Kodiak is not always Alaska’s sunshiney Emerald Isle, full of bears, birds, and frolicking foxes, but it rose to the occasion on Thursday for the first day of Crab Fest. It was the kind of Kodiak day one artist depicts in her quirky watercolors, which the Frame Shop booth exhibited for the second year running. Illustrator Mary Ruskovich is also behind this year’s Crab Fest poster.
A woman steps in front of a police lineup poster fastened to the side of the booth. It shows two bears and an empty space in between them, and the woman stands in the gap holding a sign that reads “Human, homo sapien.”
Many of Ruskovich’s illustrations depict bears. That includes the Crab Fest poster, which – again, like many of her pieces – has a lot of smiling animals, humor, and vivid colors. It’s a map of the island and every inch is packed full of Kodiak scenes. There are planes flying alongside geese, spinning wind turbines, and even an octopus climbing along the east side of the island.
“What I wanted to do is – I call it pulling together. It’s not the official theme of crab fest, but that’s what I call my illustration,
because in light of recent events, we have some not-so-nice things that go on in Kodiak with crime and all that other kind of stuff, but overall, it’s a really beautiful community and a beautiful island, so I wanted to symbolize what it takes to hold up Kodiak. So, I literally have the animals, kind of like Atlas the bear, holding up Kodiak.”
Ruskovich says she had already been working on the image as an independent project when the Chamber of Commerce asked her if they could use it.
It makes sense that her work seems so tailored to Kodiak. It’s not just her art that has bear themes. Her life does, too.
“My father in-law was the bear biologist – Larry Van Daele – for the last oh, 34 years he was there. And he just retired as the bear biologist, and my husband’s also
a biologist, and I got my degree in biology. So, all of my stuff, I try to keep anatomically correct, even though it has a whimsical theme to it and more of a cartoon look.”
Ruskovich says she moved to Kodiak with her husband, a local, in 2010, and now dedicates all her time to her art. Which is a fitting pastime for Kodiak’s dark, rainy seasons.
“I actually really like the rain because I get to stay inside and do art. When it’s sunny, I am not inside, I have to be outside constantly, so the fact that the weather is bad in Kodiak, it doesn’t bother me that much. There are enough things that we have around that I can find the seasons in Kodiak if I look hard enough for them.”
Ruskovich makes do, just like most Kodiak residents – and the vendors at Crab Fest in past years when the weather hasn’t been so agreeable.
Sunshine during Crab Fest might mean more people flock downtown to enjoy it, but wind and rain wouldn’t keep them away. Add a little water, and it’s just the humans of Kodiak walking through their natural habitat. I’m Kayla Desroches.