A glimpse inside Unalaska’s new library: Valisa Higman’s artwork puts a local spin on classic fairy tales
Unalaska’s new public library is expected to open in April. It’ll have more space, a fireplace, and many new art installations, all created by artists from around the state.
That includes Valisa Higman, who grew up in Seldovia, Alaska, and spent her winters in Unalaska for about a decade.
KUCB’s Sofia Stuart-Rasi caught up with Higman recently to hear about the fairy tale-inspired artwork she developed for the library.
VILSA HIGMAN: I did three large-format cut paper pieces for the children's section of the library, and I do cut paper artwork. So, it's an image drawn on black paper and then cutaways – so that the lines are all black paper but the negative space is gone. And then I layer colored paper behind that to fill in the spaces. And then add details with paint. These are three pieces that are part of a series of Unalaska fairy tales – taking traditional fairytales and recreating them in a more location-specific way. I did the Little Mermaid, Cinderella, and Jack and the Beanstalk. And then I paired each of those with kind of a category of things from Unalaska: Little Mermaid I paired with marine life from the area, Cinderella paired with the animals and birds from the island, and then Jack and the Beanstalk became Jack and the putchki stalk and I paired it with the plants of Unalaska.
KUCB: How did you get involved with Unalaska Public Library?
HIGMAN: I spent quite a bit of time in Unalaska over the last 10 years or so. My partner was working for [the Alaska Department of] Fish and Game out there in the winters. So, I would usually come out for at least a month – like around the holidays. It was kind of funny working on the plant piece because I've seen withered, dried-up plants, but I've never been there in the summer to see all the amazing plants that you guys have. I'm hoping to do that soon. But it was kind of a stretch for me to think, "Oh, yeah, I know that, they're wormwood because I saw the plants all dried-up.” So, then going from that and trying to figure out what other plants there are on the island.
KUCB: Can you tell us what your background is like as an artist?
HIGMAN: I grew up doing art – both my parents are artists and my mom was a graphic designer, kind of pre-computer graphic design. She drew images and hand cut silkscreen to do T-shirts and things like that, and she also hand-painted signs on businesses and names on boats and things like that. My dad was a woodworker. He did relief carving for the most part, and some model building and kind of just made little tiny things out of wood. So, me and my brother grew up, kind of in an art co-op from the time we were pretty young, just trying all sorts of different things. I settled on cut paper when I was in middle school. Then I went to college and studied drawing and kind of put the two things together. And it slowly developed over time from there. I grew up in Seldovia on the Kenai Peninsula. So, close to Homer – it’s off the highway system. So, not an island, but definitely sympathetic to the isolation that Unalaska has as well.
KUCB: Was there anything particular that inspired you to make the piece that you created for the library?
HIGMAN: Well, I've been kind of dreaming up this larger series of fairy tales for quite a while, and it just seemed like a good opportunity. Considering the subject matter, it seems like fairy tales were a good fit for a children's section of a library. It was good motivation for me to try something a little bit bigger and to kind of push that project to the front of the line. So yeah, it seemed like a good book fit.