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  • Alex Wilder

A Tale of Ten Chickadees

Palmer has been abuzz all week with the energy of youthful athletes, supportive parents and coaches, and dedicated volunteers. For many of the spectators and special guests, their first glimpse into the Arctic Winter Games began with ten adorable chickadees flitting about the arena as the audience took their seats for the Opening Ceremony. The perfectly round black heads pecked at balloons, amused onlookers, and joined in playful choreography. They could have been mistaken for real chickadees save for their teal, blue, fuchsia and acid green feathers—a lovely nod to the colors of the games.

The black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) is the official animal ambassador of the 2024 Mat-Su Arctic Winter Games. Despite its diminutive size, this feathered explorer embodies the very essence of courage and curiosity— a perfect representation of the talented athletes competing this week. Chickadees thrive in the Matsu Valley year round and their distinctive chickadee-dee-dee call makes their presence known, but it is their heeeyyy, sweetie song that reminds us all that spring is just around the corner.

I had the privilege of interviewing Bea Adler—one of the designers behind the delightful chickadee costumes—during a dress rehearsal before the games. She is a long-time Palmer-area resident and was nominated by local admirers over a year ago to design and make the costumes for the animal ambassadors.

Bea and her co-designer Linda Lockhart have been brainstorming ideas, drafting designs, and sourcing materials for the costumes since February 2023. “We got together and discovered that our drawings were almost identical. We were both thinking about crinolines and those big Civil War era skirts with the cages that held the skirt out. We thought that might make a nice, big, round bird body.” Bea then pulled in another talented local costumer, Colleen Wake, to complete the fabrication.

They worked on the costumes throughout the summer. Bea revealed that the most challenging part about making the costumes was finding the right material for the structure. “Linda and I tried multiple materials. We even got those little umbrellas that you can put on your dish of food on the picnic table to keep bees and flies away. We kept thinking it had to be light. It couldn’t make the costume hot…it had to be easy for a child to wear. So, the hardest part was finding the material.”

Bea has a habit of walking through hardware stores for inspiration. “The breakthrough really was wandering through the hardware store one day, I saw—in their trash bin—this green-colored, plastic, strapping material that was flexible yet stiff. It’s designed to strap around a load of lumber that gets loaded on railcars. With their permission, I collected a lot of it.” The hardware store employees were very friendly and helpful: “Every time I would show up, they would go and get this one woman who knew where everything had been put and she helped me get it together.”

Hot glue was not strong enough for the material, so the costumes are held together with metal rivets. There is a harness that goes over the shoulders and is adjustable with velcro. The covers are blankets from Costco. “The wings! They are something that Colleen focused on: cutting out thousands of feathers from an assortment of different materials. The colors of the Arctic Winter Games are incorporated into the tails and into the wings.” The heads are built on child sized bike helmets with see through fabric draped over the face.

After asking Bea if she is a seamstress by trade, she shared, “I supported myself through college as a custom dress maker in New York City. I’ve been doing theater costumes since high school. My first job in Alaska after arriving in 1981 was in the costume shop at the Anchorage Opera.”

Telsche Overby—Arts and Culture Program Coordinator—contacted Mat Valley Dance Studio owner Lindsey Redmond about sourcing some tiny dancers to perform in the costumes. The dancers excitedly (and a bit nervously) took to the stage for 15 minutes before the Opening Ceremony. Everyone agrees: they are just SO CUTE!

What was the most fun part of it all for Bea? “Seeing them actually on someone! It was good because it was collaborative—knowing that you’re not the only one working on something…the collaborative effort is really so important. Then we actually got to see it on someone—because up until then I was using a dress dummy.”

“I am just so excited that I got to be part of [The Arctic Winter Games] and to do this collaboratively. What a great community effort this is!”

Keep an eye out for the playful chickadees return at this Friday’s two Cultural Galas as well as Saturday’s Closing Ceremony.


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