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Local artist Laura Nutter finds unorthodox success with public art

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Posted: Sunday, October 21, 2012 10:30 pm | Updated: 11:40 am, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — Laura Nutter’s eclectic resume is sprinkled with plenty of notable tidbits — badminton coach, pit bull rescue volunteer, canola farmer and art studio owner.

But one of the most unexpected developments for the Salcha-raised artist is the place she finds herself now — as one of the community’s more visible creators of recycled public art.

“Somehow I morphed into this weird, junky, clutter sort of artist,” she said with a smile, looking a bit puzzled at the thought.

It’s a surprising detour for Nutter, who attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks to pursue a drawing career. That medium remains her first love and greater talent, she said, but there just isn’t much of a market for figure art in Fairbanks.

Instead, she’s become known for creating murals and public art. A colorful wildlife display in the Boys and Girls Home is hers, along with a painted utilidor pipe on Second Avenue that depicts a gift-shopping moose and a coffee-guzzling wolf.

Some of her most visible pieces are in a handful of Fairbanks-area elementary schools, where she’s turned unwanted ceramic dishes into elaborate murals. Students at Two Rivers, Weller, Ticasuk Brown and Ladd all contributed to the projects by bringing in old dishes or cups, which were then broken and arranged into a mosaic.

From afar, the murals are colorful tile scenes of wildlife or Alaska scenics. Up close, kids can spot the specific pieces they contributed to the project, and even helped assemble the murals based on Nutter’s outline.

“Kids enjoy it,” said Carmen Kloepfer, the administrative secretary at Ladd. “We always try to get the students involved rather than just slapping something up on the wall.”

The Boys and Girls Home, a residential treatment facility in south Fairbanks, has brought in Nutter to create two art projects with its students. Many of the teens there come from challenging backgrounds, but Nutter’s combination of warmth and sarcastic humor helped her forge an easy connection.

“She just has a wonderful way about her,” Manzie said. “They feel real good around here, and the kids just really respond to her.”

Nutter’s approach to recycling doesn’t stop with art.

She figures about 70 percent of her house has been built with used material, which she and her husband, Rob Kocsis, have slowly collected during the past six years. They share the home off the Elliott Highway with her step-daughter, Calipso, three dogs and two cats.

The sub-floor and windows of her home were plucked from transfer stations or garage sales, and the exterior tin siding was reclaimed from collapsed mining sheds. The cheap sheetrock inside was gobbled up at an auction.

Nutter feels the approach is a particularly good fit for her hometown, where people have a reputation for collecting things, just in case some use develops in the future.

“Part of it is the challenge of found-object art, part is concern for the landfills,” Nutter said. “Part is just being cheap and poor.”

Nutter, who used to have an art studio on Well Street, is also still keeping dreams of making a living by drawing someday. It’s one of many looming career possibilities — some of which she’s more excited about than others.

Her in-laws are working to develop a peony farm on land they own by Nutter’s house, but so far it’s produced more mud than flowers. She wonders if the effort is on the same trajectory as a previous, unsuccessful attempt she made at growing canola in Delta Junction.

Just in case, Nutter is hanging onto her backup plan.

“I’m a failed canola farmer and a failing peony farmer,” she said with a smile. “That’s why I do this lucrative art gig.”

Contact staff writer Jeff Richardson at 459-7518.

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