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Newsletter November 2010
Up the Alcan, Naknek on Bristol Bay, May-Sept. 2010

Photo Journey | Narrative Story
Six paintings, each 10 x 22 inches, oil on birch panel. May - Sept. 2010.

Working Procedure

All of the paintings are done from life -- from direct observation and visual study instead of from photographs. There are artistic advantages with this, as well as logistical disadvantages. But, some years ago, I committed to this procedure because the results are most fruitful, for the realist or representational artist. Read more about this painting process: Tootoo

The Paintings

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Kluane Lake Spring Thaw #3

Maritime Ed's Boatyard

Near the Mouth of the Naknek River

Leader Creek Boatyard from SeaMar

Naknek River at Leader Creek

Ocean Beauty Dock and F/V Roberta M
Photo Journey: Seattle to Alaska and Naknek, Bristol Bay / Narrative

KJ getting the Tercel

Central British Columbia. 

First snow flurry,
northern BC

Luc was hitch-hiking
across North America

Haines Junction
coming up

Kluane Lake just
ahead, still iced over

Log book, May 11:
cold, overcast...

Alcan rain, sleet,
hail, snow flurries

Tiny plume of steam
from Mt. Redoubt

Cap'n Pete

Maritime Ed helped make the venture possible

1 a.m. bonfire, Leader Creek

Studies for first Naknek
painting, Ed's boatyard

F/V Curragh gets tractor tow to the river

Big Mike's crew includes his 12 year-old son, Zac

Red Dog was a purty good place to fetch a beer or two

Lester, Cap'n Jack & Rama the pianist -- ice cream treat before boat launch

My wife, Cammie

We marveled at the
bears of Katmai!

KJ, my cousin Russell. Back: Spence, Cammie, Doug, Avner
Setnetters with skiff
at mouth of Naknek River

Spence working on
Near the Mouth of the Naknek River
Photo: Luke McCoy

Studies of boats for
Leader Creek painting

Ocean Beauty dock crew: Brook, Jose, Andy, Keith,
Alejandro and "Pud."

The Vixen and Theresa, low tide near Leader Creek

Looking good: Rolfy, 90-ft 6-in. tender built in 1942

reflects on the season and the way of the world, in general.

Maritime Ed's table
: many good gatherings.
Front l-r: Scott, Big Mike, Ed. Back: Jeremy, Andy, ? & Alex.

The fabulous and entertaining Red Dog Morning Coffee Club l-r: maker of native American flutes Ron, pilot John, Flying Eddie, school teacher Dave, & Randy, owner of F/V My Girl.
Narrative: Seattle to Alaska and Naknek, Bristol Bay / Back to Paintings

Seattle & Highway North to Alaska
Good friend KJ Herman of Kodiak and Seattle had a 1982 Toyota Tercel he wanted delivered to Anchorage -- would I be interested in driving it up the Alcan (Alaska-Canada Hwy)? Yah sure you betcha -- I like driving the Alcan, and it would give me an opportunity to do another Alcan Series painting.

KJ overhauled the Tercel in south Seattle while I prepped painting panels. On May 4th, 2010 away I went, straight north.

Up the Cassiar
At Kitwanga, British Columbia, good mechanic Eric Doll tightened gasket screws on a leaky oil gasket. I continued north up the Cassiar Highway hoping the Tercel wouldn't bust a gut as I fed 'er oil, steering and brake fluids at nearly every stop.

Alcan Highway
At the intersection of Cassiar and Alcan highways, I overruled my cautionary rule of 'no hitchhikers' and picked up Luc Manoeuvrier, a 23-year old French lad with a huge backpack hitchhiking across Canada. Luc was bound for Whitehorse, Dawson and on to Alaska.

In return for the ride to Whitehorse, Luc agreed to send a postcard to my oldest granddaughter advising her to visit France. (We need our young people to see and experience the world -- unfiltered.) In October, Luc advised via email that, yes, he had sent the postcard -- hooray! -- and he had gone on to Alaska, eventually down west USA coast, into Mexico, thence across the US to NYC and back to France. Luc has a Masters in coastal engineering and may be working in the future to help save us from ourselves.

Luc disembarked in Whitehorse and I headed on to Haines Junction and westward.

On May 9th I reached Kluane Lake in Yukon Territory and spent the next six chilly days there working on "Kluane Lake Spring Thaw #3." The view is from the front seat of the Tercel, where I could work protected from the howling gusts of cold wind that swept over my worksite.

From log book, May 11: "Quit working in twilight. Got a lot of work done on ptg #1. It is very cold. Feet cold. Now to eat something & get in the warm sleeping bag."

Painting #1 is all that there would be on this Alcan trip.

