Ben Boettger/Peninsula Clarion Watercolor artist Francine Long (left) talks with a visitor, with paintings by Kaitlin Vadla in the foreground, during the Emerging Artists Festival on Saturday at Soldotna Creek Park in Soldotna.

Ben Boettger/Peninsula Clarion Watercolor artist Francine Long (left) talks with a visitor, with paintings by Kaitlin Vadla in the foreground, during the Emerging Artists Festival on Saturday at Soldotna Creek Park in Soldotna.

Local artists find venue at Soldotna festival

Soldotna Creek Park become an overcast and somewhat chilly gallery space for the regional artists who exhibited in the first annual Emerging Artists Festival Saturday. The recently-founded non-profit ARTSpace event was hosted and curated by the event. Local musicians played throughout the day on the park’s outdoor stage, coupled with three seminar lectures by local professional artists.

One of the exhibitors was Kasilof resident Amy Kruse, whose works, she said, was personal and symbolic. Kruse’s pieces feature archetypical female figures and bird-like creatures against abstract backgrounds, with a spontaneous and sketch-like style, with strong outlines and an emphasis on unplanned textures.

Kruse said she was surprised at which paintings of hers were chosen for the show.

“I entered a collection that I thought would be more marketable and more acceptable, and then at the last minute I decided to enter a second collection, and that’s the one that was chosen,” she said. “So I just kind of threw it out there. And it’s kind of exciting, because in this area I’d say that stuff like this isn’t what people are looking for.”

ARTSpace asked for show entries online, allowing artists to submit digital collections for their consideration. Kruse said that most of the paintings she’s exhibited so far have had a marketable Alaska theme, but that she was glad for opportunity to show her more personal work.

“I’m just really excited about this, having something to show for all this work I did,” Kruse said. “These paintings would have just hung in my house, and no one would have really saw them. Because these are the ones I don’t really show.”

Francine Long of Palmer entered a collection of watercolor paintings which also contained personal subject matter: horses. Long, whose father was a horse logger, said she has been “riding horses since before I could walk.”

“As a kid I was always drawing and painting horses,” Long said. “I took an art class in high school, and then I didn’t really consider art seriously. I ended up becoming a math teacher. But then 10 or 15 years ago, I started sketching again, and it was amazing. It just came to me. So then I started to pick up watercolor again, and it’s been about eight years since I’ve been painting.”

Long said her medium was a practical choice as well as a stylistic one. As a teacher at Palmer High School, she has little time to devote to painting.

“With watercolor you can sort of pick it up and come back to it a few hours or a few days later, and you don’t have to worry about the paint drying,” Long said. “With oils, if the paint dries it’s hard to go back and paint it again.”

Long said that Palmer High School’s break had begun the day before the Festival, and that her summer months would be spent painting. She is working on adding a challenging new element to her horse paintings.

“I started with horses, because they were the easiest,” Long said. “Probably just because I’ve been around them my whole life and I love them, and I found them easy to paint. But people are a little more challenging. But I wanted to start incorporating people in to make it a little more interesting.”

Long said she recently began depicting people with a portrait of her father, and is taking life-drawing classes to practice.

Desiree Hagen’s medium of choice is not paint, but paper. The Homer resident creates images and patterns by cutting and overlaying sheets of paper of different colors and textures.

“I’m a paper collector,” Hagen said. “If I see something that strikes me, or is unique, I save it. Sometimes I save things I get in the mail, or advertisements or promotional things, or anything. Paper is ubiquitous. That’s another reason why I enjoy paper-cutting, because you don’t need a lot. All you need is a knife or a piece of paper, and you can make something beautiful if you put some time into it.”

Hagen cuts her paper into both abstract patterns and scenes from life, such as an image of a Homer farmer’s market that she made for a poster, or a family selling vegetables in a roadside stand.

“I like to do a lot of things that I’ve experienced, or things that I like seeing,” Hagen said. “People gardening, or a guy selling produce. Somebody bicycling. I’ve noticed that I often focus a lot on women and children in a lot of my work. And some of it’s kind of personal or autobiographical.”

Hagen said that her abstract work can be as personal as representative scenes. She is currently working on a pattern based on a braided rag rug, a traditional handicraft in the Appalachian region of her native state of Virginia.

“Doing these sorts of crafts is something that was taught to me by my grandmother,” Hagen said. “Sort of like a tradition. Paper cutting is a very traditional art.”

Next month Hagen will have a solo show in Homer.

“I’m calling it ‘Paper or Plastic?’” she said. “It has cuts made out of paper and plastic, and sculptures made out of paper and plastic.”

Many of the artists at Saturday’s exhibit were at the beginning of their careers, or didn’t make art full time. Kruse said that she was glad for the opportunity the festival provided.

“The whole point is they don’t want people who are successful or people who have shown multiple times,” Kruse said. “They want to help the little guy. It’s so great.”

Reach Ben Boettger at

Ben Boettger/Peninsula Clarion Desiree Hagen of Homer cuts a pattern based on an Appalachian rag rug on Saturday at the Emerging Artists Festival at Soldotna Creek Park in Soldotna.

Ben Boettger/Peninsula Clarion Desiree Hagen of Homer cuts a pattern based on an Appalachian rag rug on Saturday at the Emerging Artists Festival at Soldotna Creek Park in Soldotna.

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