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By Dan Rudy 

Celebrating the region's arts in Wrangell


Dan Rudy/ Wrangell Sentinel

Seventy-five students and their teachers prepare for a welcoming ceremony inside the Chief Shakes Island house before the start of this year's Artfest, April 8. This is the first time Wrangell has hosted the regional festival since the tribal house was restored in 2013.

Last week's Southeast Alaska Regional Artfest went as prettily as a picture, by all counts. Sixty students and 15 teachers from high schools in Juneau, Klawock, Skagway, Petersburg, Craig, Sitka and Mount Edgecumbe made their way to Wrangell to participate in the four-day event, from April 8 to 11.

Fifteen different classes were offered at various locations in town. These were taught by a combination of visiting and local artists, and students were immersed in sometimes brand new mediums of expression.

Wrangell art program teacher Anne Luetkemeyer was very impressed with the quality of work produced by the classes.

"Most of what they did were very detailed, focused works of art," she commented. The

students participating in the festival were selected based on their level of interest and skill, and Luetkemeyer said that showed. Teachers were impressed with their students as well, noting they were well behaved and stayed on task.

Started in 1997 by Wrangell teacher Kurt Garbisch, Artfest began as a way for area art teachers to bring their best

students together each year and expose them to different art forms, thus enriching programs across the region.

"They get to see all this stuff that's possible in their

community," explained Jon Rowan Jr., a Klawock carver who taught a class on

carving spoons from alder. A craftsman all his life, he

has also been a long-time supporter of Artfest. "I've been to every single one but one," he said.

"It's definitely strengthening the art curriculums in each place," Garbisch noted. A teacher in Wrangell for 30 years, he said students and teachers bring new ideas back with them after each year's festival.

The festival concluded with an art show inside the Nolan Center Saturday evening, where students' works from each class were represented. Teachers were given the difficult task of picking one work from their class as the best, with several from each also given honorable mention.

Community members were encouraged to attend, and the mood was set by Mediterranean appetizer trays prepared by the local Girl Scouts troop and a musical accompaniment by Kayla Hay with Kaylauna Churchill on piano.

"I loved the Nolan Center for the venue," Luetkemeyer said. "It so enhances what you're trying to do when you're in an environment like that." More than the center itself, she felt the town as a whole made the experience a positive one.

"Wrangell is interested in the arts and very supportive," she explained. "It's not only a great place to work but a great place to throw an event."

Luetkemeyer was very pleased with the support given to this year's Artfest by the local Native community as well. Wrangell Cooperative Association hosted classes at its new carving facility, and classes were held at the Stikine Native Organization building's Johnson-O'Malley classroom. The whole festival was kicked off from the Chief Shakes Island clan house, where students and teachers enjoyed a presentation by the Shxat'Kwaan Dancers.

"We're really excited about Artfest and being able to accommodate them there" at the carving facility, said Carol Snoddy, coordinator for WCA's Indian Environmental General Assistance Program. "It's a first."

At the SNO Building, instructor Virginia Oliver taught students Tlingit vocabulary to go along with the drums and other instruments they were making from elk and buffalo hide.

"So much of the art that we live with is from the Native

Dan Rudy/ Wrangell Sentinel

Wrangell students Kiara Meissner and Reyn Hutten stand with their award-winning pieces and certificates Saturday at this year's Artfest. Hutton took "best in class" for her beaded hair pin. For her drawing of a baby primate, Meissner received honorable mention.

culture," Luetkemeyer added. She felt it only fitting it featured prominently in a festival celebrating art in the region.

She was very thankful for the assistance of the many

volunteers who made the event possible, feeding students,

providing transport and setting up exhibits. Luetkemeyer

was particularly thankful

to Trident Seafoods manager Ray Keith for letting them use

the plant's bunkhouse, which ended up housing 60 visitors.

For the future, Luetkemeyer hopes to improve the Artfest experience by taking its

organization into the digital age. She would like to set up a Dropbox or similar online storage account for forms and

materials, which can be added to and accessed by Southeast's pool of art program teachers as they prepare for next year's event in Haines.


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