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A glimpse inside Unalaska’s new library: Sara Tabbert’s artwork was inspired by beaches on the island

Unalaska’s new and expanded library is scheduled to open April 30 — and it’ll include many new art installations.

Sara Tabbert is the artist behind one of those works. While traveling to Atka in 2016, she spent a few days in Unalaska after her flight was canceled.

KUCB's Sofia Stuart-Rasi spoke with the Fairbanks artist about how walking the island's beaches during that 2016 layover helped inspire the piece she later created for the library.


SARA TABBERT: The piece that I did for the library is made up of four separate carved wood panels. And each one is about 18 inches wide by 30 inches high. So pretty good-sized. And they're based on imagery from some walks that I did along the beach, looking at the roots that are exposed and the way those kinds of long stringy shapes interact with the rocks of the shore. So I painted the wood black, I carved an image into it, revealing the raw wood, and then I went back into that with paint and added color. My background is I'm trained as a printmaker, and I think everything that I do kind of funnels back to that art form. But I've definitely taken off in some different directions. My focus in prints was and always has been woodcut, and I use the same tools that I would use in printmaking. For these carved panels, I guess the only real difference is that I'm carving the block, but I'm not printing it onto paper.

KUCB: I saw that you went to school in the Midwest area. How did you find yourself here in Alaska?

TABBERT: Well, I actually grew up in Fairbanks. My family moved here when I was two. My dad took a job teaching at the university. So I went through high school here in Fairbanks. And as kids often want to do, I wanted to get out of here as fast as I could. But a number of years later, after college and graduate school, and some other experiences, I decided that I wanted to give it a try and see if I could make things work as an artist in Fairbanks. And I guess it must be working, because it's been 22 years since then. And I'm still here. So that was my path.

KUCB: How did you get involved with Unalaska as public library?

TABBERT: It came a little bit out of the blue. I was contacted by — I think the art selection committee, working through the architect, to apply. And I submitted a proposal and had the great pleasure of being selected. Super excited about the project. And as I'm sure you know, we all went through the delays and construction. And I did not know that it would be a project that I'd ever have the opportunity to complete. And I was super excited when I was contacted again this fall and asked if I wanted to go ahead and make these pieces. I did not expect that to happen. So a really, really nice surprise.

KUCB: Is there anything in particular that inspired you to create the piece that you made for the library?

TABBERT: I think I was just very taken by the natural beauty of Unalaska, when I had the good fortune of being stuck there. And just the memories of walking along the beach and kind of the contrast between the long stringy organic shapes of the roots and the more kind of hearted shapes of the rocks. And of course, my work is always a little bit abstract and I'm hardly a realist. So things take off in their own direction. But I'm really honored to have my work in the library. I have always been an avid reader and have parents who have worked in libraries themselves. And it's just such an honor to have work right there above the circulation desk in the heart of the library. And I think this new expanded and remodeled facility is really going to be wonderful for your community.

Sofia was born and raised in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. She’s reported around the U.S. for local public radio stations, NPR and National Native News. Sofia has a Master of Arts in Environmental Science and Natural Resource Journalism from the University of Montana, a graduate certificate in Documentary Studies from the Salt Institute and a Bachelor of Arts in Studio Arts from the University of Colorado Boulder. In between her studies, Sofia was a ski bum in Telluride, Colorado for a few years.
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