Log book, May 12: "Dinner: Another in a series of very fine dinners ..." [Menu consisted of sardines, spinach, cheese, crackers, Mike's Limeade and cookies] "Dinner is served in the back of the car, sitting cross-legged on sleeping pad. Following divine dinner, I brush my teeth, spit it out in the trash bag, take a final pee outside in the cold wind, and then crawl into the super duper warm sleeping bag."

With binoculars, I watched Dall sheep on the mountainside, some with lambs. Scanning the slopes, I found a sheep lying on a small ledge above a cliff -- a skinny little ledge, hard to get to -- only a mountain sheep could get there. After a time, the sheep stood up, and lo! there was a new lamb. Half hour later, momma sheep and newborn lamb slowly maneuvered off the precarious perch and on up the mountain slope.

A pair of ravens visited me frequently -- somebody must have been feeding them, maybe during road construction here -- the highway is now moved up the slope away from the water's edge. I did not feed the ravens.

After a few days, I went on up the highway to Destruction Bay about 17 miles away, got a good hot meal, washed up a bit, and discovered my calling card would not work.

I went back to the worksite and resumed, anxious to finish and get moving west -- I had wanted to be in Naknek by this time, get squared away there before the influx of people made things more difficult.

Log book, May 14: "...Need just one more 1/2 day here. Need to git gone, but, a year from now, I'll be glad I stayed to finish what needs to be done on this painting. Did a lot of work today, trying to finish, but really need more time on it... If I work in A.M. here, then I can be in Tok tomorrow night -- and talk with Cammie."

Cammie (my wife) hadn't heard from me since I left Whitehorse, or since I sent email to her from Village Bakery at Haines Jct. courtesy of Reid C's computer. Reid is a young hockey player who wants to go to school in Massachusetts or Wisconsin, he said, where they have hockey teams.

On May 15th I finished the painting. This is the third Kluane Lake painting done during a spring thaw over the years (see painting top left this page). Currently, there are about 14 paintings in the Alcan Series -- all small "traveling size" paintings, and I add to the series slowly, time permitting.

I hurried on west to Anchorage, anxious to get to Naknek.


Bristol Bay & Naknek, Alaska

Much to my delight in the Spring of 2010, a client commissioned me to do some paintings in Naknek, Alaska. I had for years wanted to get to Naknek. This would be my first journey to Naknek.

Naknek is a small town on Bristol Bay, at the mouth of Naknek River, and is home to about 700 people year 'round.

Bristol Bay, on the west side of the Alaska Peninsula about 300 air miles southwest of Anchorage, is the home of the world's biggest Sockeye salmon fishery.

Sockeye Salmon
Also called "red" salmon, the Sockeye is a premier wild Alaska salmon, Oncorhynchus nerka -- one of five species of wild salmon in Alaska. In midsummer, about 44 million sockeye salmon head for the spawning streams and rivers of Alaska. The allowable catch around the state may be around 30 million -- most of that is in Bristol Bay.

The duration of the Sockeye run is about six intensive weeks. Naknek jumps to a short term workforce population of... thousands. The activity here reverberates around the world -- and puts salmon on your plate.

Russell, Pete and Jack
My cousin Russell Midgett of the North Carolina coast and mountains has fished Bristol Bay for thirty years. He arranged for me to stay on Pete Balch's boat during my six-day reconnaissance trip in Naknek.

Over breakfast in Anchorage, Bristol Bay veteran and long-time friend Jack Keane drew me a map of Naknek and told me what to expect. I'd fly in to King Salmon and take a $20 taxi ride to Naknek to find Pete.

The PenAir flight to King Salmon passes right by Mt. Redoubt. Wikipedia: "Active for millennia, Mount Redoubt has erupted five times since 1900: in 1902, 1922, 1966, 1989 and 2009."

Pete arrives early in the spring to get his act together. The taxi driver knew exactly where to find Pete in Leader Creek. So Pete helped me get situated, and properly introduced to cheeseburgers at the D&D and omelets at the Red Dog, to members of the informal Red Dog Morning Coffee Club, Rogelio at the gas station ($4.50/gal), the grocery store, hardware store and Napa auto parts. We went to Eddie's Restaurant in King Salmon for a hamburger and fries (about $14), and driving back the 18 miles to Naknek about 11 p.m., we saw a brown bear galloping over the rolling tundra.

Looking for Work Space
I knocked on doors in Naknek, looking for a base camp for my painting gear -- hard to find when Naknek is bursting at the seams with the annual influx of fishermen, fish processing workers, mechanics and others. Even every bed & breakfast was booked. Basically, no room for a visiting, budget-minded artist!

Maritime Ed
I was about to call the whole thing off when Jodie McDonnell steered me to Maritime Ed, a.k.a. Ed Oczkewicz, who has a boat yard and marine fabrications business in the Leader Creek area not far from Pete's boat place -- and about 4 miles from downtown.

Naknek might not have happened, if it hadn't been for Ed. He said I could stay at his fabrications yard, and, in return, I agreed to do portraits of his sons.

