Barrow children enjoy a day of painting with artist David Pettibone. - Photo by Abra Stolte-Patkotak

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Artist, college collaborate to put kids in the studio

September 14th, 2013 | By Abra Stolte-Patkotak Print this article   Email this article  

Barrow's Eben Hopson Middle School's cafeteria was filled with yelling and paint-covered children and their caretakers last weekend. While slightly chaotic at times, the clamor and mess proved to be great fun for all involved. The event: "Kids in the Studio," the first of its kind that was put on through a collaboration between Ilisagvik College Cooperative Extension, the City of Barrow, and Barrow Arctic Science Consortium. Facilitated by David Pettibone and Diana Solenberger, Saturday's turnout of over 45 kids and more than 70 total participants was a pleasant surprise.

Artist David Pettibone had never heard of Barrow, Alaska until he read a New York Times article about the fall whale hunt that takes place every year in the United State's northernmost community. Just finishing up a project that focused on beekeeping, Pettibone resonated with the idea of a small and remote community that still holds the subsistence whale hunt as a cornerstone of their culture. After getting in touch with Barrow Arctic Science Consortium and working out an Artist-in-Residence agreement with BASC, Pettibone arrived in Barrow in April of this year. He has set up a studio in town and began working on his next series of paintings, which will focus not just on the whale hunt itself but also the community and its members that participate in it.

Giving back to the community of Barrow is also important to Pettibone, which is where the "Kids in the Studio" workshop comes into the picture. One of several workshops that he has facilitated during his time here in Barrow, this was the first one geared toward children.

"It's nice to see the enthusiasm from kids creating and exploring with paint," Pettibone says of his experience with the workshop.

Diana Solenberger regularly facilitates workshops for Ilisagvik College Cooperative Extension. After seeing a need for more youth activities in Barrow, she is trying for a 50/50 balance of workshops geared toward children and adults. For the workshops geared toward kids, she usually has a healthy snack available.

"I loved seeing all of the parents that came with the kids and the way that the families were learning and working together," she said.

Two young girls in particular were thrilled to be painting.

"I liked to draw whatever I want, and get to make a mess," said Jacklyn Sceeles, 8. Her best friend Lorena Ningeok, age 9, expressed her love for painting butterflies. When asked about what she learned in the workshop, Ningeok said, "painting is a really hard job."

With a Masters of Fine Arts degree from the New York Academy of Art, Pettibone might agree with that statement. While painting can indeed be a hard job, teaching painting is a different story. "Teaching is incredibly's nice to be able to share my expertise with people, especially when they show enthusiasm about it," he said. "That's as good as it gets."

The workshops that Pettibone has facilitated also provided him with an opportunity to get to know the community.

"A huge part of the workshops is that I get to meet people in the community and it opens doors for the whale hunt project," he said.

Over the next two years, he will continue to work on his Whale Hunt painting series, with a show of his work here in Barrow and other cities planned for summer of 2015.

"With the kids, it was just incredibly entertaining to watch them have a blast with that paint and cover themselves head to toe with it," Pettibone said.

There is one more workshop for youth in Barrow on the first Saturday in October. This one will be for youth aged 8 and up, and will be with acrylic paint. Pettibone also hopes to hold another acrylic painting workshop for youth and young adults in Kaktovik and possibly one in Anaktuvuk Pass. For more information on upcoming workshops, contact David Pettibone at or Diana Solenberger at


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