FAIRBANKS — When Kes Woodward left home for college, the self-described “math and science person” would have cringed at the thought of becoming an artist someday.
“I would have not only been surprised by it, I would have been highly offended,” he said with a chuckle.
A lot has changed since then, evidenced by the latest in his long list of artistic achievements. On Tuesday, Woodward received the Rasmuson Distinguished Artist Award for 2012.
The award, given by the charitable Rasmuson Foundation, honors an artist “with stature and a history of creative excellence and accomplishments in the arts.” Woodward will receive $25,000 in unrestricted funds as the latest winner of the award.
Woodward has a long history as a prominent Alaska artist, including time as the curator of visual arts at the Alaska State Museum and as artistic director at the Visual Arts Center of Alaska. He moved to Fairbanks in 1981, teaching at the University of Alaska Fairbanks for more than 20 years before retiring in 2000 to devote himself to painting full-time. As an art historian and curator, Woodward has produced eight books on Alaska art and has lectured around the world.
Despite those accomplishments, Woodward said he was flabbergasted when he quietly learned he would receive the honor last month.
“I was absolutely blown away, and have kind of been overwhelmed by it ever since,” he said.
Woodward never showed much interest in painting until he took an art course with his future wife, Missy, in college. The experience, along with an inspiring art professor, led to his career as one of Alaska’s most recognizable landscape artists.
Woodward said Missy, who died suddenly in 2010, used to urge him to apply for the Rasmuson award, but he always resisted her advice.
“I used to say, ‘No, I can’t do that. I could never apply for something called distinguished,’” he said.
Woodward said the money from the Rasmuson award will be funneled back into his artistic pursuits. He’s building a new art studio this summer, and has a steady travel schedule in search of inspiring landscapes.
The foundation also awarded $12,000 fellowships to 10 artists around Alaska, including Fairbanks residents Da-ka-xeen Mehner and Morris Palter.
Mehner, a visual artist, examines his multicultural heritage as a self-described “Tlingit and American hippie” with materials and tools representing both sides of his identity. He plans to spend his fellowship year on a new body of work, including some that will premiere at a solo show at the Anchorage Museum in September.
Palter, a percussionist, plans to document and record a CD of works for percussion, including pieces by Alaska composers Matthew Burtner and John Luther Adams.
Project awards worth $5,000 were given to 26 artists, including:
• Melina Draper of Fairbanks, who plans to publicize her upcoming book of poems, “Two Shores.”
• Galena singer-songwriter Karrie Pavish Anderson, who will tour in support of her new CD, “Once Blind.”
• Timothy Robb, who lives on Tenderfoot Hill near Delta Junction. A self-recording musician, he hopes to acquire an oud — an ancient, pear-shaped instrument common to north African and Arabic music.
• North Pole resident Theresa Woldstad, a folk and traditional artist who plans to explore a little-known style of button blanket design that uses coins as a decorative element.
• Ester visual artist Adam Ottavi Schiesl, who plans to create a traveling exhibit of 16-by-20-inch glass plate photographs using a camera he will build using a 19th century process called ambrotype.
It’s the ninth year of the Individual Artist Award program, which has awarded 267 grants totaling $1.9 million directly to Alaska artists during its existence.
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