Although the lousy weather in Homer kept us from flying to Katmai, it afforded me the pleasure of getting to know two respected master artists. Although they are in different phases of their lives and art production, I was fascinated by interesting similarities and important distinctions between these long-time Kenai residents.
During the demo he presented at the 2013 Great Alaskan Plein Air Retreat, James Buncak emphasized “the importance of painting exactly what you see, not making stuff up. Most times what you make up doesn’t ring true for the viewer.”
A Homer resident for over 30 years, James has extended his early training at the American Academy of Art in Chicago by working with his mentor, Eugene Hall, and focusing on the the painting and drawing techniques of Russian masters Nicolai Fechin and Illya Repin.
Jim invited my family and I to come see the dream home he is building on a ridge overlooking Homer and Kachemak Bay. Dave, an experienced Habitat for Humanity house lead, was fascinated by all the innovative, energy-efficient construction techniques Jim is using. We all marveled that Jim and his wife designed the 3,200 sq. ft. home and Jim is personally building most of it on his own.
“I’ve had this dream for over 25 years, and finally we’re making it happen!” Jim said, as he proudly showed many fun and beautiful features. In contrast, we walked next door to the home he has lived in for many years, a tiny place where Jim’s studio doubles as the entry, laundry, storage spot for his drums, and gallery for a few of his vibrant paintings.
In addition to being a highly recognized artist and a very skilled contractor, this busy Renaissance man plays the drums in a local band called Elders on Fire. We were grateful for a few moments of his precious time, and totally taken with the passion Jim communicates for all his endeavors, whether talking about art, his new home, or music.
Perhaps some of you also know of Norman Lowell, an 82 year-old artist, who, along with his wife, Libby, who has lived between Anchor Point and Homer for over 55 years. Entering his 10,000 sq. ft. gallery and studio, I was awestruck by over three hundred of Norman’s works in so many different media! I’m thankful that, although recovering from eye surgery, Norman took the time to chat with me about his art and love of Alaska, and to share a few stories about the 55 years he has been painting landscapes here.
Much like Jim Buncak, Norman built his dream home and gallery in the mid 80’s after he and Libby had lived in their homestead since they came to Alaska 1958. The very first painting he ever made was while he was visiting the Homer Spit. “Stop! I have to paint that!” he told his friend—words my husband has frequently heard, too. Alaska, the work Norman feels is his best, was done with one of his wife’s spatulas because that was the right size and handy at the moment.
A testimony to his continued passion for art are the 100 works painted last year after Norman was declared legally blind. He jury-rigged seven bright lights around his easel so that he can continue to paint, and is hopeful that the most recent surgery will allow him to see more clearly. In the meantime, Norman and Libby keep the gallery open daily for all visitors. They discuss Norman’s paintings, show off their beautiful flower and vegetable gardens, and encourage guests to check out their original homestead.
“Good art is more than representational art,” Norman said, “If I paint from my mind, I come up with something better, something much more than a pretty picture.”
What a pleasure it has been to get to know these two artist who share such similar experiences. Although they approach art so differently, they also share a commitment to living and working in Alaska. As Jim so succinctly put it, “Where else would I live?”