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By DANELLE LANDIS
Daily News Staff Writer
Late Ketchikan artist Cleo Weston’s life of making friends, creating art and influencing her beloved community is celebrated in the Main Street Gallery exhibit, “Connections — Cleo and Friends Retrospective,” which opened Friday.
The show, which was curated by Weston’s daughters, Gail Taylor and Cheri Davis, along with Weston’s close friend, Jean Bartos, highlights not only Weston’s art, but art and crafts that were influenced by Weston.
Taylor said that her mother, who died in 2017, hadn’t wanted a funeral or memorial service. She, Davis and Bartos decided that what Weston really would have wanted was an art exhibit of her work that included her friends’ work. Davis said Bartos came up with the idea, and they all agreed it was perfect.
“She really loved being around other artists,” Taylor said. “She loved teaching people, she loved learning from people.”
In 1951, Weston — then Cleo Barnes — arrived in Ketchikan at the age of 23 with her two young daughters, her family wrote in an artist’s statement provided by email.
Ketchikan’s economy and population were booming then, with the pulp mill gearing up. Weston and her family had to scramble to find housing, and they lived in seven different homes during their first seven years in town, according to her family.
From the time Weston was young, growing up in Missoula, Montana, she’d been creating art. One of her pieces, which she created as a teenager under the tutelage of an influential art teacher, is on display in the Main Street Gallery exhibit, Taylor said.
As a teen, Weston dreamed of attending art school.
“When she graduated, when she was 17, she took her portfolio to Los Angeles,” Taylor said.
Weston applied to art school there, but met with disappointment. Servicemen were returning from the war, and Weston was told that they had first priority in school enrollment.
Weston then focused on family life, getting married to a musician, then having her two daughters. When the couple split up, Weston headed north to Ketchikan, where an old boyfriend lived. They were later married in the Methodist church, Taylor said.
Both daughters mentioned Weston’s love of Ketchikan’s people and the natural beauty of Alaska that inspired her artwork. Weston especially enjoyed the people.
“She made friends right, left and center,” Davis recalled.
“I think it was those connections that made life in Ketchikan enjoyable for her,” Taylor said.
Weston eventually bought an art store in 1990, which she named Weston’s, from Louise Kern, who is a long-time art teacher at Ketchikan High School.
Davis said that Weston taught art classes not only through her store, but on the Alaska Marine Highway System ferries for an Elderhostel program, at logging camps, in Tok Junction, at the Ketchikan Senior Center and in schools. She also created designs for Anne Shrum’s Northland Silk Screens business, according to the artist’s statement written by her family.
In addition, Weston was one of the founding members of the Ketchikan Arts and Crafts Guild, for which she was a long-time chairperson, Davis said. Weston worked to bring in judges from outside Alaska to adjudicate exhibits that the guild members set up for local artists, and mentored many locals in creating works for those shows. She also worked to bring in teachers from outside the area to mentor local artists.
When new artists arrived in town, Taylor said her mother would take them under her wing. Bartos, a fiber artist, was one of those people.
“My mother just embraced her and brought her into the arts community,” Taylor said.
Weston not only painted traditional pieces, Taylor said, but also painted murals, window scenes, Christmas ornaments and furniture. Weston also created traditional paintings of scenes in areas she traveled to.
“She painted all over Alaska,” Taylor said, mentioning Tanana and the 40-Mile Mining District, where Weston’s grandfather had a mine.
Davis said that her mother painted both in watercolors and acrylics and, according to the artist’s statement, sometimes in oils. Taylor said that as Weston grew older, she felt her hands were too unsteady for painting, so she took up knitting in 2010.
According to the artist’s statement, Weston enjoyed joining sessions at Cheri Pyles’ fiber stores, and knitted a “plethora of hats and socks.”
The gallery show includes many paintings by Weston, in addition to paintings and knitted works by people who were influenced by Weston’s teaching and friendship. There even is a book in the show, submitted by Elizabeth Jagusch, that Jagusch made when she was 10 years old with the help of Weston, Davis said.
Davis said the show will offer a chance for people who did not know Weston to see the influence Weston had on the community, and the results of the caring and love Weston extended to the people of Ketchikan.
Show attendees who never knew Weston can also connect through the subjects of the paintings, Davis said, expecting that people will look at the many scenic paintings and say something like, “Oh, we took our boat to that area.”
Davis described the show as packed full, eclectic and featuring a nostalgic collection of pieces.
“It’s a way to help people to remember her and remind them of all she did,” she said, adding, “She was a very loved person around here.”
The Cleo Weston “Connections — Cleo and Friends Retrospective” exhibit will be on display until Jan. 25 in the Main Street Gallery at 330 Main Street. There will be a presentation on Weston’s work at 12:30 p.m. on Jan. 12 in the gallery, which will be free and open to the public.