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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.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Weather Permitting

Several years ago, I found a bit of doggerel, attributed to Anonymous, entitled "Weather Permitting" and kept it because, although crude, it expresses a state of mind that is always with us in Alaska. Here is part of the first verse:
"Way up in Alaska wherever you are
If you're headed out close or you're headed out far
When you go to the airport, you may need your knitting
For you'll only be flying, weather permitting"

This past week when I was weathered in in Tyonek, I remembered this verse. I had left Anchorage's Merrill Field with Spernak Airways on a gray day with plenty of visibility. Spernak has a reputation for safety and has served Tyonek well for many years. (Note in the corner of their business sign in capital letters, it says: BEAR SPRAY IS NOT ALLOWED IN ANY PASSENGER AIRCRAFT. I had to wonder what led to that notice.)

So we left populous Anchorage behind and had an uneventful flight (the best kind) as we crossed Cook Inlet, where I could see ice forming. Eventually, we landed on the airstrip where someone from the school picked me up. 

I had a great time with the kids and their parents, but when it came time for me to return to Anchorage in order to fly back to Juneau, it was snowing in Tyonek and the ceiling was far too low for planes to fly. In winter, the light starts going by mid-afternoon, which meant I would be staying another night. So I helped the Student Council do a fundraiser and discovered that it is easy to go through a 25 lb. sack of flour when making the dough for 34 pizzas.

Here are our orders:

The next morning, it was beautiful in Tyonek, but the fog had settled over Merrill Field in Anchorage so that no planes flew from Merrill all day. As the poem says:
"There's no use in fuming or fussing or snitting
You always face this, it's weather permitting
So don't get disheartened in the far golden North
Just learn to relax without fretting or quitting"

Surprisingly enough, at Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage, just across town, the visibility steadily improved so that in late afternoon, I heard that Reeve Air had sent a charter. There was room for another passenger so I hopped on and flew back. 

I did make it back to Anchorage in time to catch the late plane to Juneau. 

And so here is the last verse:
"And when the grim reaper comes I can see it all clear
I'm alone in my shroud, Happy Heaven is near
I'm coming, St. Peter, this old world I'm quitting
And I'll be along soon,
Weather permitting."

Despite the funereal sentiments of this final verse, I like the message. I will get where I want to go eventually, but only with "weather permitting."