Jonny Gray, 2014 Artist in Residence

Bryan carries one of Jonny's big heads to the start of the 4th of July Parade  Photo by Ginny Cooke

Bryan carries one of Jonny's big heads to the start of the 4th of July Parade

Photo by Ginny Cooke

Jonathan Gray is a professor of communication studies and performer on the faculty of Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. During his residency Jonny built original big head puppets for the Wrangell Mountains Center's permanent collection, and specifically to be included in the annual 4th of July Parade. He chose subjects for the masks including a bear, a "hippie", and a TV camera, to spark conversations about how visitors and community members interact with and feel about their environments. The camera directly addressed a reality TV show that was being filmed in McCarthy and was an important topic of conversation in the community.

Above - Big heads in progress - from left to right: Studio space (photo by Kristin Link), making masks with cardboard, paper machee, paint, tarps, and found recycled packing material (photos by Jonny Gray).

I addition to creating a series of big heads, Jonny taught a workshop to lead local through his process, and to create their own masks as part of Mountain Arts for Youth Series. Resident artists and writers have the opportunity to participate in WMC workshops and events that are concurrently scheduled. Jonny took full advantage of this perk and participated in Natural History Field Sketching, Permaculture, and a youth workshop on Aquatic Ecology. Finally, Jonny used his time to continue a research project that he started in McCarthy several years ago, which involves interviewing wilderness guides on their use of communication and leadership skills in the backcountry. 

Above - Big head masks in action - from left to right: Owen and Max show their creations (a walrus and a blue-green monster) from the Mountain Arts for Youth workshop lead by Jonny. The camera head in action with reality TV camera and the 4th of July Parade (Photos by Jonny Gray and Ginny Cooke- far right). 

Learn more about Jonny and his work in the film below:

Interview and film by Leanne Phelps.