peddlerSeveral people have asked me why I haven’t written much about myself in this blog.  It’s hard to change directions when I’ve established an operating mode of observing/reporting for my blog content.  However, I’ve decided that perhaps I should branch out and share a few of my own opinions.

It is interesting, though I started this site with one idea in mind, the blog gods have taken over and sent it in another direction entirely.  Originally I intended it to be a collection of Alaskan stories and descriptions of jewelry and gift items that I sell.  Then the blog tweaked at my head and said, “Interview some of the amazing folks in Gustavus and put their stories in here.”  So I began doing just that, and am thankful that I did so.  Gustavus is such a remarkable place, partly because of its location, but more because of the unique collection of souls who have gathered here.

Writing these articles has brought me to an important realization about this place.  First of all, I love small towns.  Big cities might offer a much wider range of available activities and facilities, but there is more of everything else in the city as well — more people, more traffic, more stress and confusion, more chances for accidents or sickness.  In comparison, I might sum up the differences in the Gustavus lifestyle in three words:  More personal freedom.  Because it is a small town where everyone knows and for the most part gets along with other residents, the community is close-knit.  People care about each other and watch out for each other.  I do believe this is the place for which I have been searching, and have found it, thanks to my son, who found it first and brought me here to see for myself.

Many years ago while I lived in Kodiak, my husband, Les Kelso, got a job in the cannery in the village of Ouzinkie on nearby Spruce Island,  We claimed a piece of land there through the last BLM land trustee, and moved.  When Les and I separated, he went to Hawaii and I garnered help from my friends and built a cabin on my homesite claim.  I lived there for 20 years.

I became the GED teacher for the community, found fellow musicians and played music regularly, both for ourselves and for the village, and started a group involved in locating, identifying, and using wild plants, either for medicine or food.  I became known as the Weird White Woman in the Woods, teaching village adults and learning from them as well.

I observed their lifestyle with interest.  Ouzinkie, population of about 250 at that time, Native except for 10 people, had originally been settled by 3 major families.  Husbands or wives might come from another Alaskan town, slowly building the population.  However, family ties remained very strong.  I was envious of the closeness of village families.  In times of need or of celebration, they came together and joined forces from a position of strength.  If crisis hit, they were there for each other.

As a white person not married to a villager I was on the outside looking in.  More than once I suggested to a village friend that they should adopt me.  In my youth I had a large family, but now had almost no one, and certainly no one close at hand.  I longed for a community of people who were like-minded and who felt like family.

Then, in 2011, I came to Gustavus.  My original motivation was to be nearer to my Juneau-based son, as he was my closest remaining relative.  I had trouble adjusting to the new place, as I missed beautiful Kodiak.  Granted, the land here was flat, though surrounded by mountains.  The lack of hills made it much easier for me to get around, as age was sneaking up on me.  As I started becoming involved with the community — playing music; writing; selling at our Saturday market in summer — I realized I’d found a place where I no longer had to be on the outside, looking in.  As I developed more close relationships I could see that I may just have found the place I’d been looking for.  Here are friends who welcome me into their homes and lives.  Here are people who come together to present a united front in times of crisis.  Here are people who will be there, should tragedy or tribulation try to take us down.  In times of adversity they will help their neighbors in any way they can, and in return, I will do the same for them.  Gustavus artist Lou Cacioppo says that Gustavus is a tribe.  Many small Alaskan settlements are tribal in nature.  As such, these “tribes” preserve a sense of community that takes precedence over personal desires.  In these troubled times I feel fortunate to live in a small community of like-minded souls who will band together to care for each other.  Gustavus, you have become my family — may we move forward into the future together.


ellie-fiddleWhen Ellie Sharman looked at the list of descriptors included in the title to her story — Musician, educator, quilter extraordinaire — she said, “Add adventurer!  I’m an adventurer!  I thought to myself, “that is the perfect descriptive word for this woman.”  Now you can read the article yourself and discover why Ellie defines herself in such a way.  She is a woman who has followed dreams.

Ellie was born in 1960 in Pasadena, CA.  In 1972, the family moved to Palo Alto, CA.  Ellie graduated from high school in 1978, then went to college at the University of California in Davis.

The roots of Ellie’s life passions and her adventurous spirit began with her childhood experiences.  She started playing violin in 1967 at age seven.  She learned using the Suzuki Violin Method, a teaching method developed by Dr. Suzuki in Japan.  This teaching method was new in the United States at the time.  The first-violinstudents learned totokyo-concert play by  ear.  They listened, then played what they heard.

When she was 11 years old, Ellie went to Japan and took a lesson from Dr. Suzuki.  She toured Japan with other American students playing violin.  They all participated in a big concert in Tokyo.  As Dr. Suzuki’s students all learned from the same books, they knew the same songs and could play together.

Ellie’s love of travel also got a start in her youth.  Before and after the trip to Japan, she went to Mexico as an exchange student.  One trip was for a couple of weeks, and when she returned from Japan, her second trip to Mexico was for a month.  After her return, a Mexican student would arrive to stay with her family in California.

Ellie’s parents met through folk dancing, so Ellie and her brother and sister went to all the dances while growing up.  When she was older, she discovered contra dancing.  Nowadays, if Ellie is at a contra dance, when she is not playing in the band she is dancing.


Ellie has been quilting for about 20 years.  She has made bed quilts, but prefers small art quilts.  These can be colorful and creative representations of the artist’s talent.  The charming art quilt pictured here was inspired by a photo of big-leaf maples that Ellie took when hiking in the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.


At the University of California, Davis, Ellie earned a degree in design.  It was a broad major, covering interior design, fabric design, ethnic clothing and furniture design.  Students made furniture and wearable art items.  In fabric design they learned about the qualities of fabric, why a particular fabric could be used for the job, and world clothing design.  Ellie wove these strands into her own designs.  (An example:  including swatches of Guatemalan fabric in contemporary fashions.)  Students designed solar houses.  A large community of solar houses in Davis gave them design ideas and inspiration.  They made chairs, beds, and interior designs for houses.  (Much later, after her son, Rowan, was born, Ellie drew house plans for their own home while staying home to care for the baby.)  As Ellie had been sewing since she was quite young, she already had valuable sewing skills that were helpful in her chosen major.

While attending U of CA, Davis, Ellie took three winters off and went to school in the summer.  During the winter, she worked at a ski area in Tahoe.  She ended up managing a cross-country ski shop, and she taught cross-country skiing to youngsters.  Ellie had a car — a little VW “bug” — but while she was in school the car was parked, as everyone rode bikes.  The only reason for the car was to get back and forth to the ski area.  The Davis campus is the biggest biking campus in the country.  The parking lots would be full of bikes.  Cars weren’t really needed; everyone just rode bikes everywhere.  Ellie got lots of practice, so after riding bikes to school and college, she began doing bike tours around the world.

