'Feels Like Home' touches on Southeast nostalgia


December 7, 2017

Tia Heywood's upbringing in Haines inspired the artwork for her upcoming show at the Sheldon Museum. Viewers are encouraged to touch and interact with her pieces. "I like art that brings the viewer in as a participant. It's more intimate, and often more memorable," she said.

Looking at the work of artist Tia Heywood, one could easily be fooled into thinking the pieces were plucked from a near-by shoreline or forest.

Though the subjects of Heywood's sculptural pieces may be familiar, the substance and sensations of her Alaskan-inspired art will offer viewers a new experience, primarily by converting them into participants through touch.

"Touch is such an important part of the process of making sculptures, and it seems to me that viewers should get to share in that experience," Heywood said.

Heywood came to this serendipitous conclusion after working on a wooden piece the year before her show.

"I didn't like the way it looked, but loved the way it felt," she said. "So I figured, why not let people touch it?"

The pieces in Heywood's "Feels Like Home"- part of the Sheldon Museum's six-week artist spotlight series – were created as a senior project for her art degree, which she received this summer from Brown University.

This project provided an outlet for expression where language was lacking, or as she said, "I find it hard to put into words what Alaska means to me-which is why I make art about it instead."

Her art draws on her childhood experiences exploring the outdoors with her two older brothers, Kee and Sung.

"I liked to tag along with them on our adventures in the woods around our house."

Through these outdoor explorations, Heywood came to appreciate ubiquity of edible plants in Southeast Alaska.

"I love that I can snack on food while I'm out on a walk, whether in the woods, on the beach, or even in my driveway," she said. Felted blueberries and a wood-sculpted smoked salmon piece reflect this edible affinity.

Time spent indoors during her youth was equally formative. A self-described bookworm, Heywood said she spent many hours curled up with a book – a love shared by her parents Tim and Liz Heywood, former owners of the Babbling Book – or making art.

Local art teacher Linnus Danner inspired Heywood to explore different mediums. She built on this in elementary school during summer classes with local artists. In high school she attended Art Fest in where she learned a variety of skills from stained glass to basket weaving.

Heywood graduated with a class of 30 in Haines High School in 2013. She made the nearly 4,000-mile move to Rhode Island's most populous city to study visual art and ethnic studies at Brown University. The west to east move from rural to urban provided Heywood with new insights on her upbringing.

"I didn't realize how unique my upbringing was until I started telling non-Alaskans about it," she said. "Being Alaskan makes me somewhat of a celebrity...outside of Alaska."

Heywood said she enjoys the diversity of the East Coast and the easy access to big cities. In the time it takes to ferry from Haines to Juneau, Heywood can travel from Providence to New York City. But she said she misses easy access to nature.

"In Southeast Alaska you can't get away from it. In Rhode Island you have to seek it out," she said.

After graduating earlier this year, Heywood decided to stay in Rhode Island. She works with developmentally disabled adults at an art and music day center in Pawtucket.

"I really like my job, but I don't see myself on the East Coast in the long-term."

She said she comes home every chance she gets, and her next chance will be later this month for the opening reception of "Feels Like Home" on Dec. 15 from 5-7 p.m. at the Sheldon Museum. Her work will be displayed until January 27, 2018.


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