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Homer artist brings muppet universe to the Homer Council on the Arts

The world textile artist Abigail Kokai created at the Homer Council on the Arts space this month all started when she found a stuffed doll at a thrift store, early in the pandemic.

Kokai creates homemade stuffed-animal whales from recycled clothing for her company, Homer Whales.

She said this particular thrift-store doll jumped out at her: It was about 10 inches tall with blueish-green skin, a brown cap atop fire-red unkempt hair and a maroon scarf. Its name was Boober.

Boober is a Fraggle — a variety of Muppet-like creatures from a popular children’s television program from the 1980s, produced by Jim Henson.

Kokai said Boober — whose character is afraid of getting sick and loves staying at home, according to Muppet Wikipedia — was the perfect pandemic companion.

While social distancing with Boober, Kokai, missing her own friends, decided the doll also needed company. So she sewed other small stuffed characters for him to interact with.

“I just went full in, falling down that rabbit hole, and discovered that he has a whole bunch of family members,” she said.

So far, Kokai has created over a dozen original dolls. They’re stuffed, with fleece exteriors. Kokai uses faux fur for the doll’s hair.

“I think of them as their own characters,” she said. “I guess in a way, they are all my friends that are separated from me.”

But Kokai didn’t stop after creating the dolls. She fashioned doll-sized props for the Muppets and painted scenes of them engaging in their day-to-day activities. The dolls live together in a doll-sized RV park owned by a character Kokai invented named Panda Mick — a playful pun on the word “‘pandemic.”’

“The paintings, which are on old vintage quilts, reference childhood,” Kokai said. “You had your favorite stuffed animals and quilts, the handmade quilt on your bed which could protect you from monsters and bad days.”

At Kokai’s October exhibit opening, the HCOA gallery hummed with the dull sounds of tiny motors, taken from inflatable holiday yard decorations. Small plush dolls stood along life-sized inflatables, meant to look like balloons from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Kokai said she was fascinated by the Macy’s parade as a kid, and that after creating the small plush dolls over the past two years, she began creating their inflatable balloon counterparts.

Naturally, the large inflatables — each standing between five and eight feet tall — needed life-size vehicles to move around in. Kokai made those herself, too.

“So there's a golf cart, which is human size. And you can sit in it,” she said. “And there's also a human-sized simulated RV which is meant for us to feel like we're in their world.”

Kokai’s large inflatable friends, like Choo Choo Yonce, Bobcat and Tuber, sit alongside Boober at the HCOA gallery throughout October. Find out hours and more on the HCOA website.

Originally from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Southwest Virginia, Desiree has called Alaska ‘home’ for almost two decades. Her involvement in radio began over 10 years, first as a volunteer DJ at KBBI, later as a host and producer, and now in her current role as a reporter. Her passions include stories relating to agriculture, food systems and rural issues. In her spare time, she can often be found riding her bicycle, creating art from handmade paper, or working in the garden.
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