Tag Archives: alaska

Burning Dude, McCarthy, AK, September 11, 2021, 9:11pm

Burning Dude 2021

I know that Burning Man is an established event that has been happening for decades,  but I have never been.  I basically don’t know anything about the event, except that it is a wickedly insane art festival where they burn a temple at the end, sometimes with a man at the top.  A week-long avant-garde art event with 70,000 people all showing up to party and experience being human together in the middle of a hot, dusty desert.  

Dave Hollis, my friend in McCarthy, is a retired computer programmer who I would consider to be the social guru for the Kennicott River Valley.  This guy knows what is happening, where it is happening, and also plans some amazing events of his own.  In McCarthy, around 2009 Dani Evans and B-Mac built a Burning Woman, and she asked Hollis to be a fire tender.  Four years ago in 2018, Hollis and Brady, and some other McCarthy locals, decided to make a small version of Burning Man, which they called Burning Dude.  It is a fragment of the Nevada festival, and can’t even be compared, but it is still a hoot, and a lot of fun.  I missed the Burning Woman, and I also missed the first Dude, who was 12 feet tall, and I heard was awesome.  In 2019 fire danger was high, so there was no Dude.  The second Burning Dude in 2020 was designed by Seth, a local fire dancer, and I helped erect the dude with 10 other people, while Brady quickly nailed supports to keep it upright.  It burned, but never fully caught on fire.  The sculpture was 34 feet tall.  The oversized head was dropped and ignited later, providing plenty of entertainment.  I told the team that I have sculpture training and would like to help build next year’s Dude.

Burning Dude 2020

This fall, both Seth and Brady were not available to build the Dude.  Hollis was bummed, but he asked me if I thought it could still happen without them.  I gathered a small team: my wife Maria, my cousin Cameron, and of course Hollis.  I designed the Dude on a sheet of paper, to be built from log mill slabs, which are fairly irregular, and have a lot of bark on them.  I took an afternoon the day before to gather twigs from the bottom of spruce trees from my ten-acre lot, and loaded them onto my trailer.  The next day, Maria and I drove down to McCarthy, picked up Cameron and we unloaded the brush on the bank of the Kennicott River.  Then we drove over to Hollis’ house where we picked up about 200 spruce slabs.  We chucked them down to the Kennicott river, and we started to build.  I had packed a ton of tools, including my cordless drill, driver, chainsaw, a million screws and nails, as well as wire.  First, I built a sturdy box, and then we built the feet and legs.  We attached the torso, and put on the arms.  Finally we built the head, and put a crown of sparklers on top of it.  Hollis and Maria juggled the head up to Cameron, who was standing on the box.  Cameron hoisted the head up to me, as I crouched inside the torso.  I quick-like attached the head and then had to remove my chainsaw helmet to extract myself from the torso.  Next, we stuffed the spruce branches all over the dude and filled the box, torso and head.  I bought a gallon of vegetable oil and we stapled oily paper towels all over the Dude.  We were building the Dude in a prominent location, right next to the foot bridge, where everyone saw us.  Hollis did a great job telling people to show up at 9pm for Burning Dude.

We had three hours to spare before the scheduled ignition, so we went to Mark and Livvi’s new house for ice cream and hot dogs.  At 9pm, a fairly large crowd had gathered around the Dude.  All four of us ignited him at 9:11pm on 9/11!  I knew the spruce boughs would work, and vegetable oil is essentially as combustable as diesel fuel.  It ignited in three stages: first the box platform, then the torso, and finally the head.  The head had this amazing glowing crown above it from the sparklers, and then it kept burning even after the branches all burned up.  The paper towels were amazing.  The head fell in after 11 minutes, but the Dude lasted about 44 more before Malcolm decided to kick the box over.  I was so pleased with how well everything worked.  I thank Maria, Cameron and especially Hollis for making this possible!  Not as spectacular as Burning Man festival in Nevada, but Burn Dude was a success in 2021!   

We Bought a House and Moved out of the 4th Avenue Market Place Studio!

Moving everything from the studio to the new house, including large paintings. Good thing it wasn’t raining!