Her college roommate had a poster of Denali on the wall of their room.  Ellie looked at that picture for many years, and decided she would have to go to Alaska.  She had no money for a ticket, until the road grader ran into her “bug.”  Ellie got it repaired with the help of a friend.  The state of California gave her $800.00 for car repairs, which she used to buy a one-way ticket to Anchorage.  Upon arrival in Anchorage, she took the train to Denali, found the hiring office, and got a job.  That summer she washed buses for the Denali National Park concessions.

She loved that summer in Denali.  When the season was over, she hitchhiked from Denali to Whitehorse; took the train from Whitehorse to Skagway; then took the ferry in September down the Inside Passage. When she saw the mountains, trees, and ocean in Southeast Alaska, she said, “This is where I am moving.”  Since she had now worked for a national park, she applied to Glacier Bay for the next summer.  She returned to U.CA Davis to finish her senior year.  She graduated in 1983.

An active Girl Scout from second grade through high school, Ellie became a First-Class Girl Scout. The summer after her freshman year in college, she was hired as a Girl Scout camp counselor. Her high school scout leader gave a slide show on kayaking at Glacier Bay.  Ellie said, “I’m going there!”  So in the summer of 1983, Ellie worked at Glacier Bay Lodge, washing dishes and working as a maid.  Then she graduated to working on the tour boats as a hostess.

She was hired as a boat person.  For her first and second years with the Marine Department, she worked as a steward on the “Thunder Bay,” a day boat, and on the “Glacier Bay Explorer,” which took overnight trips.

In the fall of 1984, her adventurous spirit led her on a backpacking trip to Europe.  She visited her sister in Italy, then went to Morocco.  She used a Eurail pass to visit Austria, Switzerland, Germany, France and Spain. The Eurail pass gave her an excellent means to travel through Europe and see a bit of several countries.  Ellie did not care much for France because she didn’t speak the language, and the French were not at all interested in speaking English.  She tended to gravitate toward mountainous countries in her travels, so it was perhaps natural that she would like Austria and Switzerland.  Austria was her favorite.  Coincidentally, when she was staying ellie-cousinat an Austrian hostel, seated at a long table for a meal, she overheard the comment of a fellow down the table from her.  The man said he was from Wisconsin, and Ellie turned to look at him.  Much to her astonishment, she saw her first cousin, Howard Metzenberg.

After an enthusiastic reunion, Ellie agreed to take a train to Howard’s destination for the next day, and the two spent the day together.  Just this year, Rowan found a copy of their picture with the caption, “Remember when” on Facebook.


Whirling Fiddle BowsThis art quilt is an “intuitive” abstract design.  Ellie started sewing it without a plan, making design decisions along the way instead of following a pattern.  When she finished sewing, she realized the white radiating shapes looked like fiddle bows.


For her next tour, Ellie  and a girlfriend went to New Zealand, hitchhiking with  backpacks. She describes the people of New Zealand as very welcoming.  She chose New Zealand partly because they spoke English.  The two went to both North and South Islands, as Ellie wanted to visit all the national parks.  She says she felt safe hitchhiking there, though her parents would have been appalled.

She likes to have either a specific reason to visit a country or a planned destination.  On this trip, visiting national parks gave her a reason to go there.  As an added benefit, she met other travelers from around the world, as well as Kiwis (New Zealand residents.)
sheep-stationEllie and her girlfriend worked at a sheep station for a few weeks.  They visited the family of a friend from Glacier Bay.  Their travels took place during our winter months, which was actually the summer season in New Zealand, so they visited the friends for Christmas.  Flowers bloomed, and the temperature was in the 80s.

The pair ended up staying because it was sheep shearing time and all hands were needed for the job.  So the two young women took care of the little daughter, giving the family a respite and a chance to complete the shearing job, uninterrupted.apricots

Next, the two girls tried working in an apricot cannery.  They had to wear white uniforms and white hats, and they slept in a bunk room in a dorm for workers.  They worked in the canning lines.  Unfortunately, they had to leave because Ellie’s friend got sick.


They backpacked on this New Zealand trip, hitchhiking to the next park on the list.  For one of their park visits, they had penguinto fly to Stewart Island, which is off the southern tip of the South Island.  They spent 10 days there, hiking, and viewing many penguins.  They also watched for kiwis, the flightless birds of New Zealand, but never saw one.

In the summer of ’85, she was back at Glacier Bay, where she worked as a dispatcher for the National Park Service.  She worked at the Visitor’s Center, run by interpretation at that time.  The Center had three employees.  Ellie was hired because she knew the Bay.  She gave out boat permits and supplied camper orientations.

While giving some violin lessons during the summer, she met Kate Boesser, a vibrant Gustavus woman who plays banjo and sings.  Kate introduced her to local musicians.  Soon music nights followed.

As a seasonal National Park Service interpreter, Ellie went on the cruise ships and gave talks.  Her favorite duty was on the smaller boats, that sometimes did overnight trips.  The groups were much smaller and the vessels were able to get closer to wildlife.  The visitors had a lot of questions about what Ellie did in the winter.  They were interested in her life as a Ranger.

In 1988, Ellie made a solo bike trip to New Zealand and Tasmania.  On this trip, she took her fiddle.  She visited people she had met on earlier travels and went to folk festivals.  There was a lot of Irish music.  Ellie made the front page of a paper in Tasmania.  It showed a picture of her on her bike, playing fiddle.  During this trip, she played at the Longford Folk Festival. She also did some busking, and made enough in tips to pay for her hostel and meals.

From Hobart in Tasmania, she took her bike on a six-week road trip from south to north, travelling from Hobart to the north coast, through the center of Tasmania.  She stopped at Cradle Mountain National Park for a week-long backpacking trip into the mountains.  She climbed to the summit of Cradle Mountain.

According to Ellie, Tasmania could be called the “Alaska of Australia.”  The countryside is rugged and rural.  People are friendly and helpful.  She says the Tasmanians remind her of Alaskans because of their “small-town attitudes” where residents help each other.

Before that summer in Tasmania, Ellie had started dating Lewis.  They had met in Glacier Bay while working for the park.  Lewis was doing intertidal research for the university in Fairbanks.  His major was marine ecology.  After the Tasmania trip, they decided to live together in Fairbanks, so Lewis could continue working on his degree.  So Ellie moved to Fairbanks, took a class or two, then got a job at Apocalypse Design, doing pattern drafting for a wilderness sewing company.  This was her first design job.  She learned more about commercial sewing.  Since Ellie has loved to sew since junior high, working on outdoor gear supplied a good niche for her because of her interests.

During the winters of ’89 and ’90, Ellie enrolled in a two-year program to get her elementary teaching certificate.  She and Lewis lived in a dry cabin, (no running water) located in Gold Stream Valley, the coldest place in town because it was in a hole and the cold air stayed there.  Winters were very cold (40 to 50 below.)


