Collections of prints by ten local artists, ranging from miniature watercolors to urban street photography, are on display at the Soldotna Public Library. You’ll find them in the corner by the gas fireplace — not on the walls, but in a set of drawers.
Although the Soldotna library also keeps a shifting collection of local artwork on its walls, those are displayed for only two months. Visitors will be able to leaf through the drawer exhibits for the coming year.
“The main thing is being able to give more artists a chance to show for a longer period of time,” Library director Rachel Nash said. “The fact that you can have so many different artists, and show a full body of work for each artist, that’s a big advantage.”
The work in the drawers comes from 5 photographers and 5 painters. It includes scenes from Tokyo by photographer Cristine Sjoberg, abstract structural paintings by Nathan Nash, realist watercolors of landscapes and horses by Francine Long, and cut-up photo collages by Thomas Minelga.
Joe Kashi, an attorney and director of the non-profit ARTSpace, which lead the creation of the drawer exhibit with the Soldotna Rotary Club and the city of Soldotna, agreed that the opportunity to make a larger collection of related images available for public inspection is an advantage to an artist. He said displaying a large thematically linked collection “shows greater depth of exploration, openness, and artistic development than a lucky image here or there.”
ARTSpace and its partners created two new projects housed at the library. One, the drawer display, makes artwork assessable to the public. The other, a set of equipment for making high quality reproductions of artwork, is meant to make the public more accessible to artists.
Kashi said both was aimed at emerging artists — those who have yet to attract public attention and the resources that come with it. The reproduction equipment allows emerging artists to do themselves what many established artists can afford to have done professionally: make copies of their work to assemble into a portfolio or to send to galleries as submissions.
The equipment includes a digital camera capable of shooting glare-free photos of framed images when used with a pair of battery powered lights, a dedicated image-processing computer, and a large format Epson printer. The equipment is available for a fee to cover the cost of paper and ink. Using it requires first receiving training from Kashi.
“It’s not for commercial use,” Kashi said. “It’s not for making the library your office.”
He said that offering the reproduction equipment could be an alternative to commercial printing for some artists.
“We know that these are tough times,” Kashi said. “It’s easy to spend all your time fundraising to keep your doors open, and that’s not sustainable for an artist. So we looked around for different ways to do stuff.”
Kasilof artist Amy Kruse created a series of colorful, stylized female portraits for the drawer exhibit. She said she used the library lights, camera, and printer to create the prints in the drawer. She said that although she’s used local photographers to reproduce her work, she more often does the job herself.
“I’ve used my own camera, which is not nearly as nice, and I don’t have any lighting,” Kruse said. “I would just outside on my deck and take pictures with my own camera and send away for prints to be processed.”
Nash said housing the reproduction equipment is a natural extension of the library’s traditional mission.
“We’ve already a place where people have books they maybe couldn’t afford — obviously most people can’t afford to have this many books in their home,” Nash said. “So it’s sort of like that, except you’re bringing tools together that it would be a lot more difficult for individuals to afford, or they wouldn’t have the expertise. So it’s all about making a space where people can come and do things they couldn’t do on their own.”
Nash said the library location also takes advantage of an access procedure people are already familiar with.
“We’re very used to the idea of checking out items and checking them back in,” Nash said. “…People are very used to that idea of if they borrow something from the library, they’re expected to return it. I think that helps.”
The library’s art-filled drawers are in alphabetical order by artist’s name, and after six months the order will be reversed to ensure that artists in the higher drawers don’t receive a greater share of attention. Although this year’s drawer exhibitors were invited by Kashi from among acquaintances and artists he had met in previous ARTSpace events, next year’s will be chosen by an open application. Kashi said his purpose for both projects was to give more people an opportunity an opportunity to take part in art, either as creators or viewers.
“The traditional art world is overwhelmingly elitist,” Kashi said. “It tends to pump up a couple of big names and make stuff rare. We feel that being a little more democratic is better for the community and for emerging artists.”
Kruse said the drawer display could allow viewers a greater connection to the work than a traditional gallery-format show.
“At first I thought it was kind of weird, but now I think it’s kind of cool that people get to pick things up and look at them,” she said. “It’s more interactive. That amount of art and that amount of artists — there’s no way we could display all that at the library. There isn’t enough room. It’s cool that we could have that concentrated amount of local talent.”
Putting art in a drawer rather than on a wall may actually bring people closer to it, Kruse said.
“People have to actively seek it out,” she said. “Maybe they don’t take it for granted for much. I know I’m guilty of going to a place where there’s art on the walls and I don’t really look at it as much I’d want to, because I don’t want to get in people’s way. And this way you can just look at it and take your time.”