When we moved into my studio space at the 4th Avenue Marketplace, we were ecstatic to be downtown, and to have extra work space!  I loved the view, and I loved working there.  Having people come by for open studio events during First Fridays, Fur Rondy, and the Iditarod was always a great experience, and we usually made enough money during those events to cover our lease payments. Making the move to 4th Ave really cemented that I am a professional artist.  However, I missed working at home. Packing a lunch was a drag, the bicycle commute across downtown was annoying (especially in winter), and the local street people seemed to always be present to greet me at the door to the building (when they were awake).  I always seemed to have left this tool here, or that tool there, right when I needed it, and I was making another traffic-heavy bike trip back to one of the two locations.    

I am happy to say that last weekend we moved out of the studio, and I am setting up my new studio on the first floor of our new house! It is a huge mess right now! I need permanent storage for tools, supplies, and paintings. I hope to be back to work by Monday, taking a week to move the condo and studio to our new house, and to get the condo ready for sale!  The house is “not perfect,” as my father told me, but to us it is so amazing!  It is quiet at night, there is more space for living and for the studio, and best of all, it has an oversized two car garage!  No more carrying the table saw down stairs to work in blizzards for me!  I can park my truck inside when it is cold out! Not to mention, the obvious home-brewing improvement!  I brought my big smoker grill home from my parents’ house, and I’m going to smoke a brisket when I have everything set up. When brew day rolls around in the new garage, I’ll brew a big batch for a big housewarming celebration.  

Until then there is a lot of work… Anybody want a cute little apartment-style condo in West Fairview? It would make a great Airbnb rental!

Cheers to making life better!  May your day be brighter today than yesterday, and tomorrow be even better than that!    

Sad the downtown studio is closed?  You can still meet me for a beer at Midnight Sun Brewing. My art is there until the end of June!  I will be having more out-of-the studio shows, so keep following Real Art Is Better on this blog, or on social media and we will keep you informed where and when we will be having in-person events!

Pandemic Art Show #2

I’m currently having my second art show during a pandemic! The first one was in June at Midnight Sun Brewing Co., right after the brewery was allowed to open for on-site, indoor dining/drinking following the first shutdown. Right after that show ended, the Mayor limited restaurants and breweries to outdoor on-site consumption only. So I got pretty lucky on my timing. The show was surprisingly successful given the circumstances!

Fast forward six months, and I’m doing another art show during this pandemic, this time at Turnagain Brewing Co. I didn’t get as lucky on my timing for this one, because during December, we’re only allowed to drink beer outside per the latest hunker down order. Despite this obstacle, we decided to go ahead with the art show, but scaled it down just to the downstairs wall of the taproom, because people can still see the art while they go inside to order their beers. I hung original, one-of-a-kind oil paintings on the wall, and brought limited-edition prints and Beer Art Coloring Books to sell at the brewery. So far, I’ve actually sold some books, and prints, which is more than I was expecting.

I could have used this new hunker down order as an excuse to cancel the show, but I decided to push through this thing, and keep doing what I do, because I still can. Drinking beer outside by a fire pit is nothing new for Alaskans. Most of the breweries adapted quickly to the new restrictions, and put several fire pits outside, in festive beer gardens. I’m about to have my third pandemic art show, back at Midnight Sun Brewing Co., but in January I expect everything to open back up at reduced capacity, so maybe everyone can admire my art while eating and drinking inside.

My pandemic art show at Turnagain Brewing Co.
Oh look! You can see my paintings from the outdoor beer garden!

Spring Break Alaska Style

Spring break in Alaska means skiing, building snowmen, and spending time inside, because up here winter lasts well into April. Most stores are on a national merchandising schedule, so while Costco is selling snorkel masks and swimsuits in March, we’re still looking for hand and toe warmers, and new ski jackets.  Ever since we finished building our log cabin in McCarthy, we’ve been going there for Spring break whenever we can, because McCarthy in March is super beautiful and fun!  So here are some photos from our rowdy spring break shenanigans, Alaska style.  At the time we still didn’t know that spring break would be endless this year due to COVID-19.

