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In The Spotlight: Sitka Tells Tales

| In The Spotlight | February 25, 2021

When I spoke recently with filmmaker and documentarian Ellen Frankenstein, she explained, “Normally we do Sitka Tells Tales live in a small space in Sitka.” But in the Covid-19 environment, this local staple, like so many forms of art and social interaction, has had to adapt.

On Feb. 25th, people will get to experience Sitka Tells Tales through the venue of Raven Radio – either streaming the live performances or listening to them on KCAW 104.7 FM. The stories will also be archived on artchangeinc.org.

“Storytelling is all about listening – you relate, you’re impacted,” says Frankenstein. It seemed almost like a natural to have live storytelling transmitted via radio.

Each person’s story session is limited to 6 minutes. “The process by which people decide how to tell their stories is super-collaborative,” says Frankenstein, as is putting the event together. “Sitka Tells Tales has a history of collaborating with other community organizations and non-profits.”

The storytelling format is flexible. “Some of the past stories have included poetry and even music.”

“We want to draw in people who don’t always get to ‘go to the podium.’ There are usually about five tellers, who work together on their stories before the public event and offer each other feedback. In the past, this pre-work has been by gathering together in a room, but this time is being done over Zoom.” Not ideal, maybe, admits Frankenstein, but still workable.

Tellers and producer alike must have “a tolerance for uncertainty, because you never know what interesting and serendipitous changes might ring in at the final performance.” These last-minute changes can produce results which are “unexpected and sometimes heartbreaking.” She adds, “The stories are not read; they are shared.”

Frankenstein believes listening to each other, laughing and sharing moments of heartbreak together, changes us. People truly are changed by the hearing of other people’s stories.

In a Sitka Tells Tales some years ago, I heard the story of a Sitka woman whom I had known for many years, but I (as I told Ellen) I never felt I knew this woman so well as after I heard her story. It changed my understanding of her forever.

I asked how Frankenstein came up with the theme for each show – like “Foot in Mouth” for this one.

“Sometimes,” she said, “a person will come to me with a story they want to tell, and I will build the theme around that. Other times, the theme comes out of conversations I have.”

Frankenstein is excited about getting the word out and encouraging participation, “not just in Sitka, but in other places as well.”  She wants to work with storytellers from communities in Raven’s broadcast range. “It would be good,” she says, “for people in Sitka to hear stories from all around.” The collaboration with Raven may prove a perfect opportunity, a kind of lemonade.

Frankenstein welcomes questions and suggestions for future themes and tellers. And she always welcomes volunteers to make it all happen!

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In The Spotlight: The Sitka Spelling Bee

| In The Spotlight | January 27, 2021

I recently spoke with Jeff Budd and Kari Sagel about the long and distinguished history – and 2021 reincarnation – of the Sitka Spelling Bee. The 2021 Bee will take place on Thursday, Feb. 24th, and Bee organizers are actively looking for contestants. New news: the first 16 teams to Register will have their registration fee paid by one of the 2021 Sponsors!

“The Bee started in 2009. Davey Lubin came to us with a desire to raise money to help another library in need, and Sarah (Bell, who was the library director at that time) came had the idea for the spelling bee.” says Kari. “Us” is The Friends of the Library, which, together with the library itself, sponsors the Bee.

So, the 2009 Sitka Bee became a fundraiser for a library down in Guatemala through an organization called Probigua (“Proyecto Bibliotecas Guatemala” – a nonprofit that brings educational opportunities to rural children in Guatemala). You can read about their work at probigua.com/projects.html.

Another year, the Bee was in aid of Haitian libraries affected by the 2010 earthquake.

But where do the words come from? I asked Kari. “I and some other folks pick them out,” she admitted. “It started with words I just liked or found intriguing. Then, over the years I came up with funny sentences for the words. Scripps (the national school spelling bee organization) is now doing this, which I find amusing,” says Kari.

One year, Kari became fascinated with the word “talisman” and her sample sentence was, “He placed his lucky talisman so that it touched both of his bingo cards.”

Sitkan Paul Norwood has also come up with words. Kari describes Paul as “a naturalist, nurse, and National Guardsman. French by birth. He is a great speller, no matter the language. Funny part to me is that the French language accounts for at least 30% of English words.” Kari says one of the most memorable “Paul” anecdotes was “The French Debacle,” in which many words were either French, or English derived from French. Needless to say, Paul won that one.

Kari’s chart of past spelling words is a delight to behold, with word/pronunciation/sentence combos such as:  Bungalow/buhng-guh-loh/She wanted to be the kind of girl who lived in a bungalow and had friends who wore berets. AND Piracy/pahy-ruh-see/Tom contemplated a life of piracy on the Bering Sea.

In more recent years, says Kari, Bee funds have been used for whatever the library needs, and to support “Babies and Books” and the “Imagination Library.” The event, to her knowledge, has never before been broadcast and has actually not been done in the few past years, not since the library remodel.

