Saturday, March 31, 2012

Kantishna’s Busia cabin exudes Alaskan ambiance



Nestled at the base of tundra-covered mountains in Kantishna sits the small log cabin pictured in the accompanying drawing. Built by Johnny Busia (pronounced boo-shay)in the early 1900s, the cabin, with its moose antlers over the door and traps hanging on the wall, looks quintessentially Alaskan to me. 

You could also say that Busia was a quintessential Alaskan sourdough — a miner and trapper who spent over 40 years in the Kantishna area. He died in 1957. Busia was a close friend of another more well-known area resident, Fanny Quigley (buried in the Birch Hill Cemetery, by the way), and one of the few people who lived in Kantishna year-round. The mountain behind Busia’s cabin is named in his honor. 
         
Kantishna is a tiny isolated hamlet located north of Mount McKinley. Situated at the confluence of Eureka and Moose Creeks and three miles northwest of Wonder Lake, the community is 95 road-miles west of the Parks Highway and about as far west as you can travel by vehicle and still be connected to the U.S. continental road system. The hills and ridges are covered by alpine tundra, and the valleys by taiga forest.

When Johnny came into the country in 1918, Kantishna was already past its initial boom and bust. Thousands of gold seekers flooded the Kantishna River drainage in late-1905 after Joe Quigley and Jack Horn brought news to Fairbanks of rich diggings in the area. Several towns quickly sprang up.

Unfortunately, the “sunburnt” gold (lying close to the surface) concentrated in only a few creeks and was soon exhausted. The boom ended within six months. Most miners abandoned their claims, and communities became ghost towns almost overnight. By the summer of 1906 Kantishna, being closest to the rich diggings, was the sole surviving town, and only a few score of hardy miners remained. Even then it was only a summer town. Few of the miners stuck it out during the long harsh winters.

The fortunes of Kantishna have ebbed and surged several times, but the town has always remained small. Mount McKinley National Park was established just to the south in 1917, and when the park boundaries were expanded in 1980 the new park addition completely enveloped the private lands at Kantishna. Five years later all commercial mining activity within the park boundaries was halted by court order.

Much of the private property around Kantishna has been acquired by the National Park Service, including the Busia cabin. The Park Service restored the structure between 2006 and 2008. The moose antlers and traps are gone, but the building (which is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places) .still exudes Alaskan ambiance. Other inholdings were bought by back-country lodges, and Kantishna is now a magnet for tourists. 

I think it is slightly ironic. Since Kantishna’s inception, the mountaineers, hunters and other adventurers roaming the northern flanks of the Alaska Range have been drawn by the area’s natural wonders and have raved over the hospitality of Kantishna’s residents. At least that part of the Kantishna spirit lives on even today.

Angelmorphosis 6 - Slow but steady

Angel on Thursday, 3-29-2012
The last few days have been partly cloudy, with temperatures cooling off slightly. Yesterday the temperature didn't get above 35 degrees F. Consequently the angel's metamorphosis is pretty much in a holding pattern. You can see some change in her face, the gap between her body and wings, and the wing tips.

Angel on Friday, 3-30-2012












The angel apparently is a saucy little lady. She is still sticking her tongue out at the world. It snowed last night, so maybe she finally got a few flakes on her tongue. Who knows what she will look like when I photogaph her today.

Check out the other posts in this series:
Angelmorphosis 1 
Angelmorphosis 2 
Angelmorphosis 3 
Angelmorphosis 4 
Angelmorphosis 5 
Angelmorphosis 7
Angelmorphosis 8  
Angelmorphosis 9
Angelmorphosis 10  
Angelmorphosis 11 
Angelmorphosis 12
Angelmorphosis 13
Angelmorphosis 14   

Friday, March 30, 2012

Found art - Minutia in the melting snow


I took a mini expedition in my back yard this morning, looking for unusual formations in the melting snow. Some of the things I discovered were birch catkin scales. If the ground were bare you wouldn't even notice them since they are only about 1 centimeter long.


The second photo is of a leaf, melting its way through the snow. As the leaf absorbs the sun's heat is usually melts a leaf-shaped hole into the snow.  In this instance a lattice of ice that formed over the leaf was left behind.