Trio Fatbike World Championships 2019

We spent the weekend in Talkeetna for the 7th annual Trio Fatbike World Championships.  I’m not sure why it’s called the Trio, but I’m going to say it refers to fast, friendly, and fun!  Unlike during the Susitna 100 race, this time I wasn’t concerned about getting a fast time — I was more interested in having a good time in the backwoods of Talkeetna.  I got to hang out on the 21-mile trail, and enjoy the spirit of trail camaraderie!   I swore off racing after the Susitna 100, but I had already paid and registered for the short version of the Trio.  So I raced without trying to go too fast.  This was not a problem, as the first 12 miles were a mix of biking and walking.  I think I was on my bike 50% of the time due to soft, squishy snow from higher than normal temps.  It sure was nice not to carry that emergency gear the Susitna 100 requires.  I arrived to the trail party nicknamed “Shangri-La” about 3 hours into the event.  I spent about an hour enjoying the sweet bonfire, and the company of beer-loving cyclists.  I avoided the whisky and drank an Anchorage Brewing Rondy Brew, and then refilled my 16 oz water bottle from the keg of Denali Brewing’s pilsner, which was very refreshing during the last 9 miles.  The second half of the trail was a dream!  I felt like I was riding on clouds all the way back to Talkeetna on a hard-packed trail.  Hard to imagine, but the temps hovered around the high 30s all day!  I love that ridge-line trail, and if I lived in Talkeetna I would make it my regular ride. 

The afterparty was a blast as usual.  This year Denali Brewing brewed a Brut IPA for the official Trio race beer.  After the awards ceremony the Last Train (featuring Ted Rosenzweig of Turnagain Brewing on base) rocked the party and I danced until my rubbery legs had to stroll on home!  Overall this is a quality event and I would encourage anybody who likes group riding, with a bit of a racing edge, to sign up next year.  Good job everybody who went and participated!  A huge thanks to Greg Matyas, from Speedway Cycles (home of the Fatback), Shawn Thelan from North Shore Cyclery in Talkeetna, and Sassan from Denali Brewing for the immaculate trail grooming and great hosting of this super fun event!!!

Thirsty Thursday Beer Painting #159. La Potato Restaurant in Spenard.

We’ve been taking a week-long break at our cabin in McCarthy, and this morning I rose before daylight at 7:30 AM here in the Wrangell Mountains.  We have been doing some fat biking around the roads and trails that connect key places in the Kennicott Valley.  On our ride from our cabin south of McCarthy to the town of Kennicott, the glaciers and mountains were spectacular, Mt. Blackburn looming in the evaporating clouds, and the Root and Gates glaciers glistening in the distance like diamond encrusted jewels.  Our route took us past the new and ever popular The Potato Restaurant in McCarthy.  It is slumbering like all the bears out here with a “Closed for the Season” sign and all the picnic tables put away for the winter.  Meanwhile in the big city of (Los) Anchorage, a new hipster hangout has popped up like a mushroom in the sun after a fall rain shower.  La Bodega teamed up with McCarthy’s Potato crew to make a pop-up restaurant called La Potato, located in Mr. Whitekey’s old haunt, the Fly By Night Club.  If you are newer to town you might know this place as the Taproot, or the most recent, and briefest occupant, Route 33. 

