Ruth Ost Towner’s felt expression art hangs on display at the Soldotna Visitor Center on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)

Ruth Ost Towner’s felt expression art hangs on display at the Soldotna Visitor Center on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)

The story of Alaska — told in felt

Visitor Center showcases fabric pieces by Alaska frontierswoman

One-of-a-kind felt art pieces are on display at the Soldotna Visitor Center through the month of September.

The felt expressions were crafted by the late Ruth Ost Towner, a Swedish-American woman whose family made its way to the Last Frontier in the early 1900s, according to Naomi Gaede-Penner, a friend of the family. Towner died in 1994.

Towner is known for creating art out of intricately stitched felt pieces. She is said to have translated nearly 70 years of life in Alaska into felt scenes of dog sleds, ice fishing, polar bears and frontier people living off the land.

Sara Hondel, the tourism and education manager at the visitor center, said the art exhibition almost came together by itself.

Hondel’s supervisor had one of Towner’s felt pieces at home and wanted to bring it into work. When Gaede-Penner saw it in the hallway of the visitor center she recognized it as one of Towner’s classic pieces, and told the staff her story.

“Naomi asked if the Soldotna Historical Society, or us, would be interested in having a display,” Hondel said. “My vision for our visitor center was to have an installation where we can take rotating monthly art.”

Hondel said the visitors are always fascinated with anything Alaska-inspired at the center, so she jumped at the chance for a felt expressions exhibition.

Many of the felt pieces that are on display are framed banners depicting Alaska life, but Hondel said Towner was also well known for creating handbags and pillows, among other things.

“This was all in her head,” Hondel said. “I was told she had certain ones that she would repeat, but they’re still different because of the variety of the colors and whatnot. But she had all the patterns in her head.”

In 1986 Towner sewed 890 banners, 82 pillows, 14 pictures, six handbags, four Christmas stockings and three mini-pillows in just one year, according to her biography at the visitor center.

“That right there is a huge endeavor,” Hondel said.

Locals have donated their Towner felt art temporarily for the visitor center exhibit, which is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Reach reporter Camille Botello at camille.botello@peninsulaclarion.com.

Ruth Ost Towner’s felt expression art hangs on display at the Soldotna Visitor Center on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)

Ruth Ost Towner’s felt expression art hangs on display at the Soldotna Visitor Center on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)

Ruth Ost Towner’s felt expression art hangs on display at the Soldotna Visitor Center on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)

Ruth Ost Towner’s felt expression art hangs on display at the Soldotna Visitor Center on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)

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