their moment, audience members voted for their top three favorite creations for a cash prize and bragging rights. The winner this year was the mother-daughter team Suzanne Fuqua and Jane Durst with their creation “Lady Polymelia.” Fuqua did the bulk of the creating, sewing the body out of old black shirts and blue rubber fishing gloves. Metallic pens and paint added details to the centipede-like arms of the creation, which were connected with fishing line to move in sync with Durst’s motions as she modeled their artwork. Scraps from the fabric pile and tulle from a past wearable art creation put finishing touches on the spine of the mysterious creature.

Durst drew the eyes onto the ping pong balls.

“I like to draw eyes so that was the fun part for me, sitting there at 3 am with a sharpie just coloring away,” Durst said.

Music was an integral part of the final product. Durst and Fuqua found themselves drawn to clips of cinema scores from 1950’s films, finally settling on the ethereal “Music Box Waltz” from Bernie Green and His Orchestra.

Second place was Mika Hasbrouck for “Moon Jelly.” She enlisted her friend’s daughters Cadence and Devyn Flint to carry umbrellas decorated with battery-operated lights, fabric scraps and recycled materials. The audience was transported under the sea as the jellyfish floated down the runway to Van Morrison’s “Moon Dance.” Hasbrouck said it was Orin Pierson who encouraged her to participate in this year’s event.

“He saw us out on Halloween and encouraged us to do this,” she said.

The young sisters hardly needed persuading. They enjoy being on stage for dance performances with the Mitkof Dance Troupe, and this was just another opportunity for them to perform for an audience.

Third place went to the group behind the annual Rainforest Festival, which takes place each September in Petersburg. Their design for the Wearable Art show included three models and both an entomology and mycology lesson. As explained in the narration, one model depicted the common ground beetle, which is a prolific larvae producer. This larvae had ingested a spore of the parasitic Cordyceps fungi, which hollows out the host and, “changes the enzyme dynamic inside the host’s brain to make it zombie-like, doing things that benefit the fungus, such as dropping to the ground and burying itself in a moist, dark location.” The fungus grows - depicted by model Freya Tucker who “emerged” from the wheelbarrow decorated as a larvae - and remains visible for a few weeks, just enough time to cast its “spores” (or small, brightly colored cloth balls, for the sake of the costume) into the wind, to be eaten by another larvae and continue the cycle.

Some of this year’s costumes came from other communities in Southeast. Haines artist Beth Bolander and model Dani Gross came down in person to perform in the show with the costume “Post-Apocalyptic Rebirth,” which was created in partnership with Juneau artist Gary Diekmann. The intricately designed metal exoskeleton was welded to fit her body by the artists. As she stalked the runway to Bjork’s “Army of Me,” Gross carried the energy of the artists and the vision they had worked to create.

“It was probably one of the best experiences of my life, just being part of such a positive vision like this,” Gross said. “It’s so powerful.”

The creative opportunity every few years gives artists time to prepare. Julia Murph spent years collecting movie tickets from her job with the student-run nonprofit Northern Nights Theater for her creation, modeled by Eva Lenhard. And Wear Eide returned from spending winter with family and friends in Thailand with enough time to sew together ornate flowers for her piece, “Spring Blossom.”

The fundraiser happened at a crucial time. KFSK is among the many rural stations that rely on both state and federal funding to stay active. As of press time for this article, the federal budget put forward by the new administration entirely eliminates funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which provides essential grants to rural stations around the country. And at the state level, the Senate Finance Committee has included complete elimination of state funding to public media in Alaska.

If either of these budget eliminations succeed, communities like mine would likely lose our source of emergency alert broadcasts, regional and state news, community updates, and government broadcasts. In the shadow of that threat our Wearable Art fundraiser was a welcome escape into a different world, where collaborators combined unusual elements to form a new reality.

 

Chelsea Tremblay lives, writes and sells books in Petersburg. Visit her at ofpeopleandplaces.net.