Pamela Hatzis, the proprietor of La Bodega, the cool liquor store where you can get boutique wines and by-the-bottle beers, wanted to have a place of her own where she could host tasting events.  She has been doing a righteous job running the ever popular liquor store with two new locations springing up in the last four years, one in Girdwood and a second Anchorage location at the Northern Lights Center Mall.  Rebecca Bard, one of the owners of the McCarthy and Valdez Potato restaurants has been wintering in Anchorage and working for Pamela at La Bodega for a while.  She has endeavored to school the Bodega team on how to run a successful restaurant.  The end result is a spectacular success with the pop up restaurant everyone is raging about, La Potato.  Raging is the word.  Maria and I attempted to go there on Saturday late afternoon, on the second day in business, and the parking lot was overflowing like Moose’s Tooth during a First Tap event.  We came back when we thought it would be less busy Thursday last week.  We easily found parking and came in to find a lovely draft menu, as well as great canned and bottled beer offerings.  I am sure there was some good wine and saké offerings as well, I just neglected to search them out.  I ordered some rosemary garlic fries and the duck egg kimchi plate, and I recommend both.  Watch out though, the garlic fries are a litmus test for how much your date really likes you…  Better if you both consume that much garlic in one sitting.  I ordered My 85th Rodeo IPA from Woodland Empire Ale Craft in Idaho (pictured in this painting in front of the iconic Spenard sign that hangs next to the stage) and a Solid Gold from Founder’s Brewing Co.  I exited right before a secret show began featuring The Lucky Chops, because I didn’t bring hearing protection, and I’m just too old to handle loud music at this point.  The place went from being modestly busy to teeming with people for the music.  It’s like Anchorage has been starved for a hangout that isn’t a bar and people are finally finding their fix.  We have Koot’s and Van’s Dive Bar, and even the newly revamped Carousel Lounge, but La Potato is different because it is a restaurant first. 

As I pack up my bags tonight and make the grueling drive back to the big city tomorrow, I am not sorry to leave, because the fun is in Spenard where the spirit of McCarthy is alive and well.  I will pass the slumbering Roadside Potato as I drive out and will look forward to its glory in the summer months, but this winter is all about Ancho“RAGE,”!

Cheers to Pamela and Rebecca’s brainchild that is rocking the socks off the block in Spenard!

Only one original oil painting, and limited-edition prints are available at our Etsy shop RealArtIsBetter.

Thirsty Thursday Beer Painting #159.  My 85th Rodeo by Woodland Empire Ale Craft, pictured at La Potato in Spenard, Anchorage, AK. 6"x12", oil on panel. By Scott Clendaniel.

Thirsty Thursday Beer Painting #159. My 85th Rodeo by Woodland Empire Ale Craft, pictured at La Potato in Spenard, Anchorage, AK. 6″x12″, oil on panel. By Scott Clendaniel.

   

Jason Lobo’s Dodge Power Wagon

We spent two weeks in McCarthy earlier this month, and while at a great BBQ on the West side, I invited myself over to my neighbor Jason Lobo’s place to paint one of his many interesting vehicles.  Although we live in the same subdivision, his lot is about a mile away.  I walked, as I felt it would be easier to pack the painting home walking than biking.  Also, the road is a mud swamp due to spring meltdown, so driving was less than desirable.  I arrived to find Jason working in his yard.  After a few minutes he gave me a tour of his new water truck, which is a F-750 Ford.  Parked right next to it was this beauty, a vintage Dodge Power Wagon.  A great truck, and it still runs!  I love how it has not been restored, but has all the scars and patina of a working machine.  I guess the fuel pump is out, because Jason has connected a gravity fed fuel tank.  I had a great time painting this cool old McCarthy truck, stopping every hour, or so, to chat with Lobo.  He was working in the garden planting onions, garlic, and potatoes.  I walked home in the afternoon to have a late lunch, and then got some of my own yard work done.  Overall, a pretty productive day.  By the way, this isn’t the first time I’ve painted one of Jason’s trucks.  Check out the painting of his red Ford.

This original oil painting, and limited-edition prints are for sale at my Etsy shop RealArtIsBetter.

Jason Lobo's Dodge Power Wagon. 14"x11", oil on panel. By Scott Clendaniel.

Jason Lobo’s Dodge Power Wagon. 14″x11″, oil on panel. By Scott Clendaniel.

A Tale of Two Homes… in Alaska

Back at the cabin after a skiing adventure.

People always ask how I like living in McCarthy.  They must see my Facebook posts and just assume since I spend a lot of time there that it’s my primary residence.  As of now, I live in an efficient downtown condo in Anchorage.  As much as I love going to McCarthy, and the Wrangell – St. Elias National Park that surrounds this cool mountain town, I will probably never spend more than five months of the year there.  It’s really remote without a real gas station and only a small seasonal grocery store.  Maria and I have been building a cabin on our lot two miles south of the town of McCarthy for about four years now.  We bought the lot in 2005, and I convinced Maria that we should start to build a cabin there in 2010.  In 2012 we broke ground on the foundation and started the log work.  Three summers later we were putting the roof on.  This year we installed the wood stove and moved in!

