| It’s just an old barn next to a busy road. Four tall walls and galvanized metal for a roof. Logs make the structure’s base. Main body finished with milled lumber. It stands empty and watches cars go by. |
Built as a workhorse, a pioneer during the beginnings of agriculture in Fairbanks. Now it leans and sways and shows daylight where it shouldn’t. But the boards have aged handsomely sporting a fine grain of oranges and browns like an expensive tweed jacket. A well used jacket with patches. o
Front door ran off a long time ago leaving a light orange scar to the right of the opening. It must have been a stormy affair with a windy suitor that left it in ruins after making false promises.
Barn stands solemnly watching fields still being worked. Glory days remembered when it could show those young whippersnappers a thing or too about farming. Proud metal roof still protects it from snow. Glaring back at fierce winter storms, shakes a defiant silvery fist in triumph.
But wait, there is another building very close. A shy little log cabin. It’s easy to overlook because it’s slowly sinking into the soft muck of permafrost. These two were partners before there were new-fangled automobiles whizzing by on the road in front of them.
Boards rock back and forth. Wind whistles though their tired rumpled bones telling the same stories over and over in scratchy voices. These two sourdough pioneer buildings sit together and rock away their days.
Who Built the Barn and Cabin?
His name was Desjardins. Desjardins means ‘the gardens’ in French. Charles Dejardins was French-Canadian. He spent his savings on a train ride from St. Arsene, Quebec to Alaska with plans to make his fortune in the 1898 gold rush. He almost starved but landed in Fairbanks. The last stop before returning home in defeat.
An idea occurred to him and it grew into a cabin and barn outside of town. He noticed it took months for food to reach Fairbanks. In 1910 steamers and riverboats couldn’t bring fresh greens without spoiling. But Charles Desjardins could grow them. He found his gold in the soil, cultivating it. Fresh green produce.
He chose a fine parcel of land and cleared the trees. Built a tiny log cabin so it would be easy to keep warm. The barn took more time. Started with a log base and finished the structure with milled lumber until it stood stately behind his cabin in triumph.
Charles brought nuggets of wisdom about farming from his home in Quebec. Profits from his first mother lode of fresh produce (plus hay for their horses) set him up for the winter. Lush greens were a precious commodity to his adopted Fairbanks community.
One hundred years later, bare bones of barn and cabin still stand at 2.5 mile Farmers Loop Road in Fairbanks. Boards sag and groan with memories of long, cold, lonely winters followed by intense grueling hard work during summer days.
These building remnants aren’t a sad sight. Not at all. They are a symbol of accomplishment. A flag of encouragement. Symbolic of the Alaskan spirit that endures hardship and succeeds against impossible odds.
Charles found his gold by providing for the people in his community.
An artist built this homestead in 1947. He lived off the land, trapped and survived harsh winters. His paints froze so he chose to draw with words. Prose and poems earned him awards, fellowships and national recognition. His powerful vision inspires many.
My friend and I hike around the 160 acrea homestead and discover treasures. His cozy writing studio perched high on the side of a hill surrounded by golden aspen. A small creek where he gathered water. Remains of a path, the old Valdez trail. Hidden remnants of an ancient bridge which gave up it’s timbers for his cabin.
Sharp autumn wind is thwarted by warm sunshine. A fried ice cream kind of day, cold and warm at the same time. We take out paints, paper, brushes and work while golden colors shout around us. It is glorious.
The current owner gave me permission to be here to paint. It is an honor. This property is treasured. You can feel it in the collection of buildings. Even the paths are cherished. Well lived and well loved by a great American writer, John Haines. I never met him in person but he reveals his soul in poetry and prose.
His friends searched for someone to care for his cabin many years ago. I turned down the opportunity to stay while they traveled. It was a regret that I carried for many years. I erase that regret with this golden autumn day. A day of painting and listening to the music of the leaves.
Words in the Wind
I have a New Big Goal. It excites me. It is daunting and a little frightening. I’m not even sure how it will be accomplished but the thought of it thrills me.
I want to paint BIG polar bears.
My first thought was to paint a large bear on the outside of my house. I may still do that but right now I am focused on creating large 6′ x 4′ panels.
I’ll need to use my big brushes. Claude Monet used to tape his brushes to long tree branches so he could stand back and paint his water lilies. Hmmmm.
I need space. I’ve cleared many things out of my studio. I am ruthless with all the stuff that accumulates.
My goal may take a year to accomplish but it is a good challenge.
I recently completed a 4′ canvas with a large bruin luxuriating in the snow. My bears are growing larger and larger with daring brushstrokes. I’m pushing the color to portray the wildness. I’m eager to see where the pursuit takes me.
I’m still painting bears that are a more traditional size. I may even do some mini ones just to keep things interesting.
My big bears won’t be living on standard canvas. I’ve discovered a new fabric this summer that I am experimenting with right now. I’ll share more about this development later.
Moving forward. He’s coming right at us. I love the interaction of the colors and the feeling of electricity in the air.
The deep dark cold contrasting with the warm sunlight and warmth from the polar bear’s body is the subject of this painting. He must generate warmth to fight off the arctic temperatures.
Time for change.
Time to get rid of things that are not being used. Move things around. Set things up differently. Turn the studio inside out, upside down and totally reorganize it. Just like hitting the restart button on a computer.
Change invigorates me. Find a better way to store and access my tubes of pigment. Stack things differently. Try out a different palette. Find a new container for brushes. Change creates more room in the studio for my elbows and larger canvases.
Time to paint.
Explore new ways to paint my polar bears.
How to paint wildly to capture these fascinating animals?
Layers and layers of paint. I apply more color until a bear emerges out of the pigment. This bear rests but is ready to take action. I focus on their strength and power while I work. Their immense presence. Shape the form with color and emotions. Motion and movement with more color. I want these bears to breathe!
Bears roam around in my studio.