Ellie and Kathy Hocker have recently started collaborating on art quilt designs.  Kathy draws a wild animal or bird and Ellie incorporates the drawing into the quilt.  Using a light table, Ellie traces the shape onto batiks, to which she has applied a fusable backing.  The piece can then be permanently ironed onto the quilt.  Ellie then machine quilts the entire creation.  Here are two examples of their quilt collaborations.


The summer of 1990, Ellie went to Ireland.  Lewis lent her the money for the trip because he had money from working on the oil spill cleanup.  Ellie took Irish fiddle lessons at two places.  She met up with friends from New Zealand  and took classes from the fiddle masters.  They traveled around Ireland on bikes and played music together.  When she returned home, Lewis proposed.  Since they got married, she never had to pay back the loan.

Both Ellie and Lewis really liked the Gustavus area and people, and both really wanted to settle here.  As each of them wanted to live in Gustavus, they shared a dream.  Ellie went to the Anchorage job fair and filled out many applications.  Chatham School District wouldn’t interview her, and she really wanted to work in that district, since that is where Gustavus is located.  That June, Ellie and Lewis got married, and a week before the wedding, she got a call informing her she had gotten the job in Gustavus.  She didn’t even know she was in the running.  Kate Boesser and Ellie both got jobs at the school at the same time.  She started working full-time, so Lewis went to Fairbanks and cleaned out the cabin.  They moved into one of the school rental houses.

Teaching at the school became her life from 1991 to 2015.  For several years, life consisted of teaching, building their house, and raising Rowan, after his birth in 1997.  Ellie started teaching second and third grades, but taught many grades, depending on what was needed.  One year she taught kindergarten through fourth grade by herself.  Sometimes she taught music or sewing for the middle school and high school students.


This block print quilt was done by 12 of Ellie’s second and third graders.  Each student carved a linoleum block of an Alaskan animal.  These images were printed on cards, prayer flags and fabric squares.  Ellie then sewed the fabric squares into the quilt, which was auctioned off on July 4, 2014.  Proceeds went to the Gustavus School.


In 1992, they purchased land for their house.  First, they built a small, simple house that is now the shop.  It was their first home for 10 years, until the new house was finally built.

Designing and building the big house was quite a project.  They started by making a list of everything they wanted to include in their dwelling  This list included south-facing windows, a large pantry, and a sewing room.  They went around to neighbors’ houses and measured rooms to determine the size of rooms they liked.  The list was ongoing for four years.

Ellie drew up plans while Rowan was a baby, and they made a scale model out of cardboard.  They then sent the plans to an engineer.  Ellie and Lewis acted as general contractors.  They ordered everything and hired workers for each job.  The building job took a couple of years.  Their builder was Gary Martel, who died, unfortunately, before all the finish work was done.

The sewing room

The sewing room

However, in September of 2004, they moved into

Batik stash

Batik stash

the new house.  Ellie says they moved into an empty space, and gradually moved in their possessions as they needed them.  After living in cramped quarters for 10 years, it was nice to just spread out and enjoy the room.  When Rowan was in second grade, Ellie’s parents came to visit and helped them move.

In 2009, Ellie was one of four finalists for the Alaska Teacher of the Year.  She was selected as the alternate.  She remarks that she’s glad she didn’t win the award, as the person selected had to travel and speak at various events for a full year.

Ellie says she has certain passions for teaching.  They include teaching drama, art, and music to kids.  With elementary students, she likes to tie music in with math.  She says drama and language arts can be used to get young people interested in learning.  She enjoyed teaching cross-country skiing and other outdoor activities with the youngsters, as she felt that being outdoors with them gives them experiences that they can write about.

Ellie met Kathy Hocker (see blog article) through the Artists in Schools program.  Ellie wrote a grant for that program, and over a six-year period brought guest artists /teachers to Gustavus.  Kathy was the first one brought in.  Five years later, she came back for a second time.  Kathy would get the students to look and write, teaching them to be better observers.  She tied writing, science, and art into one good package.  Ellie tried to continue Kathy’s techniques in her own classes.

As the artists would stay with Ellie, she got to know them well.  Other artists included Sarah Conaro, Yvonne Zerbetz, and Diana Berry.


In July of 2013, three women, Ellie Sharman, Sara McDaniel, and Laura Ekins hiked 33 miles up the Chilkoot Trail — a hike with an upward gain of 3,500 feet.  Known by other hikers they met as “the quilters,” the 3 women worked on quilts commemorating their hike.  Mornings before breaking camp, after lunch, and after setting up camp in the evening they sewed on their art quilts.

The fabric forming the background of their quilts shows a jagged line diagonally across the material.  This line represents the people hiking up the snowy Chilkoot Pass in 1898 during the gold rush.  The trio of women, all over 50 years of age, hiked the same route, known as the “Golden Stairs,” which entailed a four-mile, 45-degree uphill hike to the summit.

To learn more about the hike, go to  Read Sara McDaniel’s story and see her many pictures.  Now, these are dedicated quilters!


Ellie retired from teaching in 2015.  She says she’d been too long without travel and needed to go somewhere.  Rowan had a gap year before starting college, so he and Ellie went bicycle touring in Patagonia.  They traveled for two and a half months.

Ellie wanted to take Rowan someplace he’d never been, as he was tired of travelling on the same Gustavus roads every day.  Rowan wanted to go to South America because he spoke a little Spanish.  Ellie wanted Rowan to have the chance to meet people from around the world, and this trip gave him that opportunity.

She says her greatest fear while trekking on the bike included falling off or getting robbed.  Neither of these disasters occurred, but they added horseflies (called tábanos in Spanish) to their list of dreads.  The creatures would put Alaskan mosquitos to shame!

The travelers flew into Puerto Montt in Chile.  There is a region of the Andes along the Chilean-Argentine border that both countries call Patagonia.  A road now stretches from Puerto Montt south for almost 800 miles.  It is called the Carretera Austral.  Though mostly dirt, parts of it are now paved.  This road connects the tiny towns in Chile that used to be much less accessible.  The coast is dotted with small islands, much like Southeast Alaska.

At the end of the road, they reached Villa O’Higgins (founded in 1966, the village name came from Bernardo O’Higgins, a Chilean independence hero.)  The windy, curvy road led them through mountainous areas and in and out of fjords, and included three ferry crossings.  On an average day they traveled about 40 miles; sometimes a shorter distance, depending on the road conditions.  They would find a good place to camp for the night.  There was no charge for “wild” camping or for some of the ferries.

patagonia-cerro-castilloThey visited the Cerro Castillo, mountains with knife-like spires reaching high into the sky.  The region had many lakes.  They wanted to visit the little town of Tortel, but the roads were really bad, so they hid their bikes in some trees, took just what they needed for the night, and hitchhiked there.  They also wished to see the coast.  Tortel is a coastal boardwalk town, reminding them of the small town of Pelican, here in Southeast.  Two other times, when the wind was so strong it tried to blow them off the road, they hitchhiked with the bikes, getting rides in small trucks.  Ellie said with a sly smile, “I taught Rowan to hitchhike.”

