Creativity grows wild at Forest Fair
By P.M. Fadden
Thousands of visitors mixed with hundreds of vendors during the July 1st thru 3rd annual art inundation of Girdwood Forest Fair [GFF]. In its 41st year, 2016 GFF was an eclectic assemblage of over 150 artisans showcasing hand-made, aesthetic works across watercolor, acrylic, woods, metals, photographic, textile, glass, canvas and body art mediums.
“This is one of the premier local arts events in the state of Alaska,” said watercolor artist Edward M. Zegzdryn of his sixth consecutive GFF experience. “What Girdwood has here is a vibe conducive to art.”
Preparing the art-friendly forest is no small undertaking. Event organizers carefully provide a setting where creativity can build off of itself.
“Each fair is a year in the planning,” said GFF Media, Events Coordinator Terri Adkins. “It’s twelve months of meetings. And, while planning, we remember that GFF began with only a handful of artists sharing among friends. Our intention is to carry on that original spirit as best we can.”
That valley presence of artists-in-concert has remained undimmed throughout subsequent years. The 30-member Girdwood Valley Center for the Arts represents a modern artist collective. Its Olympic Loop showroom displays art spanning mediums and purpose, and its artists celebrate 20 years of GFF participation.
Annual GFF’s are convention-like in that artists like of those of GVCA assemble to share creatively in a setting unanimously opined to be ideal for idea generation.
“Alaska is my inspiration,” said 3rd-year GFF artist Vladimir Zhikhartsev.
Zhikhartsev, a medalist ice sculptor and watercolor artist, splits time between art instruction and attending art fairs such as GFF.
“This beautiful forest inspires me as do my fellow artists,” he said, “them, and the characters coming out for the shows. I like them—that’s also what I come to see.”
Decorative aid for the many ‘characters’ at GFF comes from Stacie Smiley of Stray Cat Design and Alaska Henna. Smiley claims 19 years beautifying GFF crowds with henna art.
“I come every year to see what other artists are doing and show what I can do,” Smiley said. “I wouldn’t miss it.”
Photographer Coby Brock returned for his 2nd GFF based upon the positive experience of his first.
“I’ve been photographing wildlife for 9 years. I see this as a location for great examples of art,” Brock said. “Alaska is the best place for the growth of my photography, and I’m glad to look around and at many new faces interested in the same. It inspires me to improve my own work.”
Life long photographer Didier J. Lindsey agrees.
“Let’s face it,” Lindsey said, “an artist’s income can be inconsistent, so Forest Fair is for the great displays and fun venue.”
Lindsey speaks from 25 years of GFF shows.
“Alaska and Forest Fair have been good to me and my photography,” he said.
Watercolor artist Hailey Morgan was a first-time GFF participant.
“I’m loving the positive interactions among artists and happy feedback from clients,” Morgan said. “I’ve been doing shows for eight years, but this year’s Forest Fair was the only show I wanted to attend—the crowds, the artists, the fairgrounds–it’s all here.”
Veteran vender Laurel Carnahan has been coming to GFF for 21 years.
“I’ve seen the fair grow a lot,” she said. “It’s my favorite show for its roots in artistry. It draws great people and those with a serious eye for collecting.”
Sixteen year old Gabriella Thompson recognizes GFF’s healthy air for art. Thompson, aided by Dad Jonas, has been a GFF participant since 10 years old. She sees GFF as a showcase of animals and art. What’s more, GFF is also a means by which the junior artist can give back to nature. Ten percent of Thompson’s art sales are donated to state wildlife associations.
Alexandra Cronquist is a 2nd-year GFF metals artist who sees the fair’s potential for positive personal as well as professional growth. Cronquist concluded GFF 2016 with plans to take her art on an around-the-world journey.
“Every medium is diverse, like every artist,” she said. “For me all that adds to the fun vibe of the fair. I’m thrilled to take with me the inspiration I’ve found here when I travel.”
Glass artisan Tomilyn Clark hails from nearby Kenai. Clark has been a GFF volunteering or vendor for over 20 years.
“I was raised on the Kenai River. Fishing there with my dad are some of my fondest memories. For that, I came up with my fused glass salmon and I’m overjoyed to share them at a great local show. For me, art and life are about versatility and we’ve certain got that [at GFF],” she said.
Second year fair vender Jess Baker has yet to accumulate decades of GFF experience, yet already senses its uniqueness.
“I’m impressed by the great art and interesting people. There’s just more and more around every corner,” Baker said. “As long as I am able, I will return to Girdwood Forest Fair for inspiration and fun. We’re living the dream here,” she said.