UAA | University Art Analysis — A famous artist from Ohio captures the beauty of Alaska’s wildlife

Alaska’s beauty and wildlife remain preserved in the scenes painted by a distinguished Alaska artist, Fred Machetanz.

One of Machetanz’s prints, “Golden Years,” hangs in the Edward & Cathryn Rasmuson Hall. “Golden Years” depicts a mountainous scene with a body of water reflecting the mountains framed by leaves and shrubbery. In the corner, a bearded man sits on a hill with his dog. The two gaze off in opposite directions amidst the golden scene. The piece is also signed and dated by the artist.

Prints for “Golden Years” were released in 1981. Photo by Gabby Vance.

“I see a lone man reflecting on his life, judging if it was a good one or not,” freshman psychology major Koby Wightman said.

Machetanz is well known for his depictions of Alaskan animals, scenery and indigenous people.

“Looking at the painting is like taking a fresh breath of air,” freshman real estate major John Anderson said.

Machetanz utilized a unique technique in his oil paintings. He would start with a shiny white primer on untempered Masonite, a hardboard made of compressed wood fibers often used for painting. Machetanz would then place in shadows and shapes in all blue. After the blue dried, he would add a wash of other colors from his palette, according to Art Country Canada.

“In a career spanning nearly seven decades, Mr. Machetanz first built a reputation as an illustrator,” a 2002 New York Times article stated. “He later became the last of Alaska’s master painters of its wildlife, dog teams, old-timers, native peoples and vast landscapes.”

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Although Machetanz is known for his Alaska paintings and was even named Alaskan of the Year in 1977, he was actually born in Kenton, Ohio. Machetanz attended Ohio State University and graduated with a master’s degree in art in 1935. Machetanz first traveled to Alaska to visit his uncle in Unalakleet.

“He returned [to Alaska] in 1942 after volunteering with the U.S. Navy and requesting a posting to the Aleutian Islands during World War II,” the artist description on Scanlon Gallery reads.

After leaving the military, Machetanz furthered his artistic education by studying at the Art Students League in New York. The League aims to provide high-quality instruction and education in painting, drawing, printmaking and sculpture.

A handwritten description of “Golden Years” hangs next to the print in the Edward & Cathryn
Rasmuson Hall. Photo by Gabby Vance.

Machetanz settled in Palmer after meeting his wife in 1947. A turning point in Machetanz’s career came in 1962, when the publisher of the Anchorage Times, Bob Atwood, arranged a show for his paintings. After the show, Machetanz was able to pursue painting as a full-time job. Since then, he has showcased his art in many other exhibits, including two at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art.

American Artist magazine, a monthly magazine for representational and figurative artists, named Machetanz American Artist of the Year in 1981. The football field at Palmer High School, a building at Mat-Su College and a theater in Wasilla are all named after Machetanz and his wife due to their philanthropic activities.

Machetanz died in 2002 at the age of 94. Despite his death, however, Machetanz’s legacy continues to live on at UAA through “Golden Years.”

Have you seen art at UAA you want to know more about? Contact Gabby Vance at [email protected]