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The sun kissed the sky just before twilight, cascading oranges, pinks, and purples across bluish canvas wrapped in tufts of cotton white clouds. The palette of the sky broke against distant mountaintops of the mainland, splashing purples, blues, and mauves elegantly into an inelegant ocean. And that’s how it started
Standing on the shores of Wrangell Island near the petroglyph beach in the Alexander Archipelago in the Alaska Panhandle of southeastern Alaska I became stuck—willingly so—in a moment. I could have stayed there. Indefinitely? Perhaps. What broke my fixation on the landscape and the waters of the Blake Channel was not the sound of the ocean crashing against the shoreline, or the quickly fading daylight. It wasn’t the sound of a dog barking, or a hunter’s gun exploding in the distance. It was Silver Jack.
A presence stole upon me and stopped my brush mid-stroke. It was a man, unaware of me and uninterested in my doings—I probably was not the first artist to stand in the way of his ocean view, and would not be the last.
Strolling through the grasses off the beach in baggy jeans and a worn denim button up, Jack didn’t seem out of place. He floated along, a part of the landscape that built him, from tough winters to harsh summers, and well-earned calluses. His presence commanded attention, but quietly and with reverence.
Despite building a life from the unforgiving lands of the Alaskan tundra, Jack did not appear 86, his age at the time. He seemed both older and younger, part of the history and geology of the Channel, but a force for the future, and the legacy of the island.
I knew in an instant the landscape I was capturing and dreaming through brushes would never be complete without him. The painting would be an empty vessel, void of the very spirit that I could feel in those first glimpses of twilight.
Time spent with Jack informed my painting—not just this one, but overall—and allowed me to seek out the connection between places and their people, where what touches your soles also touches your soul.
As he strolled away, the cascading colors of the sky and the ocean I had come to capture followed Jack away into the last of the twilight, and he became the central focus of my brushstrokes. How to capture decades of strength, wonder, and pain? How to connect humanity to the human experience? How to properly pay respect to an icon of the archipelago?
I put great care into capturing Jack—from his relaxed, happy, but worn years to his dogged spirit and unassuming greatness. Silver Jack is my answer to the question of “who made this place?” and I know you’ll find the answer here, too.
Side note: Silver Jack not only inspired me. Jack and his wolf-dog, Blackie, had a hand in inspiring other works, including K.E. Hoover’s novel, West of North. And yes, that’s a coincidence, although it speaks to the powerful nature of Jack’s presence. Jack passed away on March 25, 2018 in Wrangell, Alaska, and leaves behind a legacy I only hope to have captured in this painting.
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