By Michael Armstrong
Homer artists looking to get their work out to the public have tried various marketing efforts: gallery shows and sales, online stores, craft fairs and farmers markets, and social media. This summer, Homer artist Tracy Hansen has gone back to the basics with 59 North Creations, her little shop on Ocean Drive on the way to the Homer Spit next to Salmon Sisters.
Reminiscent of the late R.W. “Toby” Tyler’s gallery he ran during the 1980s in the historic Harrington Cabin on Pioneer Avenue, Hansen’s 12-foot by 20-foot gambel-roof shop has paintings and arts almost to the eaves. Her acrylic paintings, cards and prints have a prominent display, but she also sells photographs, knit plush toys, scented candles, jewelry and stickers by other artists. Hansen also has T-shirts and hoodies with her 59 North Creations logo printed by Ink to Press.
Open double doors invite visitors in, as does a sign that says “come on in — we’re awesome.” Previously, Hansen ran a business with Tracy Early, Lost Things Design, that made and sold hand-painted signs on rustic wood.
Hansen said she had been thinking of opening her own shop for years.
“I’ve been selling my stuff here and there. I wanted to have all my stuff in one place,” she said in an interview on Monday.
The impetus for opening a shop this summer came about after she had a show canceled last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hansen has shown at Ptarmigan Arts and currently has a show at Grace Ridge Brewing, the first venue to offer her a solo show. She had 25 paintings ready to show and nowhere to go.
“OK, I’m getting a little full here,” she said of her studio last year.
Hansen talked to her husband, Kraig Hansen, whom she credits for supporting her art career. He helped her do the interior work for a shed she bought from Sterling Sheds and they set it up on the lot at the corner of Ocean Drive and FAA Road.
“I just wanted a place to put my art up. I get asked all the time if I have prints. Why not try it?” she said.
Hansen’s husband also provided the incentive to move to Alaska. The couple met in Idaho and started a family. Kraig Hansen has fished commercially in Alaska. When he got a job working on the North Slope, she said he let her pick out the town she wanted to live in. He showed her Wasilla and then they came to Homer.
“We came over the hill and, nope, this is it,” she said. “If I wanted to live in Alaska, this was the most wonderful place. I’m glad we picked this place. It’s a great art community, great schools.”
Hansen grew up in southern Idaho and went to the University of Idaho, Moscow, where she got a Bachelor of Arts in interior design and architecture with a minor in art.
“When I moved here I was, ‘What do I do now?’” she said
With Early, they made fun signs with little drawings that said things like “Home Sweet Homer.” Early did the graphic design and Hansen a lot of the painting and woodworking. Hansen wanted to do more painting and less graphic design, and so she turned her career to painting.
Most of her paintings feature Alaska scenes, like a stand of birch trees and not the forest. Hansen really loves birch trees.
“I tend to zoom in on things, do closer up stuff,” she said. “… I like things that flow off the canvas. I like people to use their imagination.”
She paints mostly with palette knives.
“I use the different thick mediums to get more texture in my paintings,” Hansen said. “I like things done fast.”
Lately, Hansen has begun to paint on plywood, a media also used by encaustic painters because of its stiffness.
“It has so much texture. I used the palette knives on it. It turned out really cool,” she said. “I really like the wood texture behind everything.”
Sometimes people ask Hansen to paint a particular scene or object, but she doesn’t work that way.
“I have an idea of what I want to do, but I don’t know how it’s going to turn out in the end,” Hansen said. “…It’s always a surprise when I’m working with a palette knife.”
Hansen said she sees 59 North Creations as a way to pay it forward to artists and others who have helped her over the years. Along with her large paintings that sell from $500 and up, she also features inexpensive, small items.
“The focus is on trying to show people that there’s all local artists,” Hansen said. “They can go to one place and find artists.”
Michelle High’s Polkadot Piggy Design knit and stuffed animals have been a big hit, Hansen said, especially with aunts and uncles and grandparents. Ally High, a high school student, sells stickers she’s designed and drawn herself. Also featured are photographs by Ol Boy Photos by Dan Ungrue of Kenai, Alaska Beach Glass jewelry by Jess and Jordan, and scented candles by Vicky Sarber of Bay Avenue Candles.
“You have to find the right art,” Hansen said of her shop’s wares. “We want people who are traveling to take things home that are from Homer, but are small enough to take home, but are unique.”
In what is a common retail ethic for Homer, where shop owners try not to duplicate what’s sold elsewhere, Hansen said she wants to bring in artists “who aren’t in the other shops. I’m looking for people wanting to get started.”
The first summer has been a general success, Hansen said.
“I’ve done a lot better than I thought I would my first year,” she said. “… It’s been great. I couldn’t have asked for a better year.”
The shop’s location next to Salmon Sisters and on the way to the Spit — but not on it — has helped.
“The Spit has been crazy this year,” Hansen said. “… There are people who are ‘It’s too crazy out.’”
Hansen might open up 59 North Creations this winter. Though she doesn’t think of herself as a teacher, she said she might try some workshops like art nights.
After 10 years trying to build an art career in Homer, Hansen said she feels like it might start working out.
“It’s been a long process,” she said. “… It’s finally getting to where it’s fun.”
For more information on 59 North Creations, visit the shop’s pages on Facebook and Instagram.