They also visited Los Glaciares National Park, an area reminiscent of our Glacier Bay home.  This park includes mountains, large lakes, and woods.  The name refers to glaciers that are formed as part of the largest continentalpatagonia-parque-nacional-los-glaciares ice extension after Antarctica.  In this area are 47 large glaciers and over 200 smaller ones.

Fortunately for the travelers, Rowan could fix broken bikes, and had brought the necessary tools with him.  The rack on his bike broke three times.  Ellie wasn’t too surprised, since he was carrying more than his share of the load.  Towns in the area were rare, so they were fortunate that Rowan was equipped to do repairs.  He also made many friends by repairing bikes for travelers they met along the way.

After they had traveled 800 miles, they met Lewis in Puerto Natales.  Ellie and Rowan sold their bikes and the family spent two weeks backpacking together, at Torres del Paine.

One of the best things about travelling for Ellie is meeting people with common interests from all over the world.  She says, “I like learning from people about their country, and end up learning more about my own.”  She is not into cities, but prefers small towns.  She says it is easier to get around and easier to meet people in the country.  It is also less expensive if one doesn’t stay in the city.  Ellie doesn’t care to stay at a hotel, because you don’t meet people there.  She enjoys staying in hostels, because there is a common area to share with other guests.  Whenever possible, she would stay in someone’s home.  A low budget trip insures that you will get more from the experience.

Ellie has always loved to sew.  She likes the challenge of problem-solving.  She loves colors and fabrics, especially batiks.  She shops for fabrics whenever she is out of Gustavus, and occasionally orders online.  She started quilting about 20 years ago.   She went through a phase of making fabric bowls, calling her business “Bowled Over.”  She found these bowls to be a good teaching device because each bowl had two to four fabrics.  She could experiment with color.  She spends a lot of time picking out fabrics.  She believes that these choices are very important.  She feels you have to love the fabric that goes into the project.

At one time Gustavus was the home of the Salmon River Smokehouse Gallery of Fine Arts and Crafts, a local co-op.  Several local artists showed their work there.  For a couple of years, Ellie made hundreds of bowls.  She also makes bags and pouches.  She always donates something to local auctions, as she says it puts her name out there and is good for business.


Ellie’s current project is making map quilts, Glacier Bay inspired.  She also collaborates with Kathy Hocker, who now lives in Gustavus.  Kathy draws designs of local wildlife that Ellie then incorporates into the art quilt.

If you have ever taken the tour boat cruise up bay, you have undoubtedly received one of their color brochures, which includes a map of Glacier Bay.  This intricate map quilt by Ellie is her tribute to the bay, and is a re-creation in fabric of the map shown in the brochure.


Ellie’s music has been a big part of her life since childhood.  She has now played fiddle for 50 years.  She also plays five-string banjo, as well as other instruments that she won’t admit to, because she says she does not play them that well.  However, her involvement with music is ongoing.  She went to her first Alaska Folk Festival in 1990 and has not missed one since.  At her first one, she played in a contra dance band.  Over her 30 years of attendance, she has usually participated with a stage group, though sometimes she just goes for the dancing or to jam, often playing music most of the night.

Gustavus is fortunate to have so many talented people living here, and Ellie Sharman is one of our blessings.


Van Baker was born in Gig Harbor, WA, on March 7, 1938.  He and his family lived eight miles away in Olalla.  The town had become mostly residential, as most of it was burned during the depression in the 20s.  If a man needed to get out of a failing business, he set a fire to destroy the buildings.  Van lived in Olalla through high school, then went into the Coast Guard.  He went to boot camp in California and then back to Groton, CT, for diesel engine school.

The diesel engine training supplied the reason to join the Coast Guard.  Everyone on Van’s mother’s side of the family was a fisherman, and the occupation interested him from his youth.  He fished with his uncle in 1954 for the first time, purse seining in Alaska, right here in Icy Strait, between Gustavus and Ketchikan.  He fished here with his uncle each summer until he got out of high school.

When Van first started fishing with his uncle in 1954, there were huge icebergs in Icy Strait, hence the name.  By the time Van started fishing on his own boat, in ’64 and ’65, there was still ice but not a large amount, and not as huge in size.  You could pull up to a small berg (about the size of a 16-foot skiff) and knock off chunks to put in the cooler.  Once he got his own boat, Van found an old refrigerator and laid it on its side to be used for a cooler.  A few chunks of iceberg in there kept things cold.

Van went into the Coast Guard in January, 1957.  After 3 months of boot camp, he completed the diesel engine course in another 4 months.  Then he was sent to Grand Isle, Louisiana, at that time the only place in Louisiana where the road went to the beach. There was no other town or habitation close by.  The shore line was all marshy, with no beach access.   Grand Isle had been a main port for the oil industry, but this function was over by the time he arrived.  At that time, the island was the site of a Coast Guard lifeboat station.

In 1959, Van left Grand Isle and went to Kodiak on the vessel Storis.  This  duty occurred before the Kodiak tidal wave.  From Kodiak he was sent to Seattle for a year, where he served on the Seattle buoy tender, the Fir.  When he got out of the service in 1961, he went back to fishing with his uncle.

Two years later, he bought his first fishing boat from a cannery.  He had married Karla Keene in 1 963 and got the boat in Ketchikan right after the earthquake.  At the time he was still purse seining.  He brought the boat to Blaine, fixed it up, got his own crew and fished the boat until 1966, when he moved to Sitka with his family: his wife, Karla, and two children, Kathy and Todd.  He fished in the summer and worked at the pulp mill in Sitka in the winter.  He and Karla divorced in 1968; that winter Van moved to Ketchikan.

The Peasant

Van’s first boat, which he owned from 1964 to 1969, was called the Peasant.  The Peasant  had a very rotten bottom.  It was so bad no one would buy it.  The cannery had taken it back from a Native family in Ketchikan.  It was the last gas-powered seiner in Southeast.  The boat had not been maintained.  An exhaust pipe leaked engine gas fumes into the foc’sle and a young boy died.  (Foc’sle is the standard abbreviation for “forecastle,” or the fore part of a ship, below deck.  The crew often stayed there.)  The cannery gave the boat to Van for $500.00, so Van flew to Ketchikan to get the boat, sight unseen.  He was told it was a good boat, and had the misfortune to believe he had been told the truth.  When he got to town and inspected the boat, he discovered that nothing would run.  The former owners had gotten the oil stove so hot that the top was melted and the stove was warped and sagging.  There had been a fire in a bunk in the pilot house, burning the wood of the bunk.  The high-water mark in the foc’sle was almost knee high.  The oil mark on the wood was ‘way up the side.  When he looked for parts to buy to fix the engine, store owners would ask him which boat.  One man asked how much money he had in the boat.  Van told him $500.00.  “Write it off and go home,” the man said.