Ted and Pat's B&B
I went back to Anchorage and camped out again at Ted Gardeline and Pat Shelton's -- hoping I wouldn't wear out my welcome there -- and gathered my gear and food supplies and mailed them to Naknek. Many good meals at their table, with their offspring, the irrepressible and keenly irreverent Austin! Short on time, I was able to see just a few old friends in Anchorage, including Joe and Catherine Senungetuk, then flew back to Naknek.

Back to Naknek
I checked in at Ed's boatyard and moved into my upstairs quarters, in a converted steel shipping container -- they called it The Hilton -- and soon got to work, readying painting panels. The space was pretty good for a fundamental workshop studio.

I had determined that one large painting was not going to be practical this time around, so I set out to do five small paintings -- something I could finish, given the circumstances.

The first of the five Naknek paintings was done at Ed's boatyard -- a view of the yard from the top of the stairs of my work place. The fishermen were readying their boats, nets and gear for the coming sockeye salmon run.

I was to spend four months in Naknek working on five paintings.

A Truck Named Margaret
Old friend KJ fishes Bristol Bay and keeps an aging Ford pickup truck in Naknek, for hauling nets and whatever. Thank goodness for KJ! I could use his truck, affectionately named "Margaret, The Lady with Character." This allowed me to get around town, from one worksite to another, to the grocery store -- and, early on, to Rogelio's garage with some frequency, to keep ol' Margaret up and running!

It was a vibrant atmosphere with work going on all over Naknek into the long twilight midnight hours. By late June, a lot of boats were in the water, some practicing with crew members that may have never been on a boat before. By mid-August, most everybody would be on their way home.

Cammie and the Katmai Bears
In July -- hooray! -- My wife, Cammie, came up for a week and we house-sat Ed's main building while everybody was out fishing, and took a must-do day-trip to Katmai to see the bears.

Observing the Katmai bears is a life-time experience and attracts an international audience. Watching those mighty animals casually walk the trail right near you is a deep-seated thrill. We saw a mama bear cautiously lead her three cubs through the high grass, careful to keep them from becoming dinner for other nearby bears. Young juvenile bears splashed after pooling salmon like kids in a swimming hole. Wiser senior bears, by contrast, expended little energy to catch THEIR salmon. Big bears threatened smaller bears away from the best spots at the falls.

Our National Park Service rangers at Katmai National Park do a great job keeping the bears and people safe from each other.

Al and Lou
Cammie and I stayed one night at Al-Lou Bed & Breakfast, and got in a cherished visit with Al and Mary Lou. Their history goes way back. They are Alaska treasures.

'Canneries, Cabins and Caches...'
Al & Mary Lou introduced us to a great book "The Canneries, Cabins and Caches of Bristol Bay, Alaska," written by John B. Branson, which appears to be the definitive commercial fishing history written about this region. ISBN 978-0-9796432-1-7. This hard-to-find book is available from Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. 1-800-478-4370 or 907-842-4370.

The Wettest and Coldest Summer
From May into early September, it rained almost daily with gusting winds. Local folks said it was the wettest, coldest summer they could remember.

Beach Painting
I started the beach painting at flood tide near the mouth of the river on a warm sunshiny day. Set netters were launching their boats, heading for their set net sites -- personal subsistence and commercial sites. Tough work, going two high tides a day, around the clock work, picking fish, moving fish, cleaning fish, short nap and then it's time to go again, up and down the beach -- for about six weeks or so.

I worked as fast as I could, wanting to get the fabulous dynamic storm cloud over the mouth of the river. Cammie roamed around, taking photos. By dusk the wind was cold. At low tide late in the evening we were about the only ones still on the beach. It would be at least two weeks before another sunny day and I'd return to the beach painting.

By mid-July I had four of the five paintings going at the same time, and I shifted from one to another depending on weather, rain, wind and tide -- there's a 20-ft. tide on Bristol Bay.

Both of the Leader Creek paintings were done primarily from the spacious front seat of Margaret, enabling me to work out of the wind and rain (as the truck rocked in the wind).

Ocean Beauty Seafoods
John Breigenzer and Ron Nebert, managers of Ocean Beauty Seafoods processing plant in Naknek, made it possible for me to do a painting there. Dock foreman Dale assigned me a great viewpoint above the action, where I could see the fish tenders tie up at the dock and get efficiently unloaded by huge pumps and hoses, instead of the baskets and cranes of yesteryear.

Working on the Ocean Beauty dock painting and getting to know the guys on the dock was a treat and a privilege. I stayed out of their way, of course, so I wouldn't interfere. John told me as we finished up in September: "You had a small footprint here."

Trident and Peter Pan
I should add that I had permission to work around Trident and Peter Pan, too, but I simply ran out of time. Maybe next time!

The five Naknek-Bristol Bay paintings are at top.


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