PALMER — More than 30 years ago, a group of Wasilla High School art students painted a performance art piece on a field trip in Honolulu, Hawaii, that will make its way to Palmer High School on Friday.
After decades of mystery, the canvas was found at Colony High School and will be displayed in the halls of Palmer High following a ceremony at halftime of the rivalry football game between Palmer and Wasilla. Since splitting the football team in 1979, the Potato Bowl has been the marquee sporting event in the Valley every year. During halftime at the 2019 Potato Bowl Friday, the historic painting will be presented to Palmer High School in a ceremony with the original artists and principals.
“This painting now connects Palmer to Wasilla once more and will reside in the blue halls where it will continue the legacy of the bond between the Moose and the Warriors. Little did they know, in creating a piece of art they have created history,” wrote Palmer High student Jordan Fuller.
Former Wasilla art teacher Jackie Schmidt remembers the trip fondly, except for the unexpected two-day delay at the end of the trip due to the eruption of the Augustine Volcano. Wasilla High took their band and choir to the King Kamehameha Day Floral Parade for King Kamehameha day in Honolulu during the winter break in 1986. Schmidt said that the band and choir directors had invited her to bring art students to paint a performance art piece during the playing of the Alaska Flag Song by the band and choir. A father of one of the students had volunteered to build two four foot by eight foot easels, and the students painted simultaneously on two easels while the musical number was performed by the band. The groups practiced at home with a recording of the band’s performance and headed to Hawaii with only minutes to complete the piece during the three live performances. Wasilla art students Lara Blake, John Cyr, James Havens, Jennifer Schmidt-Hutchins, Ken Powell, Lisa Pritchard and Brett Wood feverishly laid down the mountain silhouette and birch trees in the background. Havens had the responsibility of painting the moose on each easel that he would not complete until the end of the song, revealing the uniquely Alaskan image.
“James was one of my most accomplished artists, he just had it in him. He was such a genius. While they were doing the background of the birch trees, James would hustle between each easel and paint a moose,” said Schmidt. “The whole thing was just so much fun. The kids were delightful, wonderful, perfect.”
For Alaskans in Hawaii, the audio and visual reminder of home was a moving experience. Schmidt and the artists were approached by Alaskans living in Hawaii who were in tears after the reveal of the moose antlers.
“Being 17 years old and being a part of that, going to Hawaii with the art club and painting an Alaskan scene for them to our state song was pretty cool,” said Cyr.
Cyr currently works as an Alaska State Trooper and will be simultaneously celebrating his 50th birthday on Friday. Cyr will present the painting along with a small handful of the painting’s original artists, Palmer Mayor Edna DeVries, Palmer principal Paul Reid and Wasilla principal Jason Marvel. The history of the painting is shrouded in mystery after 1986. While the whereabouts of the canvas are unknown until it was discovered in Colony High School earlier this year, many of the artists are still active in the art community in the Last Frontier.
“I thought this was a piece of art that was lost,” said Cyr. “It’s a piece of history that I’m glad that we get to share with the students of today and the culture that we have today and the people that we have in the Valley from an era of 30 years ago.”
Early in the 2019 school year, Colony High art teacher Kali Boyer discovered the canvas painting in her art room and contacted Palmer High teacher Kahla Kallam. Kallam then showed the painting to guidance counselor James Zimmer, who orchestrates the signage around Machetanz Field. Zimmer then showed the painting to Palmer High nurse Carmen Pell, who graduated from Wasilla High and got to work contacting the original artists. Since receiving the painting two weeks ago, it has been mounted by Palmer High woodshop students and Kallam’s student Jordan Fuller wrote “The Bond Between Us” as an assignment, detailing the history of the painting from 1986 up to Friday’s presentation.
“For the kids to be able to sort of bring that back to life and take pride in the fact that they’re doing that is certainly an enriching activity for them,” said Reid. “My emotions will be ones of pride. I think that the thing that’s really unique about Palmer, maybe more so than the other high schools, is the history that we have in the community. I think this is a unique story.”
Palmer High junior Trenton Anderson mounted the painting on a sheet of plywood and is constructing a stained wood frame for the canvas in his woodshop class.
“That’s really important to everyone else and I want it to be presentable and I want people to like it,” said Anderson
Not only has the painting inspired students within Palmer High, but one of the original artists(Schmidt’s daughter Jennifer Schmidt-Hutchins) replicated the performance at a school in the Mat-Su Borough School District. Schmidt-Hutchins, now principal at Fronteras Spanish Immersion Charter School, had students at Fronteras engage in a performance painting of the three wise men while the band played “Silent Night” three Christmases ago.
“It was so emotional to see it happen and come to fruition, we actually had parents leaving in tears,” said Scmidt-Hutchins. “I think it was phenomenal when I heard that Palmer High actually wanted to display it.”
Despite the rivalry on the field, the connection between the two schools and cities will leave both Moose and Warriors on common ground, at least for one night.
“Some of us alumni from Palmer High want to say back to Wasilla, thank you,” said Palmer High guidance registrar Colene Smith.