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Puppets, mosaics highlight exhibit at museum


June 10, 2010

The Sheldon Museum’s Six-Week Spotlight series opened Friday with collections from Haines artists Debi Knight-Kennedy and Sharon Svenson.

Svenson said she and Knight-Kennedy have wanted to do a show together for years and felt their work was very compatible. Their application was accepted last year, which gave them a year to produce the show.

Svenson, known for her rich woven tapestries and popular art mirrors using stained glass mosaics, sought to expand her work beyond functional pieces she has been creating in recent years. Her collection, entitled "In and Outside the Box," incorporates mosaics into varied art forms, including shadow boxes, decorated bottles and a discarded bird house.

A weaver for 30 years, Svenson said moving to mosaics was a natural progression. She started with flower pots, using leftover tile and switched to stained glass when a friend gave her a box of discarded chips. "Tapestry and mosaic are similar in design and style," she said. "Instead of blending colors, you apply color next to color and use stacking to make imagery."

Svenson has been creating mosaics for 12 years and has since sold her looms to make room for larger mosaic projects.

In "Raven’s Stash," a grand assemblage of stained glass, mirror and found objects, Svenson imagines a raven’s collection of glittering treasure within the roots of a massive tree. "It was fun gathering and collecting, choosing each object."

"Marley’s Shrine" was created in memory of Svenson’s sister’s cat, and incorporates his ashes into a glass bead created by husband John Svenson at its center. Svenson plans to deliver the piece to her sister in Anacortes, Wash. later this year.

Svenson used bottles collected by her mother in Pyramid Harbor and old cannery sites as the forms for mosaic work. She chose the plainest ones that "needed sparkle." "Mosaic art can be applied to every surface imaginable. I feel I have just begun to explore the possibilities."

Svenson is looking forward to the opportunity to create more large pieces, like the mosaic mural she and husband John Svenson installed at the Haines School. "Creating murals is really exciting. It’s fun to see the impact of something that big."

Knight-Kennedy’s collection, entitled "Super Heroes & Goddesses," is a collection of carved assemblages and puppets designed as objects of art.

Knight-Kennedy came to Haines in 1995 with experience carving Northwest Coast native art. Her focus shifted after a few years from formal pieces to more fluid carving. While working on an ivory teapot for a Celestial Seasonings teapot contest, she ran into trouble.

Her vision involved a frog spout atop a lotus blossom with a dragonfly handle. "I was trying to make that handle straight but it fought me," says Knight Kennedy. "Something let go in me when I decided to follow the beautiful curve. In that moment I decided to never fight the ivory again." While her teapot did not get to the contest finals, the experience guided her carving.

She was introduced to puppets 20 years ago through her mentor, carver Duane Pasco. Pasco invited her to perform with one of his puppets in a traditional longhouse ceremony. The experience left her "thoroughly enchanted," leading her to create them for Byrne Power’s Lilliputian Puppet Sideshow in Haines. She began to see puppets as fine art and created a series of them for the museum show.

The seven puppets represent "Seven Virtues" including love, truth, grace, justice and compassion. The female forms, with carved hands and faces, took on their personalities during the creation process. "I didn’t know who they were at first, but I always follow the material," she said. Love is represented in the form of a mother, grace as a wizened woman and truth is a warrior holding a shield.

Knight-Kennedy’s carved assemblages were shaped by the same fluid process. In "Wings to Fly," she creates a female form with wings sprouted from the tips of a caribou antler given to her by a Skagway friend 15 years ago. "Although I saw the initial figure in it immediately, I made many false starts," she says. "It took me years to figure out the true nature of the piece."

The show runs through July 16 and can be seen during regular museum hours.