Alaska overflows with beauty. I hope you aren’t too tired of my superlatives about these communities, because I have some more to add about Valdez! This town evokes, at least for folks my age, images of the 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. What we found, however, was a beautiful harbor town surrounded by tall, glacier-capped mountains.
Valdez has certainly had it’s share of severe disasters. Not only is it still dealing with the impact of the oil spill, in 1964 the largest earthquake in North America was centered a mere 45 miles to the west. The resulting destruction actually forced the town to move several miles to a more stable site.
I learned a lot of Valdez history from my painting partner, Faith Revell. A two-year transplant from the lower 48, Faith is Curator of Education and Public Programs at Valdez Museum and Historical Archive, and Adjunct Faculty of Fine Arts at Prince William Sound Community College.
“Why move to Valdez?” I asked, and she said, “I was ready for a change and I love snow!” This is a good thing, because Valdez gets between 30 and 40 feet (yeah…feet!) of snow annually. Faith had many snow stories to tell, and explained that the town is appreciative of oil revenues that allow them to have wide streets and numerous parks to accommodate all of it. I was amazed that people sometimes have to shovel three or four times a day, removing as much as 3 to 4 feet each time!
Since it has been a few years since she painted outdoors, Faith was thrilled to re-engage in plein air painting. She took time to scout out some good painting sites beforehand, so we were on our way to the Mineral Creek tributary by 8:00 p.m. the day I arrived. Alaskan painters enjoy one great advantage—about 19 to 20 hours of good daylight daily in the summer. Of course, that means that the corresponding winter demands the best in nocturnal painting!
In consideration of the mama bear and two cubs that frequent that area, we parked our cars in a “V” and painted in between them. Thankfully, the only guests at our makeshift site were a gal from Anchorage and her visiting brothers.
We met early the next day on what turned out to be a cloudy morning, and Faith decided that it would be a great time to paint at Old Town where some remains of the original site there are still visible during low tide. There was a yellow-and-navy boat anchored in front of us—the only colorful spot in the misty harbor. Both Faith and I decided to paint what we saw, and her friend later joined us later to try her had at sketching.
Demanding schedules forced both of these busy ladies to leave around noon, but as I packed away my first canvas, I was struck by the mountains and boat relics in the opposite direction. As I reset to start another, Faith told me that I was painting the main street of the old town. I happily continued working alone until the unusually high tides made me move my easel and car twice to stay ahead of the encroaching water!
Although we enjoyed only two short days together, it seemed that Faith and I were mutually appreciative of the opportunity to share stories and paint outdoors. I know that while I learned a lot about Valdez., Faith became more and more excited about painting en plein air, and plans to find others in the community to join her. What a great success it has been for both of us!