Kim McNett’s exhibit at the Bunnell Street Arts Center features images from her nature journals. The exhibition runs through December 24, 2021 at the Homer Gallery in Alaska. (Photo by Michael Armstrong / Homer News)
Homer’s artist and naturalist Kim McNett became known in Homer and Alaska for her intricately detailed and well-crafted nature journals. This month, she is completing her first artist residency at the Bunnell Street Arts Center. Her show, “Naturalist Notebook,” served as a backdrop to the open studios and workshops she organized. The show ends Friday, but the residency was used to help McNett develop a concept for a Homer bog mural that she will be doing at Homer’s Airport.
“It will be a fairly high public exhibit,” McNett said of his project and residency. “I took it as a period of scouting.”
Like the late RW “Toby” Tyler, McNett uses the environment of Alaska and the Kenai Peninsula as his subject. In the 1980s and 1990s, Tyler rose to prominence for his detailed watercolor sketches of local plants and wildflowers. McNett has the same precision of detail as Tyler, but takes the form a step further, using her art to tell the stories of the world she encounters on her human-powered trips to Alaska.
Along with his partner Bjørn Olson, whose video of their adventures is included in the exhibit, McNett hiked the Iditarod Trail, the Seward Peninsula, elsewhere in Alaska and much of the Arctic coast. On an expedition, they traveled by fat bike and baggage raft from Point Hope to Utqiagvik.
Along the way, McNett drew what she saw, such as the first historic semi-underground mud houses at Atagniq between Wainwright and Utqiagvik. Some of his notebooks are in the exhibition, with white gloves to handle them and examine the pages.
“That’s what I really wanted to share with the community, was… artistically interpret the landscapes we visited and have a deeper connection,” McNett said.
His journal entries do not only include drawings, but detailed notes. At the winter solstice of 2020, she drew the sky and the beach every hour from sunrise to sunset, including notes on the tide level and the altitude of the sun above the horizon at solar noon.
Another entry shows the texture of Lake Beluga last year before snow covered the ice. She drew formations of methane gas frozen in ice, giving it names like “amoeba” or “bubble towers”. Selected pages from his journals have been enlarged on prints from the exhibition.
Scientists could write articles on methane gassing in Alaskan lake beds, but McNett said she sees her journals as a way to make the science more accessible.
“My goal is that my role can be to understand and experience this science and then turn it into something compelling for people that science may not reach as effectively,” she said on Friday First. for an artist’s conference and the opening of his exhibition.
McNett said she also uses her artistic perspective to help people understand the human and natural world. In his work as a naturalist for the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies at Peterson Bay Field Station, McNett saw how frustrated people would be to understand a great depression that once housed a Dena’ina home.
“A girl looked at me and said, ‘How do you know it’s not another hole in the forest?’ McNett said.
To make it understandable, with the help of archaeological and ethnological research, she designed the house as it would appear intact and alive.
“I tried to get people to visualize it not as a damp place in the ground, but as a place full of life, activity and warmth,” she said. “It’s a huge house.
The airport peat bog fresco is not yet complete. McNett said his residence gave him an approach to telling the story of the bogs that surround the airport – the bogs on which it is built.
“The fact that the airport is being built in the Beluga wetlands, (director of public works) Jan Keizer and Bunnell supported this idea that we do a mural that supports our peatlands,” she said.
Through the Homer Drawdown Project, a program to find workable solutions to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate climate change, McNett helped develop a concept: to preserve peatlands as high-value carbon sinks. This helped to draw attention to the protection of peatlands and not to fill them for industrial and commercial purposes.
The airport fresco will tell the story of Homer’s peat bogs.
“I’m playing this whole cross section of the landscape and doing pop-outs,” she said. “… Functional diagrams rather than cross sections”.
Much like his approach to adventure travel, where simple technology like bikes uses modern materials like graphic fibers, McNett’s art is low-tech – pen, ink, and watercolor on paper – that it will combine with digital technology. Rather than painting the mural on an airport wall, McNett will scan it and then print it on a custom high pressure laminate that incorporates the ink into the material. It’s similar to the technique she uses to make interpretive signs. It is vibrant and weather resistant.
“I thought this would be the best way for me to present this work,” she said.
The Bunnell Street Arts Center has also developed technology to enhance the experience of physically visiting the gallery. With the COVID-19 pandemic having occasionally closed the gallery, Bunnell’s website now includes more than just show announcements. McNett’s exhibit page includes his artist talk and a virtual reality tour of the exhibit itself. This program allows the viewer to browse the exhibition and even zoom in on the art.
Contact Michael Armstrong at [email protected]