Emilie Springer: Creating fabric

Feb 23, 2021

Credit Emilie Springer

Eight girls sit 2 to a table in Homer Council on the Art’s newly finished work and learning space.  The girls are surrounded by piles of colorful fabric and decorations, donated by members of HCOA. They laugh, show off the current status of their masks and capes, play with tassels, lace, ribbon, buttons and other additions available for whatever kind of ornament they might like.  Later, talking with Garay, I see a pile next to each girls’ name with specific color patterns and themes: mustards, purples, animals, simple black.
    This is Carly Garay’s wearable arts class.  The workshop is part of HCOA’s on-going “Art Ala Carte” afterschool program for 3-6th graders with themes that differ through the year. Carly Garay and Amy Komar currently share the program as instructors.  Classes include drawing, printmaking, color and art fundamentals through visual journaling.  But, Carly’s background extends beyond this venue.
    She graduated from UAA in 2011 with a Bachelor's degree in Fine Art, focusing on photography and printmaking. In Anchorage, she participated in collaborative performance art with a group of fire dancers. The dancers performed at several venues in and around Anchorage, and out of state at Burning Man several times.  “The group was an incredibly expansive artistic experience and gave me a new inspiration to focus on creative costume-making,” she said
    Now, Garay is part of a performance troupe called the “Hungry Hat Circus.” It’s a collective of Alaska artists, dancers and musicians who live in Anchorage, Chickaloon and a few other places around the state. Pre-COVID, the group participated in the Girdwood Forest Fair for 5 years as performers and it was another for costume design. Last summer the group was still able to perform and film an outdoor art piece that included parade and surreal costume display.
    Performance interests aside, Garay is a K-12 Alaska certified art education teacher.  In Portland, OR, she found a position as the primary afterschool art teacher for an organization called the Oregon Artist School. The school was located in region of the city where many parents worked for Nike and Intel, businesses bases that presented diverse cultures. Most students were first generation citizens from India, China, Turkey, Russia, Iran and Romania.  After working at the Artist School, Carly earned a Master’s in Art Education from Lewis and Clark College. She completed student teaching in Portland with some of the largest class sizes she ever expects to see. “I would have 150 art students a day, and a whole new 150 students the next day, alternating throughout the week,” she said.
    Pre-college, Homer’s annual Nutcracker was also an important and formative inspiration for Carly’s art interests. She performed in the local show for about ten years and recalls, “the costumes, set design, and discipline really set a high standard for excellence.”
    Of the Arts a la Carte program, Garay says, “It has been very rewarding to connect with the community through art and getting to expose these young artists to a variety of art mediums and visual art fundamentals.”   We talk about the community nature of the program, this month, for example, the sewing machines are on loan from Homer’s public library.  This particular class seems to resonate to Carly, “I think the sewing skills are really fun to teach, as a basic.  I’m interested in expanding the idea into wearable arts,” she says.  We talk a little about where students can find skills like these now that “sewing” isn’t a typical academic subject these days.  She explains a change in course name and dyanmics from more traditional “home-economics” to what it is referred to in Oregon FACS: Food and Consumer Sciences.
    For now, she carefully shares her machine skills with these young girls, eager and content to sit at the machine and move fabric to create whatever kind of colorful cloak or mask they can imagine.