We have lived in a small apartment style condo in Anchorage since 2006.  It has been really efficient, and at 730+ square feet, two bedrooms with a small bathroom, it is not luxurious, but cozy and comfortable city living.  I just cleaned the entire pad in about an hour this morning.  However, it feels cramped after a long winter and I was just dying to go to McCarthy in the winter now that the wood stove is in.  Hanging out on our ten acres in the woods after living near the heart of Anchorage without an outlet to private outdoor space left us feeling hankering for some wilderness solitude.  I convinced Maria it would be cool to head out for a week in March, ski in with sleds of supplies and just hang at out mountain home.  I did some painting and Maria did some business work in the mornings and we would adventure in the afternoons.  Later in the day, which are getting longer and longer as spring rapidly approaches, we would burn large fires of forest brush in the outdoor fire ring.  On a couple of noteworthy outings we skied around the sleepy town of Kennicott, explored on skis the icebergs on the West side of the glacier, skied up McCarthy Creek, and in and around our neighborhood.  Overall, it really gave me a great feeling of mountains wilderness beauty that satisfied our itch to leave the hubbub of the city  behind.

Working next to the wood stove.

The trip was great, but a week was long enough during March.  First off, water is a problem in our subdivision.  We are up on a bluff, so you have to spend some serious cash to put in deep wells, so most of the time we collect rain water from our roof.  This works really well during the summer months, and in winter there is snow, but it takes a lot of energy and time to melt snow.  We can’t drive to our lot during the winter as the bridge is covered in three feet of snow and so is the road up to our place.  It is a snowmobile haven, and a good place to ski as well.  I ski, since I don’t have an Arctic Cat or a Ski-Doo.  Water is heavy, so we had to ration it to avoid too many heavy loads.  Another problem with wilderness living in the winter is using the outhouse, which is really far away from the warm house, and is frozen.  Lastly, the wood stove is an archaic technology that is a lot of work to keep a log cabin warm.  It’s hard to find wood that isn’t too wet from snow.  It seems that it rained and froze right before it snowed, and even though I stored the wood under a tarp, there was a lot of it full of moisture.  Yes, we are in the process of building a necessary woodshed, but as I said, we aren’t even fully done building the place yet.  The house has a bunch of drafts and we need to finish chinking, as well as installing a bunch of important trim pieces.  It seemed I was constantly loading the stove, until the creosote clogged the pipe.  This turned out to be a major cluster, but fortunately it happened at the end of the week so we just went home.  Next time I head out, I have to bring a chimney brush, climb on the roof and maintain the stovepipe before we have heat.  Then we will have to hope we don’t burn the place down.  It seems silly to have a house that is made of the same combustible stuff we heat it with, but it’s working for now.

Maria skiing past an ice berg on Kennicott Glacier.

Icebergs on Kennicott Glacier.

After a week in the woods, I’m glad to be back in Anchorage.  Working at the comfortable studio with running water, and hanging out in my small cozy condo at the corner of downtown and Fairview.  I can buy groceries and gas, drive on plowed roads, have indoor plumbing, and a thermostat.  The wilderness is very inspirational, and I loved my trip, but I also know that the people who live out there are some tough hombres.  It isn’t easy living off grid especially as you are building systems.  One thing goes wrong and you could be living in a cold cabin… or worse.

We waited for this giant slab of snow and ice to crash all week, and it finally fell with a loud thud on our last night at the cabin.

The gray jays were happy to see us. They finally started eating out of our hands last summer.

The Kennicott Mill building.

The Kennicott Glacier.

