Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center to Open in Style

Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center will Open with Colorful “Hero Lab Coats”

The Anchorage neighborhood health Center is moving to a new facility in Midtown Anchorage on September 17, 2012.  The clinic which began in 1974 and grew out of its Fairview location now serves over eleven thousand patients, accepting both insured and non-insured patients.  The Health Center had local artists paint “Health Center Hero” medical lab coats for a future benefit —coats will be displayed around town this fall. Well, it took me over 50 hours to paint two coats. In the process, I grew sillier and composed an essay about the process. The Health Center still needs monetary donations and volunteer help (contact Jon Zasada at 907-792-6591 for more details).

Santiago, OK Spencer Tracy in the Studio

It is a gray blustery day and white caps are visible from my beach shack. OK…it’s a typical Anchorage July with my house fan whirring and two toy poodles are wrestling on a lawn across the street. I’m in my studio painting salmon imagery onto medical lab coats for a fundraiser, the new Neighborhood Health Center soon in Midtown.  Fishing is not my thing, well, only if someone invites me, which hasn’t been in ages.

I rummage through books on Alaska’s sea creatures and print some examples off Google. What would a painter/writer like me do without Wikipedia?  Lab coats aren’t flat like stretched canvas. They wriggle and bounce as I pencil on a fish and begin to mix some paint, besides I don’t know what color a salmon really is. They seem pink with grey skin when picking out a pound or two at Costco, much easier and I don’t have to hit the plastic package on the head!

I phoned my son-in-law who is dangling from a beam off his house. He’s adding a roof to a porch so my daughter’s terrier won’t get her feet wet this winter. “I don’t know,” he repeats several times, “…all I know is that they get all torn up a lot when swimming up stream.”

Realizing that salmon are more three dimensional than what a Google search delivers, visiting the local tackle shop might be a good idea. I show up on a Sunday morning, clearly when everyone was doing more than fishing the night before. Strolling down aisles and looking at all the glo-in-the-dark-hook-do-hickies and drawers of plastic-ball-thingies is kinda like looking at rows of oil pastels in an art shoppe.

“It’s ok Miss,” a not too hung over clerk assures me, “artists come here all the time to make jewelry.”

“Do you think I could photograph your mounted fish?” pointing to an array on the wall, all looking like they just jumped out of water ready for a fishy beauty pageant.

I look around for my husband who has the camera. He can operate our Sony better than me, I’m always asking him what button needs pushing. I spot him cowering behind racks of rods and reels.

“C’mon, we don’t know anyone in the store,” I plead.  He hands me the camera as photographing stuffed fish apparently isn’t a macho thing do.  So I proceed to click away, politely sliding myself in between serious conversations about bait and hooks, “Hey lady, why don’t you catch a real fish!”

Now I’m beginning to understand why my husband remains camouflaged behind pricey foul weather gear.

Back at my studio I’m trying to merge some reddish salmon from Google along with photos of wall mounted fish from the tackle shop. I get out my 2B pencil and start sketching on the sleeve of the lab coat. Mixing up some paynes gray, I begin outlining. In order to get a purchase on the fabric, I have to slip my arm down the sleeve which causes splotches on a now not-so-clean coat that won’t stop wriggling around.  

I imagine myself as Santiago, no Ernest Hemingway, no Spencer Tracy.  I wrestle with the sleeve trying to get the hook onto the beak of the fish, just right (I’m sure beak isn’t the correct word for what’s on a fish face but, hell, I’m not Ernest Hemingway either). I add white to my paynes gray and scramble for the tube of magenta and cadmium red to get some color onto the belly of my salmon. I’m grappling with hanging onto the sleeve while waves of paint continue to slap my arm.

Just then sharks appear on my work table! They approach my arm, jaws open!

“Really guys, it’s a faux fish!” I cry out.

They back off and roll onto my palette. Don’t worry Ernest, it’s only Winslow and Phylly, my two Maine Coons and not your Gulf sharks about to eat my very two dimensional fish and spoil your epic. By now blood is dripping off my worktable onto the floor. OK, it’s the cats splashing and pawing my dirty paint water.

I remove my arm from the sleeve and hang up the lab coat to see how it looks. It’s still full of splotches which need to be removed somehow, I sigh.

The sun is beginning to burn through the gray sky and the poodles across the street have been called inside.  Like Santiago-Tracy I am becalmed as I stare at where to place another salmon or add a mollusk or two for variety. I return to my workbench to cut bait, mixing more pink and gray for the second coat on the salmon, letting the splotches become the endless sea.