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Ketchikan's 19th Annual Wearable Art & Runway Fashion Show
"Swing Shift" Plays to Sold-Out Crowds
By Sharon Lint


February 08, 2005

Ketchikan, Alaska - For the past nineteen years, residents of Ketchikan have watched Art walk, skip, strut, slink, pad, march and dance down a brightly lit runway. This year the theme was "Swing Shift" and the event, put on by the Ketchikan Area Arts and Humanities Council, was held at the Ted Ferry Civic Center on February 4, 5 and 6th.

Wearable Art is rumored to have emerged as a distinct art form sometime in the sixties, although Sara Lawson, Executive Director of the Arts Council, would disagree. She believes the origins of Wearable Art are rooted much further back, beginning as "ornamentation of the human body time immemorial."

jpg wearable arts Galaxy 49

Galaxy 49 in Red by David Walker and modeled by Caity Koch.
Photograph by John Gabriel ©2005

Yet whether it is a newly discovered genre or as old as humankind, it is obviously here to stay. Perhaps its popularity is due to the fact that it allows the human body to become a gallery for the artists' vision of humor, philosophy, fantasy and truth. Or maybe it is so attractive to us because it not only opens the eyes of the viewer to a different perception of our world, but even more, opens the eyes of the artist as well.

Ketchikan's own recognition of the movement toward Wearable Art began in 1986. The actual specifics of the first show have blurred through the years into what Lawson refers to as "the legend of Wearable Art" but most believe it began at the Mainstreet Gallery with just six or eight artists, a handful of models, a boom box and a standing room crowd. Since that time, the number of artists and models involved has increased to well over forty this year.

The concept of the show is simple and the rules are few. Erin Hollowell, Program Director of the Arts Council, states the idea behind the show as being pure community art. "Anybody who wants to be in it, is in it," she said. "this is their chance to be in something. If they've been in the audience and they thought it was cool [they can] be in it."

jpg wearable arts Lil' Deuce

Lil' Deuce by Steve Corporon and modeled by Steve Corporon
Photograph by John Gabriel ©2005

Most of those participating, in fact, are not professional artists, models or performers. But no one cares about that. Art itself has always been about expressing our humanity. It is a form of non-verbal communication that is older than writing, but just as important. Wearable Art emphasizes our ability to communicate ourselves in a unique way. It's less about a polished product and more about exploring identities.

The rules are extremely lenient. "I would say there aren't any formal rules," Lawson explained. "There are functional rules. You need to fit through a doorway. There are probably safety things that might make us make decisions about what might be allowed, but generally, it's pretty wide open."

There are also no restrictions on the materials you can use: paint, sculpture, fabrics, textiles, electronics and engineering products are all eligible. Artists consider all kinds of found objects to complete their look. Credit cards, rubber tires, kitchen utensils, paper, tools, and ping pong balls were just a few of the items transformed into designs this year.

There is a theme chosen every year by committee, and although Artists are encouraged to base their art on their interpretation of the stated theme, it is not a requirement. When asked about whether the Arts Council prefers to see entries developed around the theme, Lawson stated, "No. It's for inspiration. If it inspires you, fine. If it doesn't inspire you, do something else and we'll work it in." Next year's theme "Flashback" was announced at the end of each of the performances.

jpg wearable art The Cinderlla Fan Club

The Cinderella Fan Club by Mollie Dwyer, Emily Dell, Alexandra Davis,
Katie Keene, Elizabeth Jagusch, and Jodie Ruar
Photograph by John Gabriel ©2005

There is also no judging. Hollowell believes that decision was made because the show is meant to be a community experience. "It's just a chance for people to show their artistic side," she said. "It's about community art and we believe excellence comes out of participation."

Lu Anechiarico, Office Manager, agrees. Still in costume from her part in Velvet Luau by artist Lizzio from Thorne Bay, she grins widely and nods. "It's always really exciting for us to see new people getting involved saying 'Oh, wow, I saw that last year, and I want to be a part of that.' And they bring a whole new take on things and that's great for art."

But, of course, there are always people who do participate year after year too, despite the huge time commitment it demands. Each artist works for most of the year by exploring a myriad of possibilities relating to form, style, fabric, flow, color, materials and media, and then finally creating their entry. As the time for the actual show draws near, hundreds of hours are squeezed into a few frantic weeks spent in perfecting the garments, which only showcase on the runway for a maximum of three minutes.

As for the quality of the work, the fashions produced range from museum-quality to the fanciful and whimsical. Overall, however, Hollowell believes the artwork has consistently improved throughout the years. "One of the reasons we like having the kids in it, is that they mature. Molly Dwyer started this when she was a little kid and now is a teenager and doing a great job."

jpg wearable arts ball gown from wood

Ball Gown from Wood Laying Around by David Walker modeled by Caity Koch
Photograph by John Gabriel ©2005

The models also improve with each subsequent performance. Elizabeth Nelson, Artistic Director of First City Players, directed this year's event and nursed models through their performance anxieties. Her easygoing manner and enthusiastic response to each participant can soothe the fears of most in a very short time.

Anechiarico relates her own experience of modeling as exceptional. "[It is] always wonderful. I always take it upon myself that it's my job personally to go out there and get the crowd started and get them excited we all take a lot of pride in the fact that people have paid good money to be entertained and we love having the chance to do that. Being a staff member and interacting with all the artists and models and everybody in the community is an unbeatable job and I feel very blessed to be able to do this."

The others involved in putting on the show concur, including the volunteers and the backstage crew. "There's no other event that we do that pulls together this kind of volunteers who are really excited to be a part of it," Anechiarico enthused. "It's amazing how many people will come out and pull this together. Certainly the three of us and the board couldn't do it by ourselves. That everybody sort of comes together helping one way or another, it's just heartwarming that this event can pull people together like this."

And it takes a lot of people to make a Wearable Arts Show a success. "Hundreds of people," Lawson answers when asked what it took to pull a show together. "all kinds of people. Just year to year tweaking it and making it better," and concludes, "Thanks to everybody for making it happen."



Sharon Lint is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Sharon at sharon(AT)
Sharon Lint ©2005

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