Van wasn’t one to give up.  It took him two weeks to get the engine running.  He finished in such good time because he had a friend with a boat that had a large alternator, which would help keep his batteries charged while he worked.  He put the boat on the grid to clean the bottom off.  On the first high tide that came in while he was on the grid, he discovered that the whole forefront of the boat had so much water in it that he had to recork the entire front end, down into the keel.

Once he got the engine running, it seemed reliable.  He prepared to leave to go fishing.  A watchman at the cannery outfitted the boat with many missing supplies — mattresses, pots, pans, dishes — the boat had nothing on it.  “Anyways,” says Van, “this man was a super-good guy who found everything I needed.”

Van met with the cannery representative who sold him the boat.  This man supplied a good solid anchor, fathometer, power block, and various deck equipment he just happened to have as spares.  He’d had a boat that hit a rock and sunk.  He told the cannery it was a total loss; then enlisted friends to help him strip the boat and store the gear.  Thus he saved the equipment and sold it to Van for a very low price.

Before Van and his wife left to go to Blaine, the watchman gave him a box of boat nails, corking cotton, and oakum, to use in case of leaks.  The watchman didn’t think the boat would make it, but it did.  Van got a net and a crew and started fishing.  Van says, “Everything worked fine as long as you didn’t worry about details too much.”  He fished that boat until 1969.

In the spring of 1969, Van came back to Sitka and bought an island.  He had a friend who lived on a small island close to Sitka, and while Van visited him, he learned that the island next to the one owned by his friend was for sale.  Van agreed to buy the island, called Maude Island.  It was about an acre in size.  He bought it for $25,000; sold it in around 1974 for $38,000.  Islands were just beginning to be choice property when he sold it.  Maude Island had a very nice small house, generator shed, docks, and floats.  Van sold it to two young lawyers.  Says Van, “The wife could live on the island, because she could run an outboard and get a skiff back and forth.  Her husband did not even know how to start the outboard.”  These folks kept it for 1 1/2 to 2 years.  They sold it to a man from Sitka who paid $70,000 for it.  The buyer rented out the house, which was heated by a small oil stove.  The renters didn’t bother to maintain the stove, and about a year later, the place burned down because the stove no longer functioned properly.

Van started trolling in 1969.  Once he started trolling, he always fished alone.  Van’s cousin and good friend, Jeff Pfundt, fished herring in Sitka every spring.  One year, one of his crew members, Fred Fayette, wanted to go trolling, and Jeff asked Van if he would teach him how.  So, after the herring season, Fred and his wife came with their boat.  Van showed him where to fish and helped teach him how it was done.  They ended up running together for at least 35 years.  Fred, though, was an experimenter and tried different methods, often quite successfully.  Van stayed with the same fishing method.

A simplified explanation:  Commercial trolling is like fishing with sports gear, but rather than having just one line, the boat can have multiple lines.  There are two (and in some cases, more than two) poles, port and starboard, amidships, that extend out from the vessel.  At intervals, a line of gear snaps on to the main line coming down from the pole.  Thus, the troller can have multiple lines and as many hooks as the depth of the water allows.

The Little Saga

In 1969, while living on the island, Van took the Peasant back to the cannery to retrieve a net he owned.  The cannery told him they didn’t want the Peasant trolling; they wanted it to purse seine only, and they took the boat away from him.  (Interestingly, it never purse seined again.)  So, Van paid all his bills for the winter and went south to look for another boat.  While visiting cousins in Bellingham, he saw an advertisement for a boat that was back in Ketchikan.  He went to see the owner, who lived in Washington, and bought the craft, called the Saga, for $5,000:  $1,000 down; $1,000 a year, no interest.  Again, he bought a vessel he hadn’t seen, and when he returned to Ketchikan in January to look it over, he discovered that it, too, was rotten.  It was a case of not having much money, and taking what you could get.  As it was the first of two boats named the Saga, it came to be known as “the little Saga.”

Van thought he remembered the Saga, but when he looked for it at the dock, it was a different vessel.  The back half was rotten because it had been closed up for so long.  It wasn’t built right and was rigged badly.  The poles on deck were too tall.  Van said that when you stood on the side of the boat, you thought you would tip over because it was top-heavy.  Van shortened the poles to balance the weight.

The stove was in good shape, and started right up.  The engine started the next day without any real problems.  Van put the boat on the grid and discovered blue mussels three inches thick on the bottom.  Once these were removed, he discovered that the entire bottom of the craft from the water line down was completely sheathed in copper.  Therefore, there were no leaks.  However, parts of the back of the boat above the water line were so soft you could have put your foot through them.  Van fished this vessel for two years and then got rid of it.

In mid-January, on his first trip out of Ketchikan with this new boat, Van headed for Sitka.  The weather was below freezing.  The boat had no radio; only a fathometer.  Van was by himself.

He left Ketchikan and put the stabilizers down when he got into Clarence Straits.  About four hours later, the mast fell down and all the poles fell over to the port side of the boat.  In this crippled condition, he finally got into Meyers Chuck, a small town, arriving just before dark.  It had taken him an additional two to three hours to get there.  People there helped him reset the mast and stabilizers.  He took down the trolling poles so he could get the mast back up.  He straightened up the deck as best he could.

The next morning, he left for Petersburg.  It was snowing very hard, so he had to travel by compass to Snow Pass.  Then the weather cleared so he could see.  Though it was cold, the water was calm.  He visited his cousin, Jeff Pfundt, in Petersburg.

The next leg of the trip he also accomplished in one day.  When he left Petersburg the next morning, it was still clear and cold.  He got all the way to the south end of Admiralty Island.  However, Van says, “being young and foolish, I made a mistake.”  The boat had not been used for several years and the fuel tanks had been left empty.  Rust formed along the bottom, inside.  Van did not bring any extra fuel filters.  In calm waters with no sloshing, he was fine.  However, when he tried to cross Chatham Straits, the wind was blowing northerly at least 20 knots down the Straits.  Fortunately, the boat was a stable one.  Half-way across the Straits, the engine started to quit.  Van switched fuel tanks and was able to get to Baranof Warm Springs.  He tied to the float, cleaned the filter, and blew out the fuel lines until the engine was running okay.

Says Van,”Anyways, next morning Young and Stupid gets up.  It’s blowing at least 25 knots northerly.  He starts going north up Chatham.  Between the hot springs and the turn toward Sitka at Peril Straits, the engine quit 5 times.  Each time Young and Stupid had to clean the lines, getting gasoline in the bilge in the process and hoping the boat wouldn’t blow up when he started the engine…and to think I could have soaked all day in that hot tub and waited for the wind to come down.”

