Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Activist Tuynman built career around art, community

 


In 1959, Carol Tuynman was a studious eighth-grader in a suburb of Rochester, N.Y., when her family made a summer trip to Alaska.

Parents Louie and Hazel Nelson and siblings Ardis, Paul and Irene pulled a homemade plywood camper along the winding, bumpy Alcan Highway and around the state, looking for a place to homestead. They all liked Haines.

Tuynman dreamt of becoming a marine biologist, but her creative side already was revealing itself. Steaming down the Inside Passage aboard the cruise ship Princess Louise on the trip’s return, she won a hat-making contest by crafting a model of the vessel.

Tuynman was born in Hawarden, Iowa, in 1945 while her father was serving in the U.S. Army band in India. Her maternal grandmother, Antje Tuynman, helped raise her while operating a large farm. The Dutch woman became an important part of Tuynman’s life.

“She was the kind of person you really liked being around. It was a strong bond between us. She just taught me a lot of things and I loved learning from her,” Tuynman said.

In the 1990s, Carol changed her last name to Tuynman, a name she was told means “gardener in the city.” “I just wanted to honor her because there aren’t many Tuynmans in this country,” she said.

The Nelsons had moved to Rochester when Tuynman was in sixth grade. Louie Nelson received a French horn scholarship at the Eastman School of Music and wanted his children to be classically trained as well.

Tuynman dove into music and cultural programs. She saw more than 300 concerts before graduating from high school, including the Leningrad Philharmonic, Benny Goodman and Ed Sullivan.

She also had strong love for academics. “I really just wanted to absorb everything.”

She read voluminously, but remembering things became harder after age 11, when the family truck was rear-ended by a semi-truck pulling two loads of gravel. Their truck rolled a few times and was crumpled, leaving Tuynman with a serious concussion.

“It’s amazing we weren’t all killed. I think I had sort of a semi-conscious state for a week or so, but I don’t remember. Talking about medical issues was taboo,” she said. Tuynman wasn’t closely examined and later realized she had lost half of her vision as well as hearing in her right ear.

Determination and fondness for school propelled Tuynman through advanced placement classes in high school. After graduation, she attended the University of Miami to pursue science.

Classes were easy, but Tuynman struggled with remembering scientific names and with sexual harassment in the male-dominated program.

“I got very depressed and confused and angry. I wanted to achieve more and I seemed to be going downhill. I didn’t know it was because I might have had brain damage,” she said.

It took a long time, but, “I figured out that I couldn’t do what I wanted to do but I could do other things. I developed my conceptual ability, my problem solving, thinking, strategizing.”

Armed with sewing skills learned in youth, a pile of material and some popular magazines for inspiration, Tuynman started designing clothes with a friend. They displayed their work in an empty window of a jazz club in Coconut Grove and soon were making good money creating entire wardrobes.

“It was an introduction to you-can-do-whatever-you-want-to-do. You just decide you’re going to do something. That’s basically how most of my life has been,” she said.

After two years in Florida, Tuynman returned to New York. She left her husband, who was hanging out with a bad crowd, and moved to Brooklyn with her infant son. She earned a bachelor’s degree in comparative literature from Brooklyn College and married a psychiatrist.

When her husband was drafted to the Vietnam War, Tuynman moved with him to Beaufort, S.C., where he was stationed.

They accidentally drove into the historic district, and immediately fell in love with the place. Tuynman had made three trips to Alaska by then, and found her new town to be a lot like the one her parents and younger siblings had moved to in 1966.

“It’s a fishing town. It has a military history, a lot of artists and it’s a watershed. There are so many similarities. When we drove into Beaufort I said, ‘Oh, this is just like Haines except there aren’t any big mountains.’”

Tuynman became part of an active arts scene, co-founded the local League of Women Voters, helped start the first integrated private school in South Carolina, and had two daughters in Beaufort. When her husband’s term of duty ended and he wanted to move back to New York, Tuynman insisted they first buy a house. They found an inexpensive, historic one she restored over the next 15 years.

The family relocated to Greenwich Village in 1973.

Tired of playing the perfect Jewish housewife and acquiescing to her husband’s will, Tuynman divorced. She earned a master’s degree in media at the New School for Social Research, where instructors included national news correspondents and filmmakers.

“I really wanted to understand how our society was being shaped. It was a time where television had become universal but people still didn’t understand how much it influenced people,” she said.

