If you have stopped by our studio in the last three months you saw the enormous oil painting filling my work space, or stashed in the hall in order to make room for people during open studio events. The Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation built a new clinic in Bethel, and released a call for art in early 2019. We applied for several wall spaces, and were awarded a contract to create a 12ft x 6ft oil painting on canvas for a large area high on the wall above a stairway. This is the largest canvas I have ever painted! Last week I delivered, assembled and helped install this piece at its location in Bethel.
So, how do you take such a large painting on a jet-plane? I designed the canvas from the start so that transporting it on an Alaska Airlines flight would be possible. However, we all know that while some things seem easy conceptually, they can gain complexity as they progress. The stretcher support was made up of 45 individual ash and birchwood pieces, and no piece was longer than 6ft, because I wanted them all to fit into a ski bag. The canvas was rolled up and the stretcher support dis-assembled for its journey. I waited until the day before departure to break it down, and pack it up.
I awoke at 3:30 AM to catch a 6AM flight to Bethel. I brought two checked ski bags, and a carry-on backpack. No extra luggage fees for me with Club 49 thanks to Alaska Airlines! I could have brought another checked bag, since it was an in-state flight! Alaska Air and TSA were gentle enough with my precious cargo, and everything arrived in good shape and on-time. I was picked up by the YKHC maintenance foreman, Pat, at the airport. He and his team have been installing all the newly-acquired art pieces at the clinic. I got to see some of the art while I was there, and I must say that the committee chose some incredible art! We drove to the maintenance building and picked up two more staffers to help lift the painting onto the wall. Re-assembly took me a couple of hours and I had a conference room to myself. The extra help was great, and I don’t think I could have stretched it back to its original tightness without the extra muscle.
The maintenance crew was clutch, as I had planned to hang this colossal piece the same way I hang smaller pieces — on a heavy-duty wire. There is only an inch of clearance on either side of this piece so getting it straight on the wall was the real problem. Pat suggested I use a French cleat, and I agreed that would be better, if only I had thought to bring one. Pat was a superhero and produced the hardware from his storeroom! This made hanging the piece much easier. Four guys and two ladders later the 90lb painting slid into place. This took us right up to lunchtime, and I was a little disappointed I had taken the early flight, as now I had 8 hours to kill until I could catch the return flight to Anchorage. Pat had to check on his dog, and I had packed a lunch, so I chilled out at the hospital for an hour and breathed a sigh of relief.
After lunch Pat took me on an amazing driving tour of Bethel and the Kuskokwim River. I got to go to the grocery store to replenish my snacks for the return trip to Anchorage. Pretty expensive to buy food and gas in Bethel. $4.49 a gallon for gasoline, and $8.49 a gallon for milk! The area is beautiful tundra with mountains glistening in the distance. I got so see a pretty nice chunk of the town, which is much larger than I had expected — about 10,000 residents. The area around Bethel is very interesting, but the people are where the real beauty exists, everyone is so friendly and helpful. Bethel is a hub, but it felt like a really welcoming village.
I was dropped off at the airport with my drop cloths in my ski-bag, and I was feeling really fatigued by this time. I hunkered down at the airport and worked on my beer coloring book pages for a couple of hours before catching my flight home at 10PM. I met a fellow who was so happy to pick up his crate from Alaska Airlines. He said he had snow-machined for two hours from his camp to pick it up! This was right at twilight, so it was going to be a dark return trip for him. Adventurous people live in the Delta and I was happy to get a glimpse of this culture. Thank you YKHC for this superb opportunity! Maybe next time I can come in the summer and do a little fishing.
Here is a slideshow of some pictures I took during this whole process. Below you’ll also find three timelapse videos of my painting, and the last one is of us taking apart the painting and rolling up the canvas.