At Poison Cove, Van decided to anchor up.  It was the first time he had anchored the boat.  The next morning when he got up, the bay had almost frozen over during the night.  He tried to start the hydraulic anchor winch and discovered that the hydraulic pump was a “haywire operation.”  The engine, a Chrysler Ace four-cylinder gas engine, did not have a power take-off.  (The power take-off refers to any of several methods used for taking power from a power source, such as a running engine, and transmitting it to an application such as a hydraulic pump.)  All the engine had was a sprocket, or gear, on the front.  The pump was mounted on a piece of plywood that was hinged to the side of the boat.  A loop of chain, like bicycle chain, only heavier, hung on a hook on the wall next to the engine.  To make the hydraulic pump work, this loop was hooked over the gear on the pump and the gear on the engine and had to remain tight.  The tightener was a reasonably heavy spring, but it was not strong enough.  When Van started the engine, the chain would jump off the sprocket on the hydraulic pump.  Part of the reason for this problem was that the former owner had used heavy 30-weight oil in the pump, and the oil was too thick to move until well-heated.

The only way Van could get the hydraulics started was to go up on deck, turn the anchor winch valves on, then go back to the hold, and hook  up the chain between the engine and the pump.  He had to brace himself against the side of the boat, put his foot on the pump to keep enough tension on it so the chain would stay in place, and reach up and turn on the engine.  He could barely reach it.  Once he got the engine started, he could hear the anchor coming up.  However, the engine was going too fast, as he had not adjusted the idle down enough.  He had to judge when he could let go of the chain.

Finally, he was able to move his foot and stood up to shut the engine off.  Just then the anchor came over the bow of the boat and off the roller, where there was no mechanism to check the speed, and headed for the wheelhouse windows.  It stopped short of the windows as it reached the end of its chain, and then was jerked back the other way, and crashed into the winch.  Van shut off the engine to undo the mess.

It took Van another day to get to Sitka.  Fortunately, he was now in calm inside waters, and the rest of the trip went smoothly.

Van met Carole in Sitka on a blind date.  Another island friend was married to a woman who ran the lab in the Public Health Service hospital on Mount Edgecombe.  Carole was working at a temporary position there.  When Van’s friends invited him to dinner, he met Carole.  They were married in 1970.  Carole quit work after their marriage and went fishing with her husband on the little Saga.  Their son, Lee, was born in Sitka in November of 1972.  Carole and fishing didn’t get along together too well, as Carole was often seasick.  After the baby was born, she stopped fishing.

Carole interjected a story about a little cat that they took fishing with them.  On its first trip out in the boat, it jumped overboard and swam to shore.  On its second trip, it jumped overboard again, but they were farther from shore, and had to rescue the cat from the water.  It simply didn’t take to fishing.  Finally, once when they were docked in Tenakee, the cat jumped ship.  The couple stayed in the area for a time, looking for the cat; trying to lure it with food, but never did find it.  Sometime later, when Van went on a hunting trip with some friends, including a man from Tenakee, the man told him that the cat had found some friends of his, moved in, and they adopted him.

Van and Carole came to Gustavus to visit Van’s uncle, Cecil Pfundt.  It was a beautiful day in late August, 1973.  The strawberries were ripe and plentiful and many flowers bloomed.  Carole was impressed by the place.  Van’s uncle said that Fred Matson had land

Under construction

for sale for $750 an acre.  They bought an acre that day, and came back the next week and bought the rest of the piece of land, about 2 1/2 acres total.  They spent their first winter in the house that is now called Aimee’s Guest House.  They lived there while they built their present house.  They started building in the fall and moved in the next spring.  In bountiful Gustavus fashion, it rained over 30 inches when they were trying to close in the house.

They owned their third boat by then.  The second boat, the 32-foot little Saga, Van purchased just after he married Carole.  In 1970, they bought the big Saga, a 40-foot boat.  Because of a fuel shortage at the time, Van couldn’t get another credit card with a different boat name on it.  As they needed the card to buy fuel for the boat, they gave the new boat the same name.

The Big Saga

The big Saga was a 40-foot boat with a navy hull.  It had been made into a yacht by a man in Seattle.  Van bought it in Seattle, loading it with things to bring home.  The fishing hold was full of new purchases.  Van remarked, “Thank goodness it was heavy!  It supplied ballast.  The boat had a narrow bottom and didn’t draw much water.  It rolled a lot.  Carole, their son, Lee, and their friend from the neighboring island in Sitka were with them.  The trip was uneventful all the way from Seattle until they got to an island south of Petersburg.  A north wind was blowing out of the Stikine River and it got really rough going into Wrangell Narrows.  Once into the Narrows, a boat passed them, the first one they had seen on the whole trip.  The Saga was quite a fast boat.  Just as they got into Petersburg, they realized they were going very slowly.  Their reduction gear had gone out when they went into Wrangell Narrows.  They pulled into Petersburg and all flew to Sitka.  Van had to take out a loan to buy the reduction gear.  He then flew back to Petersburg to do the repair work, and then brought the boat to Sitka.

Now that they had another boat, Van stripped all the gear off the little Saga

House and fireweed

and put it on the new boat.  He then sold the little Saga.  The new boat was a good fishing boat, though it was 3/4 living space and 1/4 fishing space.  In Gustavus, mooring was a problem, as there was no real boat harbor.  Van kept it in Bartlett Cove for a couple of years.  Then he had a cradle made for it and hauled it out on the Gustavus side for a couple of years.  Being a wooden boat, it was hard to maintain.

They had the big Saga until 1980.  At that time Van had a brand-new boat built in Port Angeles, the Apex, at 37 feet.  The boat was named the Apex  because Van’s grandfather had a boat with the same name.  Van’s uncle had fished with his father and brother on the original Apex, so the name carried forward a family tradition.

The new boat had no breakdowns or problems the entire time Van had it.  Everything on the boat worked.  It was fiberglass, so was low maintenance.  It remained a good boat for the 30 years that Van fished it.  He sold the boat and permit about four years ago.

The Apex

Van said it was an excellent fishing boat, once you got used to the ride.  There is a big difference between wooden boats and fiberglass vessels.  Wooden boats are slower and heavier.  Fiberglass boats are much quicker to turn and to roll.

The Saga’s steering wheel and pilot house were at the back of the boat.  On the new boat, the wheel and house were right in front, so the navigator would feel the action of the boat in the water a little more.  Van had to make a few adjustments in figuring out how to store things in the boat or how to place the gear.  It took a while to get used to this faster craft, rather than the slower-moving wooden boat.

Other than setting the engine, Van did all the work on the boat himself:  Plumbing; wiring; hydraulics.  It was one of the few boats he’d been on that never had a mechanical problem that stopped him from fishing.  He had dealt with all the problems on his other boats, and knew what to do right.  The only time he ever lost time from fishing was when he finally had to put in a new engine.  The manufacturer had made an error in putting together the new one, and created some maintenance problems.