Finally, even twigs form interesting shapes as they melt their way through the snow.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Angelmorphosis 5 - Suffering for art


Today was warm, getting up to about 50 degrees F. The poor lady angel suffered a lot today. I took a photo about 1 pm, which doesn’t show much difference from the one taken yesterday, just icicles that are a bit longer, and more clouding of the ice.

What a difference six hours can make though. By 7 pm she had lost what was left of her horn, her hands and forearms, and her feet. She had also slimmed down considerably. If you look closely, it looks like she is now sticking her tongue out—maybe hoping for some snowflakes to fall. If this weather persists, who knows how long she will last.

Check out the other posts in this series:
Angelmorphosis 1 
Angelmorphosis 2 
Angelmorphosis 3 
Angelmorphosis 4 
Angelmorphosis 6  
Angelmorphosis 7
Angelmorphosis 8 
Angelmorphosis 9 
Angelmorphosis 10  
Angelmorphosis 11 
Angelmorphosis 12
Angelmorphosis 13
Angelmorphosis 14    

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Angelmorphosis 4 - Her trumpet is now a penny whistle


Took photos of the ice angel yesterday and today. Yesterday's photo shows the sculpture intact but definitely changing. There are icicles on her toes and the edge of her sleeves. If you compare the photos with earlier ones you will also notice that the ice is clouding up as it is exposed to the warming temperatures.

Today's photo shows even more clouding and longer icicles. The bell to her horn also fell off! I guess now she's a Celtic angel playing a penny whistle.

Check out the other posts in this series:
Angelmorphosis 1 
Angelmorphosis 2 
Angelmorphosis 3 
Angelmorphosis 5 
Angelmorphosis 6 
Angelmorphosis 7
Angelmorphosis 8 
Angelmorphosis 9
Angelmorphosis 10  
Angelmorphosis 11 
Angelmorphosis 12
Angelmorphosis 13
Angelmorphosis 14 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Other side of my fence in March


The temperature got up to about 40 degrees today so I thought I'd take a few photos while there was still plenty of snow. The first photo is the neighbor's side of our fence. I thought the snow leaning over from the toip and piled up at the bottom made an interesting composition.


The second photo is of my front yard. I love the atmospheric light in March. It has such a lovely golden cast to it.




Sunday, March 25, 2012

Angelmorphosis 3 - The meltdown has begun


The temperature finally got above freezing today (just barely)—enough to start melting along our eves. I walked down to the ice angel to see what was happening. There are little icicles starting to form under the angel’s arms, but nothing really noticeable. As long as temperatures stay warm the angel will soon start changing. I'll probably be posting photos more often.

 








The most striking thing was the brilliant spot of blue on the lower right portion of the angel’s wing. The spotlight that illuminates the angel at night is actually on all the time, and in this photo is at a right angle to my line of vision. The ice is refracting the spotlight’s beam towards me. If you look closely you can see hints of blue throughout that layer of ice.

Check out the other posts in this series:
Angelmorphosis 1 
Angelmorphosis 2 
Angelmorphosis 4 
Angelmorphosis 5 
Angelmorphosis 6 
Angelmorphosis 7
Angelmorphosis 8 
Angelmorphosis 9
Angelmorphosis 10  
Angelmorphosis 11 
Angelmorphosis 12
Angelmorphosis 13
Angelmorphosis 14     

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Painting myself into a box - Adaptive strategies for the colorblind artist


In my last post on this subject I said that people who are partially colorblind can differ widely in their ability to see color. Those who are only mildly affected may have little if any difficulty as artists. Those of us with more severe colorblindness need adaptive strategies. I'll write about six strategies along with artists who have used them. The strategies are:

1. Embrace your colorblindness and make bold use of color your trademark.
2. Use a restricted palette.
3. Select a discipline where critical color choice is not vital.
4. Use some sort of regimented method for assigning, mixing and applying color.
5. Go to a black and white or monochrome palette.
 6. If color is required, get someone else to do it.

 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Rees, Spring Afternnon, Bathhurst, 1971
1. Embrace your colorblindness and make bold use of color your trademark. Some people think that prize-winning Australian artist, Lloyd Reese (1895-1988), had problems distinguishing blues and yellows, leading to his distinctive use of color in landscapes, such as in Spring Afternoon, Bathhurst.

