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Saturday, February 26, 2011

An Artistic Mystery in Anchorage

I stumbled across an artistic mystery this week in Anchorage. Very early one morning, I walked from the cold and dark into the brightly lit office of the Central Middle School of Science. The first thing I noticed was a painting on the wall that was locked inside a glass case. The painting style looked very familiar to me as did the subject matter - a close-up of huskies running in the snow. It looked exactly like something that Fred Machetanz would paint except for one thing. The dogs were running against a crimson red background. A very strong colorist, Machetanz didn't normally use red. It isn't an arctic color. Machetanz's paintings are iconic in Alaska and he achieved international recognition for his bold landscapes, Alaskan animals, dog mushing, and Alaskan people. Most people recognize his work by the very cool palette he used of teals, violets, purples - the kinds of colors that snow-covered mountains reflect. This painting, "Where Men and Dogs are Small" is a perfect example of his work.

So you can imagine why I was puzzled to see the use of red in this painting on the wall of the Central Middle School of Science office. I looked more closely at it. It had his signature. It was an original oil. And the back ground was RED.

When in doubt, always ask. The school secretary told me that it really was an original Fred Machetanz. Here is the story. Fred Machetanz actually gave the school two paintings; however, the first one was destroyed in the 1964 earthquake. He returned to the school in 1967 with another painting under his arm, similar to the first one. He stipulated that the Parent Committee use the painting for whatever purpose they chose to support the school. He painted the team of huskies because Central's teams are the Huskies. And that mysterious red background? Central's school colors are white and... red.

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