Fred Machetanz (1908-2002) was one of the state’s most popular artists, known for his paintings and prints depicting daily life in Alaska. One of his most impressive accomplishments was his creation of 50 stone lithographs between 1946 and 1980. He printed just 100 of each design.
This exhibition features the Anchorage Museum’s rare, complete set of Machetanz’s lithographs featuring beautiful renderings of Alaska Native people, whalers, wildlife and more.
After serving in the Navy during World War II, Machetanz was eager to find a way to make a living through his art. An emerging painter and illustrator at that time, he decided to expand his skill set by studying lithography with artist Will Barnet at New York’s Art Students League.
Fine art lithography is a notoriously frustrating medium. First an image is drawn with a greasy substance onto a flat, prepared stone. Then, the image is etched into the stone’s surface, so the grease etching will repel ink. One-by-one, the stone is inked and an impression is made on paper. If one thing goes wrong, the print is irreparable. Machetanz learned enough about the process to make effective drawings on limestone, then enlisted a fine arts printer in New York to handle the technical aspects of printing.
Often Machetanz’s lithographs combine portraiture and close ethnographic observation. For instance, Eskimo Mother is a tender depiction of mother and child, but it also documents the traditional way women carried babies on their backs, leaving their hands free for chores.
“Old Alaska is rapidly disappearing, and I want to preserve what I can before it too is gone,” Fred Machetanz said in 1965. “In a way I want to do for Alaska what Remington did for the Old West.”
Today, Machetanz’s 50 lithographs are some of his most sought-after work. Only three public institutions are known to have complete sets. The Anchorage Museum’s set was donated by former Alaska National Insurance Company chairman George Suddock and his wife, Linda.
Source: A Northern Adventure: The Art of Fred Machetanz by Kesler E. Woodward