A cultural collage

Deep in the heart of Southern India live artists expert in a dying medium - hoarding.

The hoarders, so named by the British, are Indian sign painters. They have been important in a country with more than 20 languages and a 60-percent literacy rate.

"A lot of communication is done visually in India," said Jake Seniuk, director of the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center.

Don Fels discovered these artists on a trip to India and, a collagist himself, fell in love with the signs they oil painted on aluminum strips. The signs hung everywhere - most prominently high above the crowded city as billboards - but due to the advent of new technology, those simple aluminum signs are dying out, Fels told Seniuk.

So Fels, a Fall City-based artist, decided to open an art studio in an old spice factory in Cochin, in South India, for hoarders. He asked them to paint specific things - his father, age 23, as a fighter pilot in World War II; himself at age 23; his son, Benjamin, at age 23 - but he also allowed the hoarders something they rarely got - some artistic freedom.

"The hoarders are trained to reproduce what is given to them," Seniuk said. "(Fels) encourages them to bring in their own ideas."

From the paintings, based mainly on his father's experience stationed in Asia as a

pilot in World War II as well as his own experiences in the colorful country, came PAFAC's newest show, "If your kit contains a mirror with a hole in it, use it," by Don Fels.

Fels decided to name his show after a

line in "Jungle Desert Arctic Emergencies," a manual given to his father and other soldiers during the war.

"That line stood out to us because of the self-reflective nature of the show," Seniuk said.

Seniuk added that Fels' background as a collagist is reflected particularly in one piece, of his father as a 23-year-old war pilot, looking backward from the cockpit of a plane. Above him looms Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god, holding a mountain, homage to the Hindu tale that Hanuman scaled a mountain to find herbal medicine for a fellow deity. When he couldn't locate it, he lifted the entire mountain on his back and carried it back for the deity. The story is particularly special to Fels because many of his father's comrades stationed in Asia died from crashing into the mountains.

"It was one of the most dangerous assignments during that war," Seniuk said. "There was a 50-percent fatality rate, but Don Fels' father survived."

After the exhibit leaves PAFAC, Seniuk said it will travel to India, where the fine arts community is new but growing.

"Don Fels has a history of working in foreign countries and he wants to take this back to where it came from," Seniuk said.

Meet the artist

Who: Port Angeles Fine Arts Center and artist Don Fels

What: A lecture and slide show by the artist on his exhibit

"If your kit contains a mirror with a hole in it, use it."

When: Lecture is at 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 26. The exhibit is open until Nov. 30.

Where: Port Angeles

Fine Arts Center,

1203 E. Lauridsen Blvd., Port Angeles

More information:

Call center director

Jake Seniuk at 457-3532

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