In the early days, fish were iced, so the boat carried several tons of ice.  Normally the boat fished 7 days, with one day to get out to the fishing grounds and one day to get back.  The rest of the time Van fished, until the boat was loaded.

With the Apex, Van iced the same way the first years.  Then he changed to “slushing” fish.  He made an ice slush for the fish in insulated totes on deck.  This method shortened the trip to three days.  It was much less work than icing fish in the hold, and the fish were better-quality.  Van delivered to one of the cold storage places in Sitka, usually the Sitka Sound Cold Storage.  He could also deliver to tenders on a “buying scow.”  The canneries built 50-foot wooden scows that could be loaded with fish from the fleet, for delivery.  The cold storage company bought some of these scows so they could put them in out-of-the-way places, allowing fishermen to deliver every day if they wished.  The cold storage companies sent regular tenders to pick up the fish once a week from the scows.

When Van first started trolling, the season often ran seven days a week.  Later, when Limited Entry was introduced, the season was shorter, sometimes open for just a few days.  Van mostly fished in summers, starting in April and fishing through September.  Winter was for home projects.  During the season, weather was a determining factor in deciding to fish.  Van didn’t fish if the winds were over 25 knots.  He says it seems that since the late ’60s, the weather has gotten worse than it had been in earlier years.

One of Van’s home projects involved building a fine little shop for Carole’s artwork.  Van says he located it originally behind their house.  It was only half the size of the present shop.  Van constructed the place to teach his son, Lee, how to build a house.  A few years later, when Carole wanted a shop, Van put skids under the structure and Morgan DeBoer came over with his front-loader and dragged it to its present location.  Van says that he had a floor out of another building that was exactly the same size as the one in the little house, too good to throw away, so he placed it next to the small place and added a new addition.

The shop

Out on the grounds, the fisherman could not always tell if he had picked an area where he would find lots of fish, until he put his gear down and checked it out.  One year Fred and Van both anchored up in a bay the day before the season opened on July 1.  Six other boats also lay at anchor in the bay, awaiting the opener.  The next morning, they discovered themselves amidst a fish bonanza.  The fish were so thick they could barely keep up with catching and cleaning.  They got 180 fish the first day.  As soon as the opening started in the morning, one of the boats in the bay, who was a highliner and part of a “code group,” all highliners, called the group, who were scattered up and down the coast, and told them about the fish-filled bay.  These boats would leave their spot and head for the bay, and when they did, the boats nearby would follow them.  By noon there were 65 boats in the bay.  By evening, there were many more.  Van and Fred stayed for two days and were pretty full, so they left, not wanting to work anymore in an area that was so crowded.

Once when Van was out on the Apex, waiting for an opener, he decided to do a little beachcombing.  He pulled into a cove and used his field glasses to search the beach.  Down on one end, he noticed the bright orange color of a survival suit, and left the boat to go and investigate.  The suit appeared to be full of sand, but when Van cut a hole in the leg of the suit, he found denim fabric with a leg still inside.  He called the Coast Guard, who flew over and dug the body up.  He never did find out who it was.

The Apex made two trips a year to Juneau to get groceries and supplies.  On these trips, generally a couple of extra people went along, and everyone loaded up with freight.  For the rest of the time Van took her trolling until he retired four years ago.

Van named his final boat well.  By the time he had the Apex ready to fish, Van had figuratively completed his schooling and built his boat to qualify for his Fisheries PhD.  It might be an imaginary degree, but considering the amount of knowledge he gained, the comparison is apt.  Not only did he know how to fish, but he understood exactly how his boat operated and became well-acquainted with all of its varied gear.  More importantly he knew the proper way to assemble it all.  He knew fishing regulations and had his favorite fishing spots.  He could repair most things and kept a cool head in emergencies.  He held in his memory all the specifics he needed for his chosen career.

Van Baker is one of a vanishing breed of men.  Not that many years ago, it was possible for a man to provide for his family by making fishing his career.  These days the “little guy” who wants to fish as a lifestyle has been largely displaced by big boats fishing for big money.  A few hardy souls still fish by themselves or with a small crew but, sadly, that era may soon be just a memory.  Thank you, Van, for keeping the dream alive for a few years longer.  You are a part of a host of hardy Alaskans who have helped develop the Alaskan fisheries and our way of life


When Jack Lesh and his family moved to Gustavus in 1965, it was quite a different place from today’s community.  Though we are still a small town, the modern world has made its way here, and changed this little place a great deal.

The family got to Juneau in 1960.  In 1961, Jack and Sally came to Gustavus for the first time, and spent a night at the Gustavus Inn.  Later that same year, they came back with the whole family and camped near the river.  They came back every summer after that, until their move.  They wanted to move here, but at that time didn’t know how they would make a living.  Then, in 1965 the owners of the Gustavus Inn decided they wanted to leave, so the Leshes bought the property.

Before they purchased the inn, the family spent four summers visiting Gustavus, and they needed a place to stay while they were here.  In Juneau,they bought a wannigan that sat on a log float on a beach there.  They brought it to Gustavus and got permission from a resident to put it next to the river.  Thus, when they came over in summer after that first year, they had a place to live.  Later they acquired the land where Jack’s present house stands, and moved the wannigan to higher ground.  When they bought the inn, they moved there, to an upstairs apartment with three bedrooms and a bath.  However, the wannigan, fixed as living quarters, furnished a temporary home to a number of people over the years.  The wannigan did not have running water or a bath.  There was an outhouse close by.  They had to haul all their water, but a sink inside allowed them to dump grey water, which ran outside through a pipe.

wanigan(Note:  Out of curiosity, I looked up “wannigan.”  Outside of Alaska, it refers to a wooden box for carrying supplies, such as that carried on a canoeing trip.  In Alaska, it means a small house or bunkhouse mounted on skids, and then towed to where it was needed.)

The Gustavus Inn started because it became a solution to a problem.  After World War  II,  commercial airlines flew between Juneau and Seattle.  At times the weather would be bad, and incoming flights would divert to Gustavus until the weather cleared.  During their wait, passengers walked around to see the community.  They would walk to the inn, which was at the time a private home, and ask for a cup of coffee.  At times the plane would be forced to stay the night.  Then the passengers would stay at the residence.  To accommodate these guests, the owners moved a Quonset to the inn site and attached it to the house.  The Quonset had four rooms on each side of a central hallway.  Each room had two cots and two bureaus.  There was no bath.  Guests could walk into the main part of the house to visit a lady’s or men’s rest room.  Later, a shower room was built.  The accommodations remained that way until Dave Lesh bought the inn in 1980.  Then the Quonset was moved away and Dave added a new section.  He also enlarged the second floor and added a third.  Each room had a private bath.