I also occasionally wonder if some of the Post-Impressionist and Fauvist painters (circa 1880-1910), with their “bold” and “arbitrary” use of color were not necessarily avante garde, but simply color confused. 

Matisse, Madama Matisse, 1905
I could easily give someone a green nose without even realizing it (Henri Matisse, Portrait of Madame Matisse, 1905). The French painter, Maurice de Vlaminck (1876-1958), especially intrigues me. He had a bold style, as evidenced by paintings such as Landscape with Red Trees
Vlaminck, Landscape w Red Trees, 1907

 However, Vlaminck also demonstrated one of the other adaptive strategies of colorblind artists: 

2. Use a restricted palette. During his Fauvist period Vlaminck painted mainly with primary colors (Tugboat on the Seine), but later in his career used a more subdued palette (Fishing Port).

Vlaminck, Tugboat on the Seine, 1906
Vlaminck, Fishing Port, 1911











Constable, View of the Stour, 1822
It has also been speculated that the English landscape painter, John Constable  (1776-1837), was partially colorblind, and as a consequence, his color palette emphasized yellows and browns, as in his View of the Stour near Dedham. In his art Constable also seemed very sensitive to value (how light or dark something is). While this is not indicative of colorblindness, I often feel that as a colorblind artist, I am more attuned to changes in value than changes in hue.

Manship, Atalanta, 1921
3. Select a discipline where critical color choice is not vital. (Think raku pottery or marble sculpture.)  American Paul Manship was one of the  most famous exponents of Art Deco in the U.S. and one of the nation's premiere sculptors. Early in his art career he studied to be a painter, but after learning he was partially colorblind, he switched to scupture.

Even in painting there are certain genres where color choice is more critical than others. Portraiture might not be your forte. Christopher Smart, a marine artist who happens to be partially colorblind, says on his blog, “Portraits and colorblind artists do not usually mix. Especially if you cannot see red very well. Imagine painting a portrait for a customer only to hear them say ‘Grandma looks the way she did at her funeral. Why is she so pale?’” 

This is not to say the colorblind artist should stay away from portraits or figures. There are successful colorblind painters who produce figurative art (more on that later).

4. Use some sort of regimented method for assigning, mixing and applying color. Years ago I read about an artist who was partially colorblind and successfully painted colored landscapes. He was able to do this by carefully arranging and labeling the colors on his palette. As I recall he also had a thorough understanding of color theory, developed his own personal color wheel and experimented with mixing various colors. During his experimental period, he mixed different color combinations (noting the proportions) and painted hundreds of individual squares of color. After organizing his color squares, he could then use them for color matching (and use the color recipe on the back of the card for color consistency).

Unfortunately, I can’t find my notes on the artist. If I ever do find my notes I’ll include a reference here. I do know of other artists who have used the labeled palette method, though.

Arthur Frost - Shinnecock Hills
Arthur Burdett Frost (1851-1928) was an American illustrator and painter, and was one of the most well- known illustrators from the “Golden Age of American Illustration” (1895-1945). He was also red/green colorblind. Most of his work was in black and white, but he also painted in color. Biographies mention that he was able to paint successfully by carefully putting his colors in a pre-arranged sequence on his palette. (One article I read says that his son arranged his colors on the palette).

Charles Meryon - The Apse of Notre Dame
5. Go to a black and white or monochrome palette. The French printmaker, Charles Meryon (1821-1868), was red/green colorblind. He realized his colorblindness would prevent him from being a successful painter so he turned his attention to etching. He is considered the pre-eminent etcher of 19th century France.

Ethan Diehl - Archie's Leaes
A contemporary colorblind artist who uses a monochrome palette for most of his work is Texas painter, Ethan Diehl. Diehl produces almost photo-realistic paintings using tiny squares of different shades of grey.  

The “Way of the Grey” is also the path for most of my art. During college I was greatly influenced by Japanese art and sumi (black pigment) painting. Henry Bowie (artist, author and Japanese authority), in his book, On the Laws of Japanese Painting, wrote of one noted Japanese painter, Kubota Beisen (1852-1906), who “expressed the wish that he might live long enough to be able to discard color altogether and use “sumi alone for any and all effects in paintings.’”