The original Bee was at least partly the brainchild of one Jeff Budd, who – along with the eponymous Don Muller (as in one who mulls it over) – constituted “Team Zero.” Says Jeff, “Don and I competed in all of the subsequent Bees, maybe six or so.”

The 2021 Sitka Spelling Bee, says Jeff, will take place on Wed., Feb 24th from 7-8:30pm. The Bee – or at least the contestants – will be arranged in an enticingly masked, safe and socially distanced fashion – at the Centennial Building. Then, the event will be broadcast on Zoom for the edification of Sitkans (and others) who would like to view it.

The Rules for this year’s Bee are shaping up to look something like this:

  • A “team” consists of one or two people. The entry fee is $20.00 per person* (*The first 16 contestants/teams to register will be underwritten by one of the Bee sponsors.)
  • Robert Woolsey will be the host and give the words.
  • Lifelines may be purchased to assist your team in spelling. Each team may use two lifelines during the bee. No lifelines will be used in the last two rounds.
    • $5 – Allows the team to Ask a Zoom Audience Member for help. They spell it once and then the team spells it correctly.
    • $10 – Allows 30 seconds to Call a Friend for help. The 30 seconds starts at the end of the question or when the call is placed to the friend (??) Contestant(s) must get the spelling, hang up, and spell the word within the time.
    • $20 – Allows 30 seconds to Find the word in the Dictionary, close the book, and spell the word correctly. You may write on your hand with your finger, but not with a pen or other device.
  • You may restart spelling but must repeat the letters already given exactly in the order they were first given.
  • If no one in a round spells a word correctly, then everyone in that round comes back for the next round. To win the Bee, the last speller has to spell his/her own word and a championship word. If a speller misses the championship word, all the remaining spellers from the previous round will be reinstated.
  • Contestants must wear a mask and practice social distancing as required by the Centennial Building.

People who wish to be in the Bee must contact Jeff Budd to Register. People may call Jeff at 747-4821 or email jbudd3500@gmail.com.

When, I ask, can people start contacting Jeff? Immediately! Forthwith! ASAP! Pronto!

2021 Sitka Spelling Bee Sponsors:  The DUCKfather & Sitka Rotary Club, Sitka Checkered Tours, Christine Harrington CPA Services, Venneberg Insurance, Precision Boat Works, Old Harbor Books, Cindy Westergaard/Neurobehavioral Consultants LLC, Hames Corporation, Sitka Tribe of Alaska, Foreign Auto, Sitka Soup, First National Bank of Anchorage

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Artist Profile: Tyler Eddy

| Artist Profile | December 3, 2020

What would the holidays be without Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade?

That’s the question Tyler Eddy asked himself early in this unusual year. His answer was to create Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in miniature in Legos for the front window of Harry Race.

Eddy and his companions-in-Lego -architecture, Aiden Kennedy and Greg George, have been doing the holiday season window in the Sitka pharmacy for five years now, as a labor of love and obsession.

“Every year has a theme,” explained Eddy on the phone in mid-November. “Last year was Harry Potter, and another year it was Carnival. The theme is important because that’s what gives direction to the project.”

Eddy, who is married and has three kids, was born and raised in Sitka and has been a Lego enthusiast since childhood. He started collecting in 1984 at age 10. “I actually got started because of my older brother Tim, who went to Legoland.”

When Tyler met & married his wife Sarah, “Our first decision was where to go on our honeymoon – it would have to be either Legoland or Egypt” (they ended up doing both). The couple honeymooned at the original Legoland in Denmark. Tyler has also done what he calls “field research” at California Legoland and Legoland in Windsor, England.

“There are Legos in every room of the house. When we had kids, one of the first rules they learned was ‘Don’t Mess with Dad’s Legos,’” Tyler chuckled. “I sort my Legos by piece, I have tubs in the attic and a desk that I use for building.” The Sitkan likes building with Legos “because it’s about remembering your childhood and building whatever you want to in your imagination.”

Tyler & Sarah’s kids are Calysta, 8, Scott, 13, and Isabella, 16. “Scott’s probably the biggest Lego fan,” says Tyler. “He especially likes to add lights. Calysta likes to have Lego people doing things like a woman painting a cat with a roller at City Hall.” Every house or structure in the holiday window “has lights on the inside. When we first started you had to hand-solder the lighting. And this year’s windows contain a total of 600+ mini-figures.”

Tyler got his start building Lego storefront villages with his brother Dan Elstad at the REACH building in Juneau. “Then, one year I asked Trish and Dirk if we could put a Lego scene in their window.”

Eddy eventually met “other people who do Legos, like Aiden Kennedy & Greg George. Aiden also collects; he might have a larger collection than me. I get together with them–or used to before Covid–a couple of times a week. This year we were able to build (the display) in an unused room at UAS. We then take it apart and move it all into the window – it takes anywhere from two to five hours to re-build it in the window.”

