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Margo Klass puts Alaska into perspective with art exhibit

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Posted: Thursday, November 15, 2012 11:36 pm | Updated: 12:09 pm, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — As Alaskans we are used to depictions of our state in larger-than-life terms. The title of Walter R. Borneman’s 2003 historical work, “Alaska: Saga of a Bold Land,” captures what I mean. Yet most of us know a more intimate side of life here: the tangled coral shapes of snow-laden branches, the winter alpenglow on Murphy Dome, the erratic dance of snowflakes caught in headlights. Margo Klass’ exhibit “Time and Place” at Alaska House Gallery is a celebration of such reflective moments in our northern life.

It is hard to define Klass’ work. She calls her pieces mixed-media constructions, and that is accurate enough. She finds the everyday objects we often cast off or forget: a rusted gear, an antique chisel, a playground marble. She then arranges them within elegantly designed and painstakingly constructed boxes. The results are like medieval altar pieces combined with the simple harmony found in a Japanese tearoom.

For the current exhibit, Klass salutes many places that will be familiar to locals or those who travel the state. Take for example “Snowfall on Smith Lake.” Fairbanks cross-country skiers know this secluded spot on the University of Alaska Fairbanks trail system as an ideal place to practice technique. Klass reduces the snow-covered lake, the surrounding band of spruce and the overarching sky to essential compositional elements. A band of birch bark serves for the lake, two lengths of wood for the trees and a warped piece of glass captures a descending sheet of snow rolling down off Ester Dome.

This piece also highlights Klass’ use of space. By enclosing her objects in box constructions, she does more than simply frame them. The boxes act as a kind of call and response to the objects. Klass strategically places small windows in her works allowing the ambient light to accentuate and accent the enclosed elements. All this helps establish the harmony and poise found in her pieces.

If I make the exhibit sound solemn, I don’t mean to. There is a fair amount of whimsy on display as well. One of my favorites is “Moonrise.” Klass says she was inspired by tracking the moon’s passage across the sky while she worked in her studio. Yet in her piece, the moon is anything but a majestic wanderer. A tarnished and pitted ball rests on a weathered wooden leg fitted with a rusted caster. The box that displays this scene is decorated with faded vertical stripes like old wallpaper. It seemed to me to depict an aging vaudevillian yet again being asked to cycle across a narrow stage.

I suppose every visual artist tries to get a viewer to see. Klass invites us to see again. By investing so much in the box construction, by judiciously sorting through what we discard, she is saying, “See, this isn’t what you thought.” What we threw away we can now appreciate for its formal elements of line, shape and pattern. What was common becomes magical if not totemic.

IF YOU GO

What: Margo Klass’ exhibit, “Time and Space,” on display though the end of November.

Where: Alaska House Gallery, 1003 Cushman St. 456-6449

Hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

Robert Hannon has been involved with Fairbanks theater for more than two decades. He is a frequent theater reviewer for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

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