Thunder Mountain High School - the Artists Tales
The Artists Tales

The 1% for Art in Public Projects brought 5 amazing voices to the design of Thunder Mountain High School. The City of Juneau’s staff architect Sarah Lewis, had the foresight to include the selected artists within the design process, such that they begin the creation of their installations as integral parts to the built form of the school. It was one of the purely collaborative aspects of the design process, one I thoroughly enjoyed…the artists inspired the building as the building inspired the artists.

The evolution of the design sifted and flowed to the point that each artist found a swale, an eddy along the flow of the building. Four chose to weave their pieces together, while one chose to highlight the entrance to each “house” within the classroom wings.

Michael Anderson, an extraordinary ceramic artist from Cordova, picked up the thread of the Mendenhall River in the exterior walkway and installed “sand bars” of tile filled with tracks, feathers, runes, sticks, leaves, and remnants of the mysterious world along the edge of rivers. His tile work flows into the Commons through the main entry and eddys at the base of the totem, transforming from the realism of bears, salmon, herons, frogs, otters, and ravens into totemic representations of these powerful spirits. It is work that resonates with the soul of our land…

The tile spirals and circles as it feeds “Our Children's House”, or Haa Dachxana'i Yan Kahidi, a totem by master carver Wayne Price. Wayne designed the totem specifically for Thunder Mountain High School. At the base of the totem is “the Auntie” giving rooted confidence to the children to learn and explore the heights of knowledge and enlightenment, climbing to faces that were modeled upon real students at TMHS. At the top of the pole is the cycle of life started from the Mendenhall Glacier and River. Poised to strike is the school mascot, the Falcon. A falcon is not part of Tlingit lore, so Wayne’s work was complicated by the search for an acceptable model, one that would be embraced by the elders. Further challenging Wayne’s work was his decision and inspiration to modernise the totemic work, inspired by the building and his fellow artists…it was a truly admirable endeavour. The pole was raised and dedicated in an amazing community ceremony, binding past, present, and future…

Embracing Haa Dachxana'i Yan Kahidi with the beautiful gentleness of a wing is Impetus, by visionary artist Sheila Wyne from Anchorage. Her glass piece installed along the curving wall of the upper Commons and drawing to the natural light of the clerestory the way a raven's wings catch an updraft. She saw that the changing light of the yearly cycle of sunlight would infuse her work with a dialogue that built upon the “Matter of Time” of the building cycle, a dialogue that sometimes whispers with gloaming and sometimes roars with the joy of brilliant light. It flows along it’s path like leaves in the wind, like feathers being ruffled, like wind rustling the surface of the water, like light gleaming off schools of salmon returning…it is all of these and it is voices that cascade from the children…

All of this cascades back to the roots of our inspiration: the minds of the children. Encouraged to challenge their minds, the students have been given a gorgeous puzzle: the Encryption Panel by Dan Deroux. Dan has an imagination that transcends the simple borders of a frame, a painter and sculptor of significance and astute humour, he devised an encrypted quotation and then crafted 12x12 tiles with an image that represents each letter of the famous quotation. He placed the panel within one of the porcelain tile monoliths that weaves throughout the Commons, bringing the cycle of the artists back upon itself. Rumour has it that the CIA will offer the student who breaks the code a scholarship…the only clue he gave me was “green”. Dan was recently selected as Alaska's artist of the year!

The last artist, and sadly I don’t have any quality images of her work, is Barbara Craver. Barbara chose to highlight the entrance to each “house” with a collage of paintings of past and present students, enriching the “Hub” area where there are counters for students laptops. The work is joyful and inclusive...
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