Typically, the three Lego architects start planning months in advance and start building by June.

How has Covid-19 affected their process? “Well, there’s not as much getting together and what there is, is with masks. But I have to say, Covid did cement this year’s themes of ‘Parade’ and ‘First Responders.’

Eddy’s current day job is with the Ferry System at the Sitka Terminal. He’s also done photography for 20 years, “mostly for fun and as a hobby” and does the “365 Alaska” Facebook page. “Sitka Volunteer Dive Captain Greg George did the smaller window this year, on First Responders. And Aiden Kennedy was all over, helping out on both windows.”

Eddy adds (and one can picture the twinkle in his eyes), “There’s an acronym–AFOL– Adult Fans of Lego, and that’s a thing.” In addition to enjoying the creation itself, he says, “I’ve also had a lot of fun with the Lego friendships I’ve made. That’s actually more than half the fun!”

 


Anyone interested in the building process can see a slide show of this year’s on Tyler Eddy’s Facebook page. For the “I Spy” Contest, pick up an “I Spy” checklist from the front desk at Harry Race. Be sure to write your name, age & phone number for the prize drawing. Go see how many different things you can find in the window.

 

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Artist Profile: Traz Hill

| Artist Profile | October 22, 2020

The winning design for the new Seal of the City and Borough of Sitka was announced Tuesday night, October 13th at the Assembly Meeting. The design was created by Aaron Traz Hill.

Hill – who goes by “Traz” – is a 30-year old tattoo artist who grew up in Sitka and now lives with his wife and two kids in Oklahoma.

Traz attended Blatchley Middle School and graduated from Sitka High School in 2008. He moved to Sitka in 2001 with his parents Sonja & Ron Conner, who came to Sitka through work with their church. Sonja works for AK Air and Ron for Sitka Electric.

In early October, Traz received an “unofficial” notification from CBS that his design had been selected; this was followed shortly by the $1,000 prize check, but it “really seemed real when I heard my name announced at the at the Assembly Meeting.”

How did Hill first hear about the City Seal Contest? “I was here with my wife and kids visiting my folks earlier in this spring, and they brought it to my attention.” Traz says he has traveled to Sitka a couple of times this year – the second time, sadly, for the funeral of his grandma Ursula Zertuche, who died in May. Zertuche (a naturalized U.S. citizen originally born in Germany) lived in Sitka for several years in the 80s and from 2013 until her death in 2020. In early October, Traz received an “unofficial” notification from CBS that his design had been selected; this was followed shortly by the $1,000 prize check, but it “really seemed real when I heard my name announced at the at the Assembly Meeting.”

Traz admits, “It was pretty difficult traveling (with the Covid-19 restrictions) but we were just careful and it was ok.”

Traz says growing up here influenced him as an artist and “filled me with a lot of the qualities of Sitka.” His career as a professional tattoo artist started “about seven years ago. I had dabbled before that but was not initially drawn to (that field) maybe partly because of my religious upbringing.” He has done art his “whole life, coloring and drawing from a young age.” He attended Sitka Fine Arts Camp, where besides art classes, he played percussion in jazz band, and was active in Sitka baseball.

Later on, Traz took some college art classes and “learned a lot.” He got his professional tattoo license in 2014, and is presently licensed in Oklahoma, Texas, Florida and Alaska.

When asked if he still draws on paper, Traz affirmed, “Every day!” His parents and grandmother were “always very supportive.” He particularly remembers “watching Bob Ross in the late 80s on PBS on grandma’s TV.” He was inspired by Ross’ show “The Joy of Painting” with its “real time” demos of oil painting techniques. Hill recalls Ross’ intimate speaking style and obvious appreciation for Alaska’s natural world.

When asked about how he came up with his city seal design, Traz said how vital it was to him to include Alaska Native design elements, because “There wouldn’t be a Sitka without Natives because they lived here first.” Thus, the prominent totem pole in the foreground of the design. The young artist also attended a “Native carving course at Fine Arts Camp (and learned that) the design elements and the process were very structured.”

“I also wanted to include both the bridge and fishing; I couldn’t decide between them.” He and one of his brothers worked in seining and tendering. ‘It was about more than (making) money,” said Hill. “There was a feeling of tranquility out on the water.”

“And I needed to get the Coast Guard (into the design), somehow, since they rescued my brother Chatham, after a potentially fatal accident.” Hence, the helicopter in the sky in Hill’s creation.

When asked about a couple of slightly different designs he had produced for the seal, Traz said that his original design had brighter colors (a notably bright orange sky). “Sitka has some really pretty days and sunsets,” he admitted. But when the City Seal committee asked the finalists to make revisions, the artist came up with his “revised design with more muted tones, for a timeless, more official feel.”

 


The new CBS City Seal was selected (in a blind selection process, where artists were not identified), and involved input from both the public, the City Design Review Committee, local boards and commissions, and the Sitka Tribe of Alaska.

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