Monumental reflections

Artist reunites with her work after 30 years

By Kaitlin Johnson
Sun Star Contributor

This is the second installment in a three-part series recognizing abstract art across campus. The series explores the origins and interpretations of the art we interact with daily. Keep reading the Sun Star for future installments.

West Ridge sculpture shines in the sun. Oct. 14, 2010. Allan Spangler/Sun Star

When Christiane T. Martens first conceptualized “Denali,” she’d never been to Alaska. She was inspired by a photo spread she’d seen in National Geographic of the Alaska Range.

“I wanted it to be a reflection of the landscape,” she said. “This monumental landscape that I think is probably unlike any place else.”

In 1979, Martens was selected as one of 10 finalists for the Ford Foundation Grant for the Study and Documentation of Alaska Native Art. Winning meant a commission for a sculpture to be placed in front of the Museum of the North after the museum was completed.

Martens spent three months preparing a tiny two-inch model of a sculpture that silhouetted the Alaska Range. Martens titled it “Denali” to honor Native Alaskan tradition. In 1980, her vision was realized when the stainless steel sculpture was installed, overlooking the very mountain range which had been its inspiration.

This week Martens will see her art for the first time in 30 years.

The art reflects more than just a landscape, said Imuya Dooley, a senior. To her, art is a reflection of the artist who created it.

“Art is a giant picture of a person. Everything is there to be seen and observed. A lot of oneself goes into it,” Dooley said.

She said “Denali” could be seen as an illustration of the way Martens views and experiences Alaska.

“I think she used this piece as a stepping stone. You can experience natural beauty through this piece,” Dooley said. “It’s a man-made take on nature.”

Martens said that she wanted to create a piece that could respond to its environment. She chose polished stainless steel so that it would reflect the light of day and the colors of the seasons. She wanted it to be able to reflect the Aurora Borealis during the winter, as well as the endless light of an Alaskan summer.

“It brings it alive,” Martens said.  “It changes. It brings more brilliance to it.”

When the statue was installed 30 years ago, the campus was a different place. The Museum of the North would not become a grandiose example of modern arctic architecture until 2006. Even the cityscape which “Denali” overlooks has been altered. In 1980, it was smaller and less bright with houses and businesses.

After 30 years, Martens said she looks forward to seeing how her sculpture has held up in its ever-changing environment and to see in which ways it has become part of Alaska tradition.

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