A wide range of trips throughout Southcentral Alaska.
Fairbanks: 37°/68°/Partly sunny
Juneau: 37°/63°/Partly sunny
Fifteen years ago, I probably exemplified the typical tourist, spending the last day of a two-week trip rushing through the souvenir shops along Fourth Avenue to make sure everyone back home received a memento from Alaska. Friends and relatives received T-shirts, sweatshirts and the occasional moose "nugget" swizzle stick or necklace. What strikes me now about that trip is that I don't recall buying anything for myself. Even then, I suppose, the thought of wearing a shirt showing a pair of polar bears in the midst of what should be a private act lacked a certain appeal. As did wearing moose excrement around my neck.
As a 20-something with not much money, it never occurred to me to consider purchasing art. If it had, there would have been plenty of opportunities for paintings of bears and salmon and moose, or photographs of Denali. Today, that kind of art, what we who live here call "Alaskana," doesn't appeal to me because I feel surrounded by it - or maybe because I'm surrounded by real mountains, real wildlife, all the time. (When moose treat your tulip bed as a buffet line every spring, you tend not to want paintings of them hanging in your living room as a reminder.)
However, I always try to bring something back from my travels elsewhere because I know I may never again be surrounded by the sights and sounds of that place. That something is usually art, but it doesn't have to connect in a literal way. For example, my house bears no wool from New Zealand, but rather a few small pieces of bright, beautiful blown glass in oranges and blues. They don't depict New Zealand overtly, but every time I look at them, I remember the hikes and adventures of that trip.
Art from Alaska can be about mountains and moose, bears and Bush planes, but it doesn't have to be. Bringing back a keepsake - as opposed to a souvenir - can mean buying a work of art created by an Alaskan, not just "Alaskana" art.
If you happen to be visiting Anchorage on the first Friday of any given month, one of the best ways to see what Alaska artists are up to is to take advantage of First Friday. Galleries and other venues, many of them downtown, open their doors in the evening. Locals wander from venue to venue, admiring and discussing new photography, painting, sculpture, fiber art, pottery, you name it. Not only will you get a good idea of what's available, you can also talk to local art lovers as well as some of the artists themselves. If you fall in love with a work of art at a First Friday, rest assured you will truly have a unique memento of your time here. Where: Listings are printed in the Daily News Play section the first Friday of each month.
If you miss First Friday, you can still view the work of many of those same artists at local galleries. One of the newest galleries in town is Virtu, which means "excellence or merit in objects of art, curios and the like," as well as "a taste for or knowledge of such objects." The art here is high-quality yet accessible. In fact, some of it is wearable, such as the beautifully dyed scarves or the colorful yet tasteful jewelry. Paintings, photography, sculpture, ceramics, fiber art: They have a little of seemingly everything. There is even a section for kid-friendly art-related gifts. (400 W. Fourth Ave., 258-4788)
For those who like art that pushes the edges, the International Gallery of Contemporary Art states right in its mission that it encourages "experimental and explorative art." The International Gallery is as bare-bones as they come, but don't be fooled by its sparse appearance; the art truly takes center stage here, with no frills - it is staffed by volunteers - which also means no salespeople and no distractions. Don't miss the Guest Room, somewhat hidden in the back of the gallery but sometimes containing the best surprises. (427 D St., 279-1116)
If you prefer the more traditional, check out Artique Ltd. Here you will find work by some of the most revered Alaska artists, including Fred Machetanz, Barbara Lavallee and Byron Birdsall. They also present changing exhibits by both established and emerging artists. If original artwork is out of your range, Artique also offers prints and posters. (314 G St., 277-1663)
You can also meander through Stephan Fine Arts Gallery. While they feature both local and out-of-state artists, if you do want something with an Alaska theme, you can't go wrong with the work here. Some of the more popular Alaska artists represented at this gallery include Rie Munoz, Gail Niebrugge and photographer Johnny Johnson. Don't miss Judie Gumm, a local favorite for her exquisitely crafted jewelry. (600 W. Sixth Ave., 274-5009)
The Alaska Glass Gallery offers a space so full of light and reflection you'll want to take the entire collection home with you. The gallery features work by glass artists with a wide variety of styles and backgrounds. Several have studied at the Pilchuck Glass School, founded by Dale Chihuly. And you might find your Alaska moose or raven here, in blown or sculpted glass. (423 G St., 279-4527) Another way to find Alaska art is simply to look around whenever you enter a coffee shop, bookstore or cafe.
Many, especially those in the downtown area, participate in First Friday, and they continue to feature local artists during the rest of the month. If you see a work that strikes your fancy, you might be able to buy it on the spot. Nothing, after all, goes better with a latte than fine art. Certainly, it beats moose nuggets.
- Bridge and ice: You must travel the Copper River Highway to the Million Dollar Bridge and Childs Glacier. The view is worth more than a million. From the deck of the bridge, Childs Glacier is to the west and Miles Glacier is to the east.
- It is a fishing town: There are two ways to enjoy it: 1) Get out on a charter or fish for salmon from a roadside stream, 2) Watch the commercial fleet coming and going.
- Ride the waves: Getting to Cordova can be half the fun. The Alaska Marine Highway's MV Chenega takes only a bit more than three hours to cross from Whittier to Cordova. The scenery is some of the most stunning you will see.