Alaskan Artists

The Nov-Dec, 2019 issue of Alaskan History Magazine featured short biographic sketches of four great artists from Alaska’s past, and with this post I’ll share links to more information and examples of artwork from each of them.

Screen Shot 2019-11-27 at 7.31.02 PMSydney Laurence (1865–1940), probably Alaska’s best-known artist, came north in 1903 and lived in Tyonek, later in Valdez, and in 1915 he moved to the new railroad town of Anchorage. By 1920 he was considered one of the most prominent artists in Alaska and through techniques he had learned in New York and Europe, helped define Alaska as the Last Frontier. There is a very good biography of Sydney Laurence at LitSite Alaska, another at the Alaska History site with photos from his time in Anchorage, and a gallery of his work at See also: Sydney Laurence: Northern Exposures From A Brooklyn Boy (Seattle Times, 1990)

Screen Shot 2019-11-25 at 8.50.50 PMTheodore Roosevelt Lambert (1905-1960), arrived in Alaska in 1925 or 1926 and worked as a sled dog musher hauling mail and freight, giving him insight to the land and its moods which he later captured on canvas. He also found jobs as a miner, logger, and trapper, which honed his observations about people. Lambert worked for the Fairbanks Exploration Company, making enough to study at the American Academy of Art in Chicago in 1931. He spent a winter in Seattle studying art with Eustace Ziegler. He married a young teacher and they had a daughter, but when he displayed paranoia and wild-animal behavior, she took their baby daughter and left. Lambert moved to a cabin on Bristol Bay. He mysteriously disappeared in 1960, leaving a stack of unfinished paintings and a 250,000 word manuscript. No trace of him was ever found. A short bio and a few paintings can be seen at The Antique Gallery, and there is a gallery of his artwork at the University of Alaska Museum of the North website.

Screen Shot 2019-11-25 at 8.54.44 PMFred Machetanz (1908-2002) first came to the territory in 1935 to visit his uncle, Charles Traeger, who ran a trading post at Unalakleet. He volunteered for the U.S. Navy during World War II, requested a posting to the Aleutian Islands, and rose to Lt. Commander, responsible for intelligence for the North Pacific Command. He returned to Unalakleet in 1946. In 1947 Machetanz married writer Sara Dunn, and they settled near Palmer and had a son, Traeger. They published several books and collaborated on films for Walt Disney, the Territory of Alaska, and Encyclopedia Britannica. From 1948 through 1960 they made many lecture tours through the lower 48 states. He was named Alaskan of the Year in 1977, and American Artist of the Year in 1981 by American Artist magazine. Machetanz was also awarded honorary doctorates by the University of Alaska and Ohio State University. There is a short bio and many paintings and lithographs at the ArtNet website, and an excellent biography and samples of his art at LitSite Alaska. See also: A Northern Adventure: The Art of Fred Machetanz, introduction to the retrospective exhibition by Kesler Woodard.

Screen Shot 2019-11-25 at 9.11.03 PMEustace Paul Ziegler (1881-1969) came north in 1909 at the age of 27 to manage an Episcopal mission in Cordova, one of the first artists from the United States to arrive in Alaska. He was trained in painting at the Detroit Museum of Art, and when his missionary work required extensive travel to the mining communities of the Copper River country, it gave him an opportunity to paint portraits of many different frontier characters, including miners, priests, fishermen and especially Alaskan Natives, for which he became widely known. Ziegler left the ministry and moved to Seattle in 1924, after receiving a major painting commission there. A prolific artist, he once estimated that he had painted over 50 paintings a year for 60 years. Ziegler continued to make trips to Alaska every year, becoming one of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest’s most popular artists. There is a short biography of the artist at the Alaska State Museum site, and over 200 of his artworks can be viewed at ArtNet.

Nov-Dec, 2019 issue, Vol. 1, No. 4, postpaid

The Orr Stage Company, a WPA guidebook to territorial Alaska, the Kink in the FortyMile, the Woodchopper Roadhouse, pioneer Native rights activist Elizabeth Peratrovich, and the 1898 explorations of Capt. Edwin F. Glenn and W. C. Mendenhall through the Matanuska Valley.


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