Sebastian Taylor-Manning pauses to sketch at a replica of an Alaskan illustrator’s desk. His brother McClain Taylor-Manning and his father, Chris Taylor, look on during a recent visit to the State Museum to see the new exhibit, "Illustrating Alaska: Artists Making Children’s Books", on display through April 3. (Courtesy Photo/Jackie Manning)

Drawing inspiration: State museum debuts new exhibit featuring the work of local illustrators

State museum debuts exhibit featuring the work of local illustrators.

A new exhibit at the reopened Alaska State Museum offers a peek at the process of illustrating children’s books.

The exhibit, “Illustrating Alaska: Artists Making Children’s Books,” is on display through April 3.

“This exhibit is geared toward anyone interested in how children’s books are illustrated. It really breaks down the process,” said Jackie Manning, curator of exhibitions at the museum, in a phone interview on Tuesday.

The state museum is the exhibit’s first stop before it heads on tour to other museums and community centers across Alaska.

The exhibition highlights the process of Alaskan illustrators Jim Fowler, Evon Zerbetz, and Mitchell Watley. It also features Michaela Goade, who grew up in Juneau and is the 2021 recipient of the prestigious Randolph Caldecott Medal for best picture-book story, “We Are Water Protectors.” She now lives in Sitka.

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Visitors will see that each artist has a unique perspective on creating illustrations for a children’s book by entering a replica of the artist’s studio. Aspiring illustrators can work on sketches with art supplies provided along with the ticket to the exhibit. Videos in each studio bring the experience of illustrating to life and let visitors see the artists talk about their work.

“I’d love to hear a kid walk out of the exhibit and say, ‘Maybe this is something I can do someday,’” Sarah Asper-Smith, the curator of the exhibit, said in an email to the Juneau Empire.

“We planned this exhibit with young ones in mind. All of the art is hung slightly lower, so when kids enter the exhibit, they will think, “this was made for me,’” she added.

But, the exhibit is not just for children.

“I think adults will appreciate learning more about the process of creating a picture book. They’ll see the steps that an artist takes in creating a final illustration and learn how much work it really is! I think that a lot of people form a romantic idea about the job of writing and illustrating picture books. I hope they’ll realize that while it is a fun and fulfilling career, it is also a lot of work,” Asper-Smith said.

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COVID-19 pivot

The exhibit has been in the works since 2018 and was adjusted to accommodate COVID-19 precautions.

“We had to make modifications to the design because of the pandemic, but I think the solutions are just as graceful as the original ideas,” Asper-Smith said.

In addition to exhibit modifications, the museum is taking extra precautions to keep visitors safe.

“Since the museum reopened, we have upped our janitorial service. When the building is open to the public, a janitor moves throughout the building and cleans all the high-touch surfaces every hour throughout the building,” Manning said.

Know & Go

What: “Illustrating Alaska: Artists Making Children’s Books,”

When: Wednesday to Saturday between noon and 4 p.m. until April 3

Where: The Alaska State Museum, 395 Whittier St.

Admission: Admission is $9 with a $1 discount for seniors. Children 18 and under are admitted free of charge. An annual pass is available that allows unlimited visits to the Alaska State Museum and the Sheldon Jackson Museum in Sitka for $40.

COVID-19 mitigations: Reservations are optional, and walk-ins are welcome. Crowds are managed to allow for social distancing. Plan to spend 60 to 90 minutes in the exhibit. “The museum has safety standards in place, and it’s a lovely place to bring a kid or explore on your own,” Manning said.

Visit online: You can learn more about the exhibit, see a video, view pictures, and access related educational activities at https://lam.alaska.gov/illustrating-alaska

Contact Dana Zigmund at dana.zigmund@juneauempire.com or 907-308-4891.

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