Richard Ozanne (Summer 1982)
This was not my first trip to Alaska. I had been to Alaska in transit several times the first time in the spring around my birthday in 1977, celebrating this during a blizzard.
I had returned to Alaska in-transit to travels to South Korea staying either in Anchorage or Fairbanks during later years.
This was a summer of work as a teacher and work however.
When opportunities come for a teacher of art it is a rather rare occasion and one must seize the opportunity when presented.
This was one of my first formal positions teaching as an instructor at the University of Alaska (Fairbanks), and it was an opportunity one could not afford to miss even though the travel from New York (where I flew from) was rather a difficult and costly flight route...having to fly through Seattle and/or Vancouver at that time.
It was 1982 I was hired to teach classes in Fairbanks at the University of Alaska as instructor for their summer festival. The festival is now known as Fairbanks Summer Festival of the Arts, but in the early 80's it was more or less a new beginning.
For a beginning- My wage was $17.00 per hour/8 hour days, this was not bad for a start, especially in the early 1980's-
I was fresh with my BFA Baccalaureate of Fine Arts , and had some experience teaching in Tucson in painting-drawing study as well as substitute work in local schools. The thought of spending a summer away from Chautauqua Institute was a different encounter, but inviting! It was a chance to use my abilities on a new level.
I lived in a private house (renting a room) about 5 miles outside Fairbanks on the Iditarod course south.
My life was very simply arranged. I would teach during the session and return to my room-studio to do plein air in spare time. Weekends were free!
Prior knowledge of the facilities where I was going to be conducting my classes was somehow vague on my arrival. Apparently only a month before my arrival the arts building/gymnasium room had collapsed during a blizzard, a large circus tent had been erected for the purposes of teaching sitting on an adjacent property.
It was a beginning of a warm summer in Fairbanks. So warm that air conditioning was needed...and literally the most powerful mosquito repellent. Then would come the deluge, sudden and swift, feeling sometimes like a Jack London setting, the air getting brisk all of a sudden, even cold and a kerosene heater brought in to warm the environment. I remember the days when it would seem like a flood would come, and then everyone hurdle in to the main building until the storm passed.
Outside the work was a time of exploration. Fairbanks had a dynamic and interesting small town, northern city feeling. I would do plein air paintings of houses in the town, or landscapes in the wonderful environment, and fresh air. Sometime I would go into the city and talk to people getting a jist of Alaska and the town. I met other artists and students as well as old legends who were still alive and talked of the old days...even a fellow who had met and knew Jack London, with some irony when he was young, now in 1983 over or about (100 years of age!)--a big man with a cane, something sincere, or honest about life, work and viewpoints.
I had a youthful inquiry to nearly every setting and story. I loved Jack London and his stories, and it was unique to have met someone who had met him as a young man in 1910* (of course it could have been a tale for the young and impressionable, but other people seemed to confirm this). He would have been young, impressionable as I was as a young man, out and ready to explore the wilderness, or rather the world of art. I asked about his impressions and he told me of a London who was not always in good health, rather unlike the fellow of his lore, spiky and bitter and a bit steel eyed and quick tongued in commentary.
Of course it was of interest to me as I was an artist, and did some writing in my spare time, mostly journals, some of them type written, mostly just sketches of life as I always did write, some finished, some on scraps of paper.
I gained a few good conversations with this fellow and also with another who told me tales of Alaskan wilderness, high mountains and clear streams and rugged adventures...stories from old men in olden days. I passed around my french easel pleinair paintings and comments bounced around, being introduced to Claire Feije a local artist who gave me some tips. Salt and Pepper was my general feeling of Alaska and the residence, I wanted to return one day to see more. During my experiences I met a flyer for RAA Reeve Aleutian Airways who could have run a low price ticket down to the Aleutians and up to Nome for the adventure on a jump seat pilot ticket in a DC-3. I was up for the adventure as always.
Also on this summers residence I gained an introduction to an artist out of Palmer Alaska, Fred Machetanz. I made a car trip from Fairbanks to Palmer on one occasion, and then some letters back and forth with Machetanz.
I saw the Alaskan Highway on one trip all the way to Anchorage, staying a day or so and then return.
He gave me some lessons over the course of our meeting in Palmer, his wife, a gracious lady and journalist Sara Macentanz, sat by the subjects of Alaskan Art and its influences while Machetanz demonstrated his way of painting in many many glazes.
On one occasion I had the great fortune to travel on the Alaskan Highway north above the Arctic Circle, all to meet another person who was a legend of his days, an artist.
During my stay in Alaska I felt in someway a torch was passed. Machetanz spoke of the Art Students league, and others too. The next year I was to study there bringing back memories via postcards to Fred and his wife, in intense study sessions of painting.
During my free time I did numbers of studies of the landscape and changing scenery, keeping up my sketchbooks and journals. During this time I had contacts with many artists who were working in Alaska at that time. Meetings with legendary painters and inspirations are included in this chapter.
The summer ended and I returned to Chautauqua to later, ending a period and moving to New York City to work at the Art Students League of New York after a scholarship was arranged for me for study.