For the Central Peninsula’s crafters, artists, and merchants, Soldotna’s Progress Days festival is an opportunity to bring their work to market.
“On Progress Days we go all out,” said Kaegan Koski, co-owner with his sister Molly of the craft business Kid Crafts. In their vending pavilion in Soldotna Creek Park, the two sold a variety of crafts based on video games, Disney movies, and superhero comics. Of the two summer events at which they sell their items — Progress Days and the Fourth of July — Kaegan Koski said Progress Days is the biggest.
“On Progress Days there’s more people, and it’s two days, and there’s so many people walking around for those two days,” Koski said.
The most numerous items in the Kids Craft tent were figures made with perler beads — colored plastic beads that can be arranged in patterns and fused into a flat shape with an iron. Molly and Kaegan Koski used the beads to create images of superheroes, princesses, and pokemon in the pixilated style of 8-bit video games.
Kaegan said the 8-bit perler figures had been the foundation of the enterprise since it began two years ago as a way to fund a 5th grade class trip to New York. The Koskis began making and selling perler bead designs based on objects and characters from the video game Minecraft.
“Over time we started doing different types of perler figures, like Mario and Pokemon,” Kaegan Koski said. “After that we started getting more ideas from Pinterest and such, so we just started doing a whole bunch of different stuff, like chocolate-scented bath salts and wands.”
Their Harry Potter-style magic wands are made with chopsticks, hot glue, and paint.
Kaegan Koski said that making a perler figure takes between 10 and 20 minutes, depending on its complexity. He said that when it began, Kid Crafts made $500. Last year, he said they made around $800, and this year they hope to make $1,000.
“Most of it goes toward family vacations,” Kaegan Koski said.
Hedy Huss is another Progress Days vendor who brought her crafts to Soldotna Creek Park during Progress Days. In her case, those crafts are small sculptures made of pebbles and found objects. Huss is the owner of “Hedy Rocks,” an enterprise based on her rock creations. Her wares include “rock gardens” that incorporate flowers and moss and portraits of “Alaska Men” — pebble sculptures that resemble heads, all of whom have beards made of wool.
“Sometimes the idea comes from the rocks,” Huss said. “Other times, it’ll just be a snap. I think of it, then I’ll go to work on it.”
Huss — who moved to Soldotna in April from Tuscon, Arizona — said that she collects her rocks from the Peninsula’s beaches and dirt roads.
“When I’m walking, I can’t resist looking down,” Huss said. “I might find a little treasure of just the right size. I’m always on the lookout.”
In another corner of Soldotna Creek Park, a louder group of artists are showing off their work. On Saturday and Sunday at 1:00, the five chainsaw sculptors competing in the three-day Sawfest Chainsaw Carving Competition buzz through “quick carves” that attract upwards of a hundred people. They spend the rest of the day sharing tips and strategies while working on larger sculptures that will be judged on Sunday.
The competition began Thursday evening when logs for the main sculptures were set up. Derrick Stanton, of Derrick Stanton Log Works in Kenai, said carvers usually draw for their logs at larger competitions. At Sawfest, he said they decide amongst themselves how to divvy up the logs.
“This is the tallest log I’ve carved,” Stanton said of his 12-foot statue. “The bull moose and the female that (fellow sculptor) Scott (Hanson)’s doing is going to be really cool. It’s going to be more of an artsy piece than he usually does.”
The real work began on Friday, when the wooden statues were just beginning to take shape. Carvers battled the sun and heat while they carved; the roar of all five chainsaws filled the air one moment, while the artists took cover in the shade the next.
“Living in Alaska, we’re not used to this,” Stanton said. “You feel the heat off the saw. You’ve got to drink a lot of water, (and) it wears you down a lot faster.”
Carmen West, of Hatchers Pass, said she didn’t always have as much time to “play with wood” as she would have liked, having owned a restaurant for nine years.
“It’s a good anger management tool. You go play with your saw for an hour, you don’t have energy left for anybody,” West said. “I get to hang out with these guys, and it’s a good time, getting to see all their kids every year as they grow.”
The winners of Sawfest will be announced at 3 p.m. on Sunday, and will split a $1,000 prize. Each of Saturday and Sunday’s quick carves will be auctioned off at the Soldotna Chamber Annual Pie Auction. Finally, each carver will compete for the People’s Choice Award, also to be announced Sunday.