As a girl growing up in Kenai, Deborah Poore saw herself as an artist and wanting to learn to paint. But a career as an elementary school teacher and raising her children in Homer led her down other paths.
Now, at 67, retired and with her children grown, Poore has come home to her art.
“I think when you hit your 60s — and you’re lucky enough to hit your 60s — life is going by pretty quickly here,” she said via phone from San Diego, California. “What are the things I want to accomplish? Painting was one of them.”
If her recent work is an example, Poore has thrown herself into her art. While she had paintings in student art shows she did when taking classes with Karla Freeman, Asia Freeman and Jim Buncak at Kachemak Bay Campus, in the last six months she has done two solo shows, one in October at the Homer Council on the Arts and a show up through this Friday at Grace Ridge Brewery.
“Last summer I was in a frenzy,” Poore said on Feb. 7 at the Grace Ridge First Friday opening reception. “I was getting up early in the morning and painting two hours a day.”
Her Grace Ridge show, “Many Moods of the Wosnesenski,” includes landscapes, many of them of the Wosnesenski River and Glacier. Some are of views from her Bishop’s Beach home.
“We look at it in our view,” she said at the First Friday opening. “How can you not want to converse with those mountains?”
Poore also does quilting, an art that came out of childhood learning folk arts — sewing, quilting, embroidery and quilting — from her mother, a baby sitter and her grandmothers.
“I’m not a precision quilter,” she said. “I’m much more a folk quilter. My quilts are more rustic. I don’t care if my seams aren’t lined up. I prefer that they’re not.”
Born at the old Providence Hospital in Anchorage, Poore was raised in Kenai. The oldest of three, with a sister and brother, she first lived in a little cabin in Kenai’s Old Town and later on a small 5-acre homestead along the Kenai River near Eagle Rock.
“It was really magical back then,” she said. “… It was a precious childhood. I think all three of us were well cared for. We didn’t have some of the traumas so many people experienced.”
Her family had the modern Alaska conveniences of electricity, running water, an oil heating stove and a propane cook stove, but they lived a partly subsistence lifestyle, such as growing a big garden. Her dad worked as a framing carpenter and her mother in the office at Kenai Pipeline.
“When I went away to school, people would ask me, ‘What did your do with your family for fun?’” she said. “Well, we dug potatoes.”
A graduate of Kenai Central High School, Poore studied art with Jim Evenson, a prominent Kenai Peninsula artist. She was the only girl in her drafting class.
“My class drew the house plans for the carpentry class to build a house they then sold,” Poore said. “… It’s one thing to take a class, but to take a class to know other people will depend on you. … There’s a sense of responsibility there, but also a real sense of community, too.”
Later, she put those skills to work in building her Homer homes. One of her goals was to design and build her own home.
“I did that on Diamond Ridge and we did it again in town,” she said.
At the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Poore studied liberal arts, including a class in cartography.
“I was just sampling all kinds of things. I did a Native skin-sewing class,” she said. “I was lucky to have the freedom to do that.”
Poore spent the last two years of college at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she got a teaching degree. Massachusetts and Alaska had reciprocity in teaching licenses, meaning with her U. Mass. teaching certificate she could work in Alaska.
“For me it was really important to get away from Alaska, to look back at it and decide it was where I want to be,” she said. “At the end of my two years back east, I was more than ready to come home.”
After college she came back to Kenai and found a job teaching in Homer. Growing up, her mother would take them to Homer every summer for a short vacation.
“We would come to Homer and enjoy a day on the beach,” Poore said. “That was back in the day you’d walk up to the seafood store. They’d cook a crab for you. You’d eat half of it on the beach and take the other half back to make a crab salad.”
Poore taught third grade at Paul Banks Elementary School her entire career.
“I didn’t have it in mind I would stay in Homer forever, but I never found a good reason to leave,” she said. “I love to travel, but my heart is really in Homer.”
During her years as a teacher and mother to small children, Poore did some art, such as taking painting classes with Karla Freeman in the summers.
“I didn’t really have the time or energy to dedicate myself to it in a larger sense until the kids were grown,” Poore said of her art. “Once they were grown and out of the home, I’ve been spending more dedicated time.”
For her painting, Poore uses palette knives. A big fan of Impressionism — she really likes Henri Matisse and Vincent Van Gogh as well as Georgia O’Keefe — using palette knives allows her to paint in broader, thicker strokes.
“It’s like spreading mud,” she said at her art opening.
Her background in drafting and cartography pushed her into a precise, linear style.
“In order to break that pattern, it helped me to work with a palette knife,” she said. “It forced me to break my style.”
Growing up in rural Kenai, Poore came to appreciate the natural beauty of the land and the wildlife. That circles back to her art today.
“When I do my art, it’s a celebration of the things close to me that I love, whether it’s the scenery or the animals or the flowers,” she said. “It’s looking closely and thinking what a miracle this is, what a joy it is to have in our life.”
That’s a reaction she said she hopes to find from her heart — and one she’s received.
“I hope that’s what my work does: It speaks to people’s hearts and brings them some appreciation and joy for the world,” she said.
Her Homer Council on the Arts Show included mostly paintings of flowers.
“What I started hearing from people was ‘It’s so joyful,’ ” she said. “When I started hearing that from more than one person, … I thought, that one works.”