Alaskan artist’s work highlights life in Alaska

Alaskan artist Fred Machetanz's paintings displayed at the Anchorage Museum depict the daily life of living in Alaska.
Published: Feb. 27, 2023 at 6:49 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Anchorage resident Cheryl McKay is the granddaughter of Charles Traeger, a gold miner who came to Alaska in the late 1800s.

McKay said her grandfather quickly learned during that time that becoming a merchant and selling equipment to gold miners was a more profitable business than actually mining himself. Traeger eventually relocated to Unalakleet where he opened up his trading post. For many years, it was a hub for bush pilots and an everyday general store. McKay said at one point, her grandfather brought up his nephew, Fred Machetanz for an adventure.

“Fred fell in love with the place,” McKay said.

Machetanz had a passion for painting and was a talented artist, McKay said. His paintings and prints depicted daily life in Alaska.

“It’s like Fred documented life in the village at that time, and you can see many of the elders and their babies and the hunting and he loved dogs,” McKay said.

Machetanz’s paintings were life lifelike in that his works always had a cool, luminous quality that he felt reflected the environment of the Arctic.

“I’ve always liked the polar bears just because of that unique blue and I remember visiting his studio outside of Palmer where he and Sara, his wife lived and he gave us a tour of his studio and just spoke so eloquently about the layers of blue he would use to create these amazing works of art and to reflect the light the way it does off the ice and the water,” McKay said.

Timeless pieces that can still be seen today, displayed in a gallery at the Anchorage Museum.

“To be displayed in this manner in a facility as beautiful and unique to Alaska as the Anchorage Museum, really puts a face to his work and displays it to the public, so it’s not just Alaskans who are coming here, it’s visitors who get to know Alaska better through his artwork,” McKay said.

McKay hopes more younger artists will try to emulate the story and history of Alaska in their work, just as Machetanz did.

Machetanz died in 2002 at the age of 94. In addition to his paintings at the Anchorage Museum, Machetanz created 50 stone lithographs, printing just 100 of each design. They’re some of the most sought-after work of Machetanz’s and the Anchorage Museum is one of three institutions known to have complete sets.

“It’s very exciting to know that the museum has this amazing display of artwork that means so much to Fred, his wife, his family and my family,” McKay said.