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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Alaska Folk Festival Preview: Poster Art

Poster art by Bill Hudson from the 17th Alaska Folk Festival
The streets are abuzz with the final countdown to Alaska Folk Festival number 37. Who can wait for balloon animals in the lobby, meeting long lost friends, dancing in the aisles and of course the musical styling of generations of folks from near and far. Take a closer look and you'll find out what begins the buzz: one singly crafted sheet of paper hanging plainly in a window. The poster.
Another Bill Hudson original Folk Fest poster.

 Artists and crafters have lent their creativity over the years to these brief but meaningful masterpieces. From drawing and painting a silk-screened poster to digitally rendering, scanning and printing, the processes of creation have changed dramatically over the years since Folk Fest began, but the heart of the artist has been ever-present. Taking a look back over the cadre of Folk Fest posters, one former Alaskan stands out as the most prolific: artist Bill Hudson.

Hudson, a designer, painter, sculptor and installation artist, lived in Juneau between 1971 and 1993. While raising his children and playing part-time stay-at-home dad, he also found time to establish himself as an artist and sit on the original board of directors of the Alaska Folk Festival. He was a natural choice for poster designer in 1984, Folk Fest number 10, and well, hey, that year he was free.

After that year he created something like 14 posters for the festival, with designs that ran the gamut from orcas in cowboy hats to banjo-thumping angels and everything in between. When asked his favorite Folk Fest poster, Hudson responded with an artist's vigor.
 "One year, I had really gotten addicted to wearing Hawaiian shirts, but I wanted to do an image of a polar bear," he said. "So I sketched out a bear in a colorful shirt, holding a ukulele (well loved by Hawaiians, of course) and decorated the shirt with palm trees, surfing Eskimos, igloos and seals doing the Hula. The design was hand-rendered into color separations on clear acetate and then screen printed by hand at my studio on South Franklin Street."

From the design to the silk-screened printing itself, Hudson had a literal hand in the entire process. Newer forms of printing on the digital press have made for faster and less expensive processes, sometimes to the chagrin of a few diehard crafty types. But when it comes to an occasion like the Folk Fest, it's hard not to see the heart and craft of each poster as an individual work of art, whether it was crafted by a silk-screener, or painted and printed.

For most of us Folk Fest attendees, like Hudson, the buzz that really keeps us going are the memories the posters bring.

"[Printing posters] was a very physically and sensually satisfying process for me - forcing the thick, blended inks through the polyester fabric onto the paper, lifting the screen and hanging the heavily pigmented paper on the clothesline," Hudson said. "I don't expect ever to screen print again, but I retain many fond memories of wet Folk Festival Posters hanging in my studio, just waiting for the next color to be printed."

View poster art from Folk Festivals past and present at akfolkfest.org/arthist.php.

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