Friday, March 29, 2013

Dio-Rama: Morris Thompson Center Artworks & James Grant, Sr.

Here's a small sampling of some of the visual art on display at the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center, located in downtown Fairbanks. Four year's old, it's a one-stop resource for both residents and visitors of the Interior, housing a set of community institutions: the tribal consortium of the Tanana Chiefs Conference, the Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau, an Alaska Geographic bookstore, Denaakenaaga Inc. (Elder programs and outreach services), and lastly, the home of one of the four Alaska Public Lands Information Centers in the state. This particular branch is run by the National Park Service and is a clearinghouse of resources for anyone interested in public lands in the state, from the state to the federal (and there are a lot).

One of the most prominently displayed pieces in the building  Athabaskan artist James L. Grant Sr.'s portrait of Morris Thompson (posted above), commands the entryway of the Center and commemorates the legacy of its namesake. Another landscape by Grant is hung on the second floor, a section (approximately one third) of which is seen here:

Poking about on-line led me to discover a fantastic documentary featuring Grant and his work, which I think should be required watching for Alaskan art classes about this notable individual in the creative community:

Elsewhere in the building are some interpretive exhibits, an informative blend of text-based displays, physical objects and audio-visual elements, that were designed by Andre & Associates. A highlight for me is the couple of spectacular diorama backgrounds which were painted by Jan Vriesen (see here for a realted post about the National Park Service visitor center in Denali). These are comparable to another epic installment by local artist Heidi Hahn, who created a similar piece for the Alaska Department of Fish & Game in Fairbanks.

The second of two dioramas includes a backdrop painting (a detail of which is pictured above) which portrays a typical Interior tableau, a composite based on multiple image sources that illustrate a "drunken forest." This remix approach is in contrast to a the first diorama in the exhibit hall which references a specific area, in that case the juncture of the Tanana and Yukon rivers (Mission Hill) which is of significance relating to Morris Thompson. One of the subtle touches in these paintings is the successful illusion of integrating three-dimensional objects in the foreground - models and mounts - into the overall perspective of the piece so as to facilitate grounding the viewer into the scene. This is a unique challenge to achieve and maintain on a curved surface that spans from ceiling to floor and wall to wall.

I'll focus on a few other notable pieces of specific artwork in an forthcoming post... but visitors and locals alike would benefit from a visit to this building as an excellent opportunity to learn about the many facets of Fairbanks.

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