Seward artist and gallery owner Jennifer Headtke invited me to paint together at her home north of town—and it’s safe to say that Jen has a spectacular back yard! She has enjoyed painting while traveling long before we started talking about en plein air. Still an avid globe trotter, Jen paints in watercolors because they’re so easy to transport when on the road.
Jen came to Alaska for a summer after college to visit her sister, spent 6 months traveling the South Pacific, and then returned once more to Alaska where she met her husband and settled in Seward. Always an ambassador, Jennifer plays a key leadership role of in the local arts community. Six years ago, she opened a combination gallery/bakery called The Ranting Raven that stays open for the six “tourist” months each year.
According to the Seward Mural Society “Jennifer Headtke, Seward’s premier muralist, first brought artists together in 1999 for a group experiment painting panels on the high school gym floor.” The group’s growth into a “Society” of devoted muralists and the Seward Arts Council’s visual arts arm is a tribute to her leadership.
So far, the Mural Society has painted 26 large works which celebrate the beauty and spirit of Alaska, and bring life to many of Seward’s unique historical characters and events. This year, the city asked the group to design a mural as a gift from the City of Seward and the Seward Mural Society to their sister city of Obihiro Japan, quite a significant undertaking for this small group. Several of the Seward artists will visit and work with local Japanese artists for 16 days to execute the mural. Local artists look to Jennifer for leadership, fundraising, and logistics for this endeavor, which she graciously donates despite the significant amount of time is sapped from her art.
We all know that creative artists are great at dreaming up new projects and programs, but finding people with the skill set and willingness to keep them vibrant and growing is rare. I’ve seen this at home in our Ohio Plein Air Society, making it even more special to meet leaders like Jen, Kurt Jacobson, who served as President of the Alaska Artists Guild from 2007 through 2012, Don Cornelius, who glues together artists in Petersburg, Ken Faulks, the informal organizer in Victoria, Cristine Crooks, the art sparkplug of Juneau, and the Painted Ladies, who put on the Great Alaskan Plein Air Retreat. They all demonstrate love of art, but also mention how difficult it can be to successfully manage an organization. It sure makes me want to shout out to Eric Rhodes with encouragement for another Managing Your Art Organization “bootcamp” at the 2014 Plein Air Convention!