 

Kubota Beisen - China Diary
I am also of the opinion that some artist’s use color as a substitute for talent—as an easy trick to differentiate areas in a painting or convey a mood. I think Bowie also mirrors my feeling when he writes that, ‘Colors can cheat the eye but sumi never can; it proclaims the master and exposes the tyro.” 

6. If color is required, get someone else to do it. When I was researching for this post, I was surprised by the number of colorblind artists who choose comic books or graphic novel illustration as their specialty. This is probably due to the division of labor in most comics’ production. Pencillers and inkers provide the line drawings, and if color is required, a separate colorist provides that.

Albert Uderzo - Asterix
Byrne - X-Men
Albert Uderzo (1927- ), the French illustrator of the Asterix comics, is partially colorblind. So is John Lindley Byrne (1950- ), a Canadian American comic book author and artist. Byrne has worked on many classic American superhero comics, such as X-Men and Hellboy.


To finish up,  here are a couple of sites about colorblindness and the arts:
Power to the Gene
Color Academy - relating to John Constable's color palette.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Relics of Alaska Highway construction rest in Delta Junction


Early 1940s Osgood 200 face shovel at Delta Junction
Some people think that the Alaska Highway ends in Fairbanks. However, most residents of Delta Junction will tell you their hometown is the northern terminus of the highway. (A monument on the bank of the Chena River in downtown Fairbanks used to proclaim Fairbanks as the end of the Alaska Highway, but that signpost was moved to Delta Junction in about 1991.)

Constructed in1942 as the Alaska Military highway, the road quickly became known as the Alaska-Canadian (Alcan) Highway. According to “Building the Alcan Highway: America’s Glory Road,” some road crews nicknamed it the “Oilcan Highway” because of all the empty 55-gallon fuel drums scattered along its length. Now it is officially called the Alaska Highway.

A road linking Alaska with Canada and rest of the U.S. had been discussed for many years. In 1933 an Alaska musher, Clyde “Slim” Williams drove his sled and dog team from Alaska to Chicago to help promote such a route. (When the snow ran out in Washington State he put wheels on his sled.)

The 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, and perceived Japanese threat in the Northern Pacific and Alaska spurred development, though.  President Roosevelt approved the project on February 11, 1942, and work began later that spring.

In order to speed construction, the project was begun at multiple locations along the proposed route.  Construction crews began working north from Dawson Creek in British Columbia, east and west from the Whitehorse area in the Yukon Territory, and east from Big Delta (now Delta Junction) in Alaska.

The original plan called for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers personnel to punch through a pioneer road, followed by civilian contractors who would build a standard road using the pioneer road for access. However, it quickly became apparent this was unrealistic (at least in terms of getting the road built in one construction season).

Consequently, civilian contractors worked alongside army personnel, improving the pioneer road so military convoys could safely use it. By the time the road was competed in November 1942, 11,000 troops and 7,500 civilians had worked on the highway.

A small cache of equipment and vehicles used during highway construction can be seen at Delta Junction. The equipment is located between the Delta Junction Visitor Center and the Sullivan Roadhouse Museum, and includes an Osgood 200 face shovel, Caterpillar D8 bulldozer with Letourneau ripper, Studebaker US6 6x6 cargo truck, and several other vehicles. (The Osgood excavator is shown in the drawing.) Much of the equipment was donated by local residents.

When I talked with Jeff McNabb, a Delta resident who was involved with acquiring and moving the equipment, he said the site itself is another remnant of World War II history. The property was once a transfer point for the CANOL Pipeline, a project to supply fuel for the Alaska Highway and Northern Staging Route (a series of airfields, through which military aircraft were ferried from the U.S. to the Soviet Union.)  At Big Delta, a stub line went south to supply fuel to the Big Delta Army Airfield (now Fort Greely).

The Alaska Highway has been straightened and improved over the years. There are just a few spots left where you can see or experience the original road. The equipment at Delta Junction is one of the only places in Alaska where you can still touch a piece of Alcan history.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Angelmorphosis 2 - Blue Angel ice sculpture

I thought the angel ice sculpture  would have started morphing by now, but it has been a cold March--colder than usual. The warming sun hasn't had much effect so far. Temperatures aren't forecast to get up above freezing until next week.
















