Carole Baker, Gustavus artist, has been perfecting her talent for 40 years. Carole, a quiet and unassuming woman, has extended her artistic reputation across Alaska and to places Outside as well.
Carole spent her early years in Florida. She liked to draw from childhood. She got some drawing instruction in grade school, but art classes were not offered after 6th grade. She went to college at Florida State University, where she majored in medical technology. She interned in lab work in Atlanta, Georgia.
She worked as a med tech for 8 years, coming to Alaska in 1969 to work for Public Health Service in Anchorage. As she was an itinerant worker, she traveled around the state to the communities that needed her services. One such job commute took her to Sitka, where she met her husband, Van. A fisherman, he lived on one-acre Maude Island (part of the Gilmore Island group), which he owned. Carole quit her job and stayed, fishing with Van at first. There, she again started drawing. Van bought her some dime store watercolors, and she began painting on typing paper. Her son, Lee, was born in 1972 while they lived on the island.
In 1973, Carole accompanied Van on a fishing trip to Icy Strait. Van’s uncle had a summer place in Gustavus, and the couple stopped in for a visit. The
two liked the place so much that the next day they took all the money they had made that week and bought some property.
In 1974, they moved to Gustavus, staying at what is now Aimee’s Guest House while building their home. At the time the guest house was not well-insulated, and Carole remembers that it was so cold that winter that their homemade beer froze inside, on the floor of the cabin.
In the spring of 1975, they moved into their house, which is the same one they live in now. Van still fished in summer. Carole accompanied him less and less. She got seasick easily and preferred to stay home with her son and work on her garden. She has had a vegetable garden every year since moving to Gustavus. At one time the garden was huge, but as the years go by and the gardener grows older, it has gotten smaller. Yet, she can’t imagine not having a garden. She also admits to having her own personal war on slugs. She drops them in ammonia water. She believes she may hold the record for the number of Gustavus slugs annihilated in one year. (Way to go, Carole!)
Carole grows the usual assortment of plants that do well in our climate. These include cabbage, broccoli, kale, spinach, arugula, parsley, carrots and potatoes. She loves Icelandic poppies, a perennial, so she nurtures them every year. They are frequent subjects for paintings.
Though her garden is fenced, moose occasionally jump the fence or knock it down to get to the garden. For the most part, these visits have only happened infrequently. Once when Carole and Van were about to go somewhere, they saw a moose and calf looking over the garden. They chased the pair away and then left. When they returned, they discovered that the moose had also returned, gotten into the garden, and had a great meal. They took a moose-sized bite out of the middle of each of their lovely cabbage heads and stripped the broccoli and kale.
Bears have regularly visited the strawberry patch out in front of their large lawn, but seldom come closer to the house, except for the crab apple tree incident. Carole and Van planted the tree when they first moved onto the property. The little tree struggled, as the moose would strip off the limbs for a tasty snack. The tree was gradually winning the battle against the creatures when the bear came to visit. There were two high, healthy branches reaching ‘way above the rest of the tree. The bear decided to climb the tree for the apples. The Bakers saw him sitting in the top of the tree. The bear, too heavy for the frail tree, broke the two remaining long branches. At present, the tree appears to have weathered the attack, though it is a few feet shorter after the bear visit.
Having more time at home, Carole painted more. She met Carol Janda, an artist whose husband worked at Glacier Bay National Park. She took a class from Carol, who soon became her mentor. Carol lent her art books, critiqued her work, and urged her to paint. The two of them drew and painted together every day for awhile. In the late 70s Carole had her first show, at Jack and Sally Lesh’s old floathouse in Gustavus. Her paintings then were priced from $5.00 to a staggering $25.00. During that time period, the state bought two of her pictures to place on permanent display on the ferry, “Taku.”
Perhaps some of Carole’s inspiration comes from her many trips. She loves to travel, and goes someplace new whenever she can, usually once a year. From another Gustavus resident, Artemis BonaDea, she learned the skill of bookmaking. For her travel adventures, she makes small bound journals, often using watercolor paper inside. With these she can paint, draw, add photos, and write an ongoing dialog of her adventures. These books contain some intriguing and lovely drawings of places she has visited. It seems to me that these wonderful little journals are a better souvenir of her travels than anything else she could bring home. Among her journals are books from Spain, France, England, Japan, Italy, Ireland, Thailand, Nepal, Canada, and various areas of the United States.
Besides selling occasionally at various venues in Juneau and other places in Southeast Alaska, Carole gained acceptance into many juried shows. These include the All-Alaska Juried Art Show and the Northwest Watercolor Society Show, which travels around the northwestern United States. In 1990, she won Best of Show at the Fairbanks Watercolor Exhibition.
In the 90s she became more serious about painting flowers. She says if she’d started painting at a younger age, she would probably have become a botanical illustrator. Her
Alaska wild flower poster, notebook, and card come from that era. During that period, she began selling cards through Taku Graphics in Juneau. It was through Taku that I first discovered Carole’s art. I used to sell her cards in my Kodiak shop, long before I’d even heard of Gustavus.
For several years Carole did just watercolors. Then, a few years ago, she started painting with oils, and is still using this medium for some of her work. She has done some intaglio printing and woodblock print making. She loves to do still life drawings — she likes to see what she is painting from real life, not from photographs. Currently she is working on paintings of present-day Gustavus, attempting to keep the details as accurate as possible, so she can capture the picture before time and history change it.
Carole’s advice to a beginner is to draw at least 15 minutes every day. It is important to work on art continuously. Practice is necessary. Composition (how we arrange the elements on paper) is important. Carole likes to do several thumbnail sizes first, assigning the correct values of light and dark to the drawing.
If you would like to see more of Carole’s work, visit her two blogs. Addresses of these are:.watercolorpostcards.blogpost.com and carolebaker.blogspot.com. If you would like to buy a piece of Carole’s art, go to www.carolebakerart.com. Or, for you Juneau folks, a special treat: Carole will share my booth this year at the Juneau Public Market, open for 3 days at Centennial Hall right after Thanksgiving. Meet this incredible artist in person and pick out an original painting or two to take home with you.