Talkeetna Brew Fest 2016

~ by Maria Benner

Well, Scott is on the opposite end of the continent right now, but started the long drive today from Philly to Monterey, CA with two buddies.  They are carrying precious cargo in a rented mini-van for one of the friend’s son’s wedding — six cases of beer from his cellar, and are planning to stop along the way to buy more beer.  One bottle has unfortunately already exploded mere hours after the journey began.  Evidently, the Brett in the bottle of Galaxy IPA by Anchorage Brewing Co. created too much gas over the years in the cellar, and finally popped in the rental van.  Luckily, the spill was quickly contained, and no other bottles were damaged from this incident.  Take heed, bottles conditioned with any yeast are likely to pop eventually, so don’t cellar them too long.

Anyway, while Scott is traveling, I’m batching it here in Anchorage.  I realized that the two weeks that Scott is gone will be the longest time I’ve ever lived alone.  Shocking.  So I’m learning a bit about my self, and so far I can conclude that I’m not an introvert, and not a hermit.  Yesterday is a perfect example.  I signed up to volunteer at the Talkeetna Brew Fest, which is a fundraiser for the Northern Susitna Institute, and one beer festival that I have never been to.  Who doesn’t love the quaint town of Talkeetna, especially when it hosts nearly every Alaskan brewery for one day?  Even the new cidery was there, Double Shovel Cider Co.  If you’re into cider, check out their tasting room in Anchorage.

What can I say about the beer at this event that you don’t already know?  We can all agree that Alaska has an impressive selection of excellent brews to offer, considering our small population, and lack of local hops and grains.  There were a number of beers that did have local Alaskan ingredients like spruce tips, and berries.  My favorite brews were Sitka Spruce Tip Ale by Baranof Island Brewing, Statny Statny Stout by Kassik’s Kenai Brew Stop, and of course Berserker by Midnight Sun Brewing.  Drinking two pours of that to cap off the event was not my smartest move last night.  Whenever my glass was empty, I would ask whoever I was talking to at the time what was the best beer they had tasted so far, and was steered in the right direction most of the time.  I really enjoyed the low-key atmosphere at this event.  It was not too crowded like most beer fests, and there was an outdoor area with fire pits and picnic tables.  The organizers didn’t skimp on the food, which is an important, and responsible thing to have at such an event.  There was plenty of fresh-baked bread by Mountain High Pizza Pie, and a generous spread of cured meats, and artisan cheeses.

After the four-hour fest, some of us headed to the bank of the beautiful, and currently over-flowing, Susitna River to watch the sunset.  Then somehow there was always a beer in my hand for the rest of the night as we danced to a righteous band at the Fairview Inn.  I have vague memories of a friend buying me a reindeer hot dog, which was a life-saver, around 10 PM.  Good thing I had that for a late dinner, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have had the mental capacity to find my bed.

I’m back in Anchorage now, and Scott already made it to Ohio.  Eight more days of batching it, and I’m planning on attending one more beer festival before Scott gets back.  Bodega Fest is next weekend, and tickets are still available for this party, celebrating La Bodega’s 10th Anniversary!

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Sunset over the Susitna River in Talkeetna.

Sunset over the Susitna River in Talkeetna.

After-party at the Fairview Inn.

After-party at the Fairview Inn.

A thank you note to our local community

Scott and I just got back from a two-week trip to Washington and Oregon where we visited many of our wonderful friends and family.  We had an amazing trip, but are glad to be back in Anchorage, where the pace of life is slower, and life seems easier in general.  We don’t have to structure our daily schedule around peak traffic times, there are fewer people competing for the same things, and the scenery is breathtaking.

On the first day back in Anchorage we drove around to replenish our supplies, and almost everywhere we went, we knew someone.  The best part is that several people told us they needed to meet about a painting, or a stickers order, or help with graphics.  That’s when we realized that our local community is the reason that we are able to survive on the income from our little art business.  Without long-standing relationships in our home town where we have lived for over 20 years, our business wouldn’t be possible.  So, thank you to all of you who choose to buy locally!!!  That really does make a difference!  We feel the love, Anchorage, and we can’t think of a better place to live and work!

~ Scott and Maria

Thank you note to Anchorage, Alaska

Year of Beer 07.27. Thank You German Hefeweizen by Anchorage Brewing Co. Oil on panel, 8″x10″.