 

Anyway, today was cloudless so I took a few photos--some at about 5:00 pm and some at midnight. A night the sculpture has a floodlight with a rotating color filter aimed at it. I happened that catch the sculpture in its blue phase.

Check out the other posts in this series:

Angelmorphosis 1 
Angelmorphosis 3
Angelmorphosis 4 
Angelmorphosis 5 
Angelmorphosis 6 
Angelmorphosis 7
Angelmorphosis 8 
Angelmorphosis 9
Angelmorphosis 10 
Angelmorphosis 11  
Angelmorphosis 12 
Angelmorphosis 13
Angelmorphosis 14  

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Painting myself into a box - the colorblind artist


I am partially colorblind, or perhaps more accurately, color confused. The cones in my eyes that detect red and green are either missing or are calibrated differently or are deficient in some aspect. Consequently I have trouble accurately detecting colors. 

There are various types of colorblindness. True colorblindness (the inability to detect any colors except black and white) is extremely rare. Likewise, the inability to detect blue and yellow is also relatively rare. Red-Green colorblindness is the most common form of colorblindness, but even within this subdivision there are additional subdivisions and different degrees of genetic expression.  Not all Red-Green colorblind people see colors the same way. Click here for a site describing different types of colorblindness. 

My particular expression of Red/Green colorblindness goes thusly: I cannot see purple. Likewise, pinks are extremely difficult for me to detect. If colors are intense I have a better chance of identifying them correctly. Conversely, pale colors are a pain to identify. 

Anything short of pure green will probably look yellow, or beige, or grey, or red, or ?  There are some colors that are simply impossible for me to identify—I simply can’t say.

My ability to see a color is also affected by the size of the color’s area—large areas are easier to identify than small areas. (The tiny red, green and amber lights on computer equipment drive me crazy. There is no way I can tell what color they are.)

Colors also change for me. The red paint in the tube may look green when I put it on the palette, and perhaps brown when I apply it to the canvas. (Mixing paints can be an insane adventure.)  

Distance also affects color. If I back up from a painting to get a different perspective, there is the possibility the entire color scheme may change. If I walk towards what appears to be red foliage I may discover when I get closer that it is actually green. (As an aside, I have trained myself to sometimes be able to change a color in my mind. If I tell myself, “That can’t possibly be scarlet, it must be brown,” then the color will sometimes change from scarlet to brown.)

Is it any wonder that I have eschewed color in most of my art? In future postings I’ll talk about coping as a colorblind artist, colorblind artists who have achieved at least some modicum of success, and the problems of being a monochrome artist in a polychrome world. Check out another of my posts in this series: Adaptive strategies for colorblind artists

Monday, March 19, 2012

Found art - snow gargoyles sitting on my fence – Fairbanks, Alaska


My wife, Betsy, pointed out some interesting snow sculptures sitting on the fence next to our house. As you can see, the fence boards alternate on both sides of the fence. What you can’t see is that the snow sags between the boards on both sides of the fence. However, the sagging snow on our side is roughly triangular in shape—on the other side it’s much more rounded.

The fence runs roughly north-south. I think the differential melting is due to the neighbor’s side getting the cooler morning sun, and our side getting the warmer afternoon sun.

Anyway, to me it kind of looks like mid-relief sculptures of stout birds of prey on top of my fence, or maybe giant toads. What do you think?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Fairbanks, Alaska Ice Art Park visit - 2012

Jaguar stalking porcupine
I went to the Fairbanks Ice Art park yesterday, where the 2012 BP World Ice Art Championship was recently held. Some nice sculptures there, but I can’t say that I agree with the judging--except for the first place in the multi-block competition. The first place winner, of a jaguar stalking a porcupine, was head and shoulders above most other entries.


Whale breaching










The judges seemed to grade more for technical ability and rococo ornamentation than good design and aesthetic considerations. To my eye, entries with complicated designs and lots of curly cues and do dads won over simpler designs, even if those simpler designs were more artistic and were finished just as professionally.  For instance, the whale sculpture pictured to the right (which I thought was superb) did not even place.

Photos of the multi-block entries can be seen at the Fairbanks Ice Art website. Hopefully photos of the single-block entries will be added.

