The Dean family is building a gallery at their farm, Dean Family Farm and Art Studios, where they offer farm and studio tours, providing an educational, guided walk around the property, buildings, their studio, sheds, barns and gardens. - Courtesy Photo

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Artist inspired by movement, sense of feeling

August 10th, 2017 | Christina Whiting Print this article   Email this article  

Dean is often most inspired by a setting or material itself

Local artist inspired by movement or sense of feeling in a material or setting

For Jeff Dean, being an artist means gaining a deeper sense of the essence of the world around him and creating work that he considers to be interesting, innovative and beautiful.

"I've always enjoyed making things that can be considered artwork, whether those things are decorative or functional," he said.

Born and raised in Fairbanks, 60-year-old Dean learned basic pottery skills from his mother, who is still doing pottery at age 91. Eventually, he moved towards sculpture.

"I like clay, but I also like wood and metal, stone and other materials that each have their own character," he said.

Throughout high school and after graduating, Dean took art classes — at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, studying with Alaska Native artist, Ron Senungetuk, summer pottery classes in Iowa and California and sculpture school in Illinois with Egyptian sculptor, Mustafa Naguib.

One thing that he carried over from his time with pottery is making circular designs.

"I like to create both single and multi layered pictures in steel and wood, grinding a picture into cut out sheet steel shapes and other items like sawmill blades or steel disks," he said.

Dean has developed a process that is akin to a metal work painting. He grinds the surface material with carefully chosen abrasives and then heats the steel to create oxidation color or heat tints, creating multiple colors beside each other to get a lot of different effects.

While he draws inspiration for his commission pieces from many sources, he shared that he is most often inspired by a setting or a piece of material itself.

"I can look at a piece of wood, a found object, an arrangement of debris or any kind of random marking, and my mind simplifies it and sees the design or the movement and I get an idea from that," he said. "My eye picks out the unity and leaves out whatever's not interesting which gives me a starting point. A blank canvas may stay blank for a while, but if I can see movement or sense a feeling in a material, I can work with that as a structural foundation and come up with a drawing, sculpture or wall piece."

Dean markets himself online, in galleries and in person, reaching out to businesses and organizations, identifying a potential need, and by word of mouth.

His most recent commission is to create a sign for the Denali Overlook Inn.

"The sign I'm creating is made from reclaimed redwood," he said. "It's carved in relief on both sides in the shape of a bear's head and stained a reddish color with a white border, so it looks like a stop sign."

Last year, he received an award from the Alaska State Council on the Arts and created a large, engraved, steel wall sculpture for the interpretive center at the new Kesugi Ken campground in Denali State Park. The largest and most complex wall piece he has created to date, it measures 13 and a half feet wide and nine and a half feet tall, and took him five to six hundred hours to complete. The piece is called Through Your Spotting Scope and depicts Denali and the surrounding landscape and numerous animals.

"It has more than twenty different components to it," he shared. "The whole thing was like creating a bunch of individual pieces that were then blended together into one."

Dean, wife, Ranja and their daughter, M'fawny, are members of Ptarmigan Arts, the local coop gallery. Last year, they showed their work in a collaborative exhibit at Ptarmigan Arts and at the Pratt Museum.

"We wanted to show how we bring our artist's vision to whatever we're doing," he said.

The Dean family is building a gallery at their farm, Dean Family Farm & Art Studios, where they offer farm and studio tours, providing an educational, guided walk around the property, buildings, their studio, sheds, barns and gardens.

"People love to visit here and so it seemed like a natural extension to add it as an additional income stream and to get more exposure to our artwork," he shared.

Eager to continue to develop the farm and studio tours as a way to attract clients and customers and to share their creativity, Dean's long-term goals include getting enough exposure that he can have a regular backlog of commission work and more steady sales of the family's artwork.

Locally, Dean created the sign for Grace Ridge Brewing, a wall piece viewable in the reception area at the Best Western Bidarka, a large wall piece of a sea dragon for a local chiropractor and a large steel and wood wall sculpture for Crane's Crest B&B. He also created a wall sculpture of a salmon stream that is at the Central Peninsula Hospital.

"I draw from a lot of different things that people have done throughout history and so my inspiration is more of the feeling and the quality, rather than the style or a particular person," he said.

Dean's work can be viewed at his website, or on his Facebook page. Farm and studio tours can be reserved online or by calling 299-5175.


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