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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Between Trick and Treat: An Artist's World

A new doll created by local artist Alana Ballam-Schwan

Little girls with enormous eyes and devious smiles, gnomes and elephants frolicking in fields, hanging bats whispering through tin-can telephones, ghoulish graveyard scenes and little skeptical sunken-eyed dolls draped in cloaks. Expect to find these as you enter the cozy home of local artist and crafter Alana Ballam-Schwan, whose work dances in the lines between innocence and adulthood, between fantasy and reality, between trick and treat.
Halloween, a holiday that combines children's excited innocence with creepy-crawlies and ghoulish themes, is right up Ballam-Schwan's alley, whose dining room is currently covered in ready-making for the big day. Creating handmade costumes each year for herself and a few others is all part of the tradition she's formed as an outlet for her creativity. Greatly inspired by filmmaker Tim Burton and illustrator Edward Gorey, much of Ballam-Schwan's art and craft centers around storytelling, for children in particular.

Bustling around her kitchen preparing the evening meal, Ballam-Schwan runs along memory lane, revealing more about her love for the darker side to children's storytelling.

"There's no such thing as innocence in children's stories, they are really dark," she said. "Childhood isn't really innocent either. My paintings may look dark, but they aren't any darker than Little Red Riding Hood."

Each of her paintings holds a story that she creates or at times borrows from elsewhere, making them all-in-one story illustrations. "I make [the paintings] the size of a tangible thing that you could hold in your hand or put in a book, like the size of a page of paper."

These compact pieces of art range from more innocent gnome-themes to the darker graveyard scenes. An unfinished painting of a black-eyed Belle from Beauty and the Beast sits in a pile to the side. The more controversial pieces didn't make it in to her recent art shows, and when asked how the local audience dictates or does not dictate her work she replies, "Juneau has a lot of limitations on contemporary art. There are a lot of polar bears downtown." And so Belle stays in her pile to the side.

After her stint in school, Ballam-Schwan co-owned the downtown boutique Ragdoll, where she cultivated a love for silkscreen and stitching. This craftier side to her work re-emerges now as she reveals her latest creation, 3-D soft-sculpture dolls that continue pushing the boundaries of the dark. With bald heads and dark-ringed eyes, the carved heads and hands of these dolls are more reminiscent of the evil mother in Coraline than a cuddly dolly or a blonde Barbie. But the amazing detail and interesting aesthetic of the dolls is enough to make both the youth and adult in you desire one of your own.

Ballam-Schwan plans to have another show in the next year and an Etsy shop (www.etsy.com) to sell her dolls online in the next month. Otherwise, see her most recent work out and about this Halloween - just don't be fooled by her disguise!

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