Jon Boehmler grinds the floors at the Kenai Art Center in Kenai, Alaska, as part of a flooring renovation on Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Jon Boehmler grinds the floors at the Kenai Art Center in Kenai, Alaska, as part of a flooring renovation on Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

New year, new floor, new shows

Kenai Art Center to open two exhibitions next week alongside debut of renovated floor

The Kenai Art Center is entering the new year with a new look and two new exhibitions.

The art center is replacing its carpet with a polished and reflective hard surface which will debut alongside a show by local artist Diane Dunn and a retrospective exhibition for Ann-Lillian Schell.

The center began ripping out the existing carpet last week and on Wednesday, Jon Boehmler of Pro Grind Alaska was hard at work grinding down the floors.

Executive Director Alex Rydlinski said the carpet was the first issue he identified when he began working with the center in 2020.

“For too long this soiled, soul crushing carpet has stolen vibes from show after show, distracting from the artwork with its mysterious phantom stains,” he recently wrote in an Instagram post announcing the renovation.

Wednesday, he explained that it was a distraction, something he always noticed in photos or during shows. He said the new floor would be “invisible.”

Some of the carpet, in the backroom, was removed during 2020 renovations, but Rydlinski said they didn’t have the funds to refloor the entire space.

The art center isn’t even sure how old the carpet is. Marion Nelson, board president, said it predates the building becoming the art center.

“It’s old and nasty at this point, and very dull looking,” she said. “It’s gone now, and that next life that it will have is being cut up and used as a weed block on some garden pathways.”

A grant from the Rasmuson Foundation made the renovation possible, and Rydlinski said he hopes it’s only the start of continued work on the space.

“There’s so many great resources in Alaska,” he said, naming the Rasmuson, the Alaska State Council on the Arts and others. “They’ve sort of got our backs.”

The new reflective hard floor will contribute to “a real gallery vibe,” Rydlinski said. The artwork will reflect off the floor, the pedestals and lights will have a greater depth.

Two art shows will be opening on Jan. 5, both the first to take advantage of the new floor.

“2000 Journals: Filling the Void,” an art installation and performance by Diane Dunn, will open with a reception and live performance Thursday.

“It’s totally different for Kenai,” Rydlinski said of the show.

There will be artwork on the walls, and handmade books will be strewn around the gallery. A video of Dunn writing in the books will be played, and she will perform live on specific days yet to be announced, filling the books with what Rydlinski called “stream of consciousness writing.”

Dunn has a long background in Anchorage’s art scene, Rydlinski said. She moved away, then returned to Kenai. He said she does lots of “fun stuff,” including performance art and abstractions.

The opening reception will be held on Thursday, Jan. 5 from 5-7 p.m. A schedule for further performances will be made available online at kenaiartcenter.org.

The other January exhibit, held in the back gallery, is a retrospective in memory of Ann-Lillian Schell, who died on Nov. 23. The show is curated by Zirrus VanDevere and Schell’s daughter Sarana. The show is titled “A Life Well Sewn.”

A biography prepared by the two describes Schell as having a lifelong “love affair” with fabric and design, beginning with sewing doll clothes then spending her life “soaking up new techniques.” The biography also says she defeated cancer three times with cheer.

“Ann-Lillian was an upbeat, curious, playful and experimental artist who always had something new she was working on or interested in,” they wrote.

In an interview with the Clarion on Wednesday, VanDevere said Schell was a “pretty amazing person” who was involved with the local art guild for at least 20 years. The show will feature a wide variety of her work — detailed botanical drawings, canvas paintings, quilts and wearables, as well as photographs of her life.

“It seemed like an obvious choice to put on an exhibit,” VanDevere said. “We just want to show her character and honor her life. She was quite a human being.”

“We’re so grateful that people want to do that kind of stuff, and we’re prideful that we can put that on here — it’s a community space,” Rydlinski said.

Looking forward to the rest of 2023, Rydlinski said that exciting exhibitions will be coming each month. In February, the center will be showcasing metal work, and in March, the center will ring in spring with “Bird Call” — an open call show centered around birds.

A full list of exhibits is available on the center’s website, including shows by artists Nathan Perry, Charlotte Coots, Abbey Ulen and Susan Watkins, as well as returning annual programs like the Harvest Art Auction, and Mural 2023.

Further renovations may get their start next year as well, Rydlinski said. Now that the carpet has been felled, he said he’d like to see work done on the ceiling and lighting, as well as the building’s front facade.

For more information about the Kenai Art Center and upcoming exhibitions, visit kenaiartcenter.org or Facebook.com/KenaiArtCenter.

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.

Jon Boehmler grinds the floors at the Kenai Art Center in Kenai, Alaska, as part of a flooring renovation on Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Jon Boehmler grinds the floors at the Kenai Art Center in Kenai, Alaska, as part of a flooring renovation on Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

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