Crystal swan




Friday, March 16, 2012

Tanana Valley Railroad--The Gold Dust Line


TVRR Engine No. 1 at Pioneer Park in Fairbanks
When Falcon Joslin, the mastermind behind the Tanana Valley Railroad, began work on the line in 1904, he envisioned a railroad stretching from Fairbanks to Nome. However, real-world considerations meant the completed railroad reached only 39 miles, as far as Chatanika.

According to book, "Tanana Valley Railroad, The Gold Dust Line," the TVRR (originally the Tanana Mines Railway) began at the townsite of Chena, near the confluence of the Tanana and Chena rivers. Little track was laid in1904, but by July of 1905 the tracks reached Fairbanks, just in time for the arrival of the railroad’s first locomotive. Engine No. 1, a small H. K. Porter locomotive (shown in the drawing), came from the Yukon Territory’s Coal Creek Coal Co., which Joslin helped build, and had been the first locomotive in the Yukon.

Construction continued during 1905 on the railbed to Fox and Gilmore, and by September 1905 this initial phase was completed. The second phase, extending the line to Chatanika, was finished in 1907. Unfortunately, railroad revenues began declining in1910, and by 1917 the TVRR was insolvent. The Alaska Engineering Commission which was building a standard-gauge railroad (4-feet 8.5-inches between rails) north from Anchorage, acquired the narrow-gauge TVRR (3-feet between rails), and it became the AEC’s Chatanika Branch.

The AEC built another narrow-gauge branch from Fairbanks to Nenana to meet the northbound track. When the railroad’s Tanana River bridge was completed in 1923, this section was widened to standard-gauge as far as Happy (in Goldstream valley) where the TVRR’s tracks turned east toward Fox. That same year the AEC became the Alaska Railroad.

From Happy to Fairbanks the railroad laid one additional rail parallel to the narrow-gauge rails. This created a dual-gauge railway, allowing narrow-gauge and standard-gauge trains to use the same railbed.

The ARR was forced to shut down the Chatanika Branch in 1930 because of competition from motor vehicles. Its rolling stock was scrapped, relocated or converted to standard-gauge, and the track was torn up and salvaged. The right-of-way is still visible in areas such as Fox Gulch.

Engine No.1, retired in 1922 and donated to the city of Fairbanks, fortunately escaped destruction. It was long on display in front of the Fairbanks depot, and eventually moved to what is now called Pioneer Park. A group of volunteers (including myself), formed the Friends of the Tanana Valley Railroad in 1991 to restore the engine to operating condition.

There was much work in store for us. For example, the locomotive’s water tank and wooden cab were in deplorable condition and had to be replaced. (Our carpenter and I actually traveled to Dawson City to take measurements, photos and sketches of the cab on No. 1’s sister engine, No. 4.) We had also hoped to restore the boiler, but decided it was safer (albeit more expensive) to manufacture a replacement boiler utilizing some of the old boiler’s parts.

The engine restoration was completed in 2000 and the little locomotive now chugs around the tracks at Pioneer Park on special occasions. For more information on the restoration of Engine No. 1 click here.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Late Winter Fruits - Fairbanks, Alaska


The North wind doth blow and we shall have snow,
And what will poor robbing do then, poor thing?
He’ll sit in the barn and keep himself warm,
And hide his head under his wing, poor thing
                                      16th century English poem

I saw my first robin of the year today. It was about zero degrees outside today and I was dumbfounded to see poor ole Robin Redbreast sitting on a branch when I was out walking. I think the robin was dumbfounded too—probably wondering what in the heck he was doing here. (And I didn’t have a camera with me!)

He is definitely too early to get the worm, so he will have to be content to fill up on last fall’s berries. We have a chokecherry tree in out front yard draped with hundreds of cherries. Every spring the robins survive until green-up by gorging on the desiccated fruit. We also have a hedge of high bush cranberries and enough berries usually survive the winter to provide some nourishment for the robins.

 I took these photos about a week ago. You’ll notice the black chokecerries are all dried out, but the cranberries are still plump. High bush cranberries are relatively unaffected by freezing. In fact, one of the best times to go picking them is after a few frosts, when the leaves have dropped from the bushes and it’s easy to spot the fruit.