Through involvement with her children’s nursery school, Tuynman met a parent who asked her for help promoting his jazz band. Tickets for National Jazz Ensemble concerts were soon selling out, and Tuynman got to know some of the musicians.

She dusted off trumpet skills learned back at Eastman School of Music and turned toward jazz and improvisation. While studying with jazz pianist Lennie Tristano, Tuynman took a suggestion to apply for a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, which she was awarded.

She spent three months in Washington, D.C. playing music and learning about how NEA funding decisions are made. One of the applicants was Jazzmobile, an organization that brings jazz music and education to the public.

“I realized that could be a place where I could do something,” Tuynman said. She called the office, introduced herself, and said she’d like a job.

The executive director told her they weren’t hiring, and she asked if she could come up to talk about it. When she walked out of the office in Harlem later that week, she had a job for a new position coordinating a crime prevention-through-art program.

In the early 1980s, Tuynman became the director of the New Wilderness foundation, which published both a literary and a music magazine. The New Wilderness Letter featured prominent enthnopoets such as Jerome Rothenburg and Gary Snyder while Ear Magazine focused on music.

When she overheard magazine board members discussing closing Ear, she took it over instead.

“It ended up being the most fun 12 years of my life. We worked in SoHo with artists, composers, musicians all over the world,” Tuynman said.

“I had a lot of editorial goals to set a standard that would create a better image of women in the arts and music. I think it really helped the artists in our field: Laurie Anderson, Phillip Glass, people who aren’t that well known but have done a lot of important work in music.”

Tuynman made some music of her own during the time, too, with Bread and Puppet Theatre, percussionist Glen Velez, trumpeter/composer Charlie Morrow and others. They took their avant garde improvisations to Europe, playing at venues ranging from concert halls and universities to galleries and river rafts.

Ear Magazine folded in the early 1990s. Tuynman moved back to Beaufort, where she worked on the city’s comprehensive plan and served as president of the League of Women Voters. She helped create a school district-wide arts-integrated teaching program showing teachers how to bring art into classrooms.

That work allowed her to travel to Haines and elsewhere during hot summer months.

As her parents aged, Tuynman spent increasingly more time here. She worked for 14 years to establish a conservation easement on their homestead at the head of Mud Bay.

“Working on that process fulfilled my desire to protect land but it also provided something the people on Mud Bay wanted. I did a lot of communicating with different landowners, and in that process the idea came up that the homestead could be a cultural center.”

Part of the homestead became Seven Echoes, which includes a community garden and potential for community art, science and cultural opportunities. While Seven Echoes was getting off the ground, so was Tuynman’s idea to put art on Main Street and a school program to build an energy-efficient studio.

She moved to Haines year-round in 2011.

“There were just all these things that made it seem like a good idea to be up here… all this stuff going on, trying to figure out how to make things happen, give people more capacity to have successful businesses and ways of earning more money in Haines,” she said.

Tuynman became president of the Alaska Arts Confluence, then secured a grant from ArtPlace America to fund the Art on Main Street installations as well as commission original art for Fort Seward.

She now serves as the Confluence’s creative director. President Michael Marks calls her a “genius.”

“She’s the most dynamic individual I’ve ever met in my life. She has incredible writing skills, incredible analytical skills and knows the arts like nobody I know and it’s all seen on Art on Main Street,” Marks said.

He said the local displays compare only to a couple of streets in New York City in terms of quality and accessibility, though those windows are filled with things for sale.

“She has the most incredible energy and dedication to pursuing the arts in Haines,” Marks said.

Tuynman describes art as an organic, egalitarian calling.

“I firmly believe that every single person has a tremendous capacity for creative work, which is what people call art. And a lot of it shows up in things like science, but I think when it can include some form of kinetic or tactile – some form of art for art’s sake – I think it just gives people such a sense of satisfaction and joy that it really has a strong community-building effect. That’s where I am right now with art,” Tuynman said.

Tuynman is enthusiastic about her work in Haines as well as her role as a grandmother of three.

“I’m kind of a person that looks at what’s going on and tries to figure out where I can fit in to help it and make it happen and it involves creativity and I’m happy. I’m having a great time,” she said.

“New Arrivals” is a feature that profiles residents who have recently moved to the Chilkat Valley and are making contributions to the community. To nominate a person to be featured, contact the CVN at 766-2688 or email cvn@chilkatvalleynews.com.

 
 

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