In 1965, one had to charter a plane to fly to Gustavus.  The original dock was there, now replaced by the modern state-built dock.  A freight boat arrived weekly.  It carried no passengers.  The freight boat in operation when the Leshes first moved here was called “The Forester.”  A later boat, called the “Betty R,” took over the freight hauling duties.  Groceries, fuel and heating oil came on the small freighter.  As the inn was one of a few places in Gustavus with full-time power, they used a great deal of fuel oil.  There was a fuel outlet in Elfin Cove on Chichagof Island, about a 25-30 mile run.  Jack would load 20 empty drums onto the freighter, which would go to Elfin Cove, get them filled, and return.  Then Jack hauled five of them at a time with a tractor and trailer to the inn.

Grocery orders had to be sent to Juneau.  There was no phone at that time, so folks would have to write out their list and mail it to town.  Later, when phones were installed, orders could be called in.

Around 50 people lived in the area when Jack’s family arrived.  Five people lived at the park, and the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) accounted for around 25 people, all working at the fully-staffed airport.  Homesteading families made up the rest of the population.

In 1965, there were no phones.  Wires had been strung to 3 or 4 centrally located homesteads; batteries provided power, with an old-fashioned crank phone with a ringer hooked to it.  Each homestead had its own ring pattern, so the homesteader could tell if the call was for him.  Of course, if someone wished to listen in on a neighbor’s conversation, they could just pick up the receiver and hear it all.  Then, for a couple of years, there was one phone in a phone booth installed at the inn.  It could be used for collect calls only.  In the late 60s, the phone booth got moved to the post office.  Then someone in Juneau bought it and put it in their house.  Rumor has it that the Parkers bought it back from the Juneau owner and returned it to Gustavus.  Eventually, it will be on public display with other historical artifacts.

In 1967 or ’68, Alaska Coastal Airways made scheduled runs to Gustavus with a Grumman Goose, an 8-passenger amphibian plane from the ’30s that was used to transport troops during World War II.  A versatile plane, it could land on the water, but then it could motor up onto land, making loading and unloading easier.  The Goose landed at the airport here.  Sally became the Gustavus agent.  To send reservations and to keep up with flight information, the company installed a teletype at the inn.  At night, the Lesh children would play on the teletype, calling their friends in other communities.  Sometimes a message would come through to get off the teletype so a message could be sent.  Oh, well — children will play!

In the 70s the community got its first local airline, Glacier Bay Airways.  This airline was started by a former Juneau pilot, “Gildy” Gildersleeve, who ran things for a couple of years.  Then another man, Art Hayes, took over and piloted for about five years.  All charter flights from Juneau were on float planes.  Sometimes when the Leshes came home with a load of freight, the plane would taxi up the river so they didn’t have to carry things so far.

The first grocery store was started around 1980.  Jesse Buoy, the owner, first lived with her family at Rink Creek before there was a road.  She had to drive the beach at low tide to get home.  Finally, she moved to town and opened the store.  The small establishment started across the river from Jack, and eventually moved to a new location.

Rink Creek’s road started first as a logging road in the 1960s.  Logging started around the time the Leshes arrived.   Then, when settlers began moving in, locals (mostly the Buoy family) started developing the road.

The original homesteaders had gardens.  They also raised beef cattle, fished, and hunted deer, and the land provided.  Before the Lesh’s move, there were numerous fish processors in the area.  As all the fish was hand-packed, these small processors furnished several jobs.  Unfortunately, they were all gone before 1965.  Salaried jobs in Gustavus were scarce.  Some men fished, or hauled freight with their boats.  Small sawmills provided earnings for a few.  People worked at whatever they could find to do.

The community had no paved roads.  The park lodge was built in 1966.  The construction crew lived at the inn for about six months.  Visitors came into the airport in Gustavus and took a bus to the park.  The road in the park in the early days was pretty primitive, with only two dirt tracks.  After the lodge was built, a tour boat started trips up the bay.  Then, construction of the new road began.  During the early years, Ken Youmans, father of present Gustavus resident Aimee Youmans, came here from Sitka to be the park maintenance man.  He lived in a tent for five summer seasons.

Water for the town came from wells.  The only public utility was electricity, which was installed in the mid-70s.  The FAA had

Laundry day

generators at the airport, but they only shared power with the school and the FAA housing, then called the “compound.”

At the time of the Lesh’s arrival, there was a school in town.  That first school consisted of a two-room building, with a classroom on one side and the teacher’s living quarters on the other.  A VW minibus picked up students, driving out to the park to get the children there.  At that time, there were ten students total in the school.

The post office has had a number of homes.  When the Leshes purchased the inn, it was located in a small building across the driveway.  The building was moved at one time, onto Wilson Road close to where the Quonset now stands.  Then for three or four years it lived in a former FAA building, now usually referred to as “the old pre-school building.”  At the end of that period, a new building went up, and the post office moved into its present quarters.

To provide entertainment, people threw dancing parties or potlucks.  A movie came to town quite regularly, and was shown sometimes at the inn and sometimes at a FAA building at the compound.

Jack was instrumental in starting an organization known as the Gustavus Community Association, or GCA, as it was called.  The association focused on the organization of community or cooperative projects.  Then, city government finally arrived.  The original city hall was built as a church camp building, and later moved to its present location.  It housed the library before the city government was established.  Then, in 2004, Gustavus was incorporated, and took over the building.

An original homestead of 160 acres included the land where the inn was built.  On the homestead, around 12 to 15 cattle were raised for meat.  The Lesh children helped with the feeding.  One of the cows would occasionally have a calf, and the calf often went to the children as payment for their labor.  The family ended up with a small “herd” of 4 or 5 cows of their own.  Finally, Sally decided the cows should be sold.  They were sold “on the hoof.”  Buyers came with private planes, slaughtered the cattle, and took them back to Juneau..

The cattle were not the only animals the family had.  They also owned chickens, goats, sheep, and ducks.  Betsy had a horse for a number of years.  The Lesh’s animals would have to have winter feed, so every summer the long grass in the big field next to the inn would be cut.  Once cut and raked, it would be loaded into a large hay wagon and stored in the barn behind the inn.  It often amused the guests to help load the hay wagon, and then ride on it to the barn.

In the old days in Gustavus, everyone knew each other, so it seemed natural to wave at your neighbors when you passed them on the road.  Even though our community is now much larger, people still wave to each other on the road.  Maybe it’s someone you don’t know yet, but if you live here, chances are you will soon meet.  Waving is a nice reminder that we still live in a small town.

Jack has a liking for language and grammar.  He learned Esperanto about the time he came to Gustavus.  He spoke it fluently; in fact, he made three trips to Europe for Esperanto conventions or meetings.  Because these gatherings always took place in the summer, it was hard for Jack to go because he couldn’t easily leave the inn.  This problem led to the end of his Esperanto studies, and he learned Spanish instead, so he could go to Mexico in the winter.

On the first trip to Mexico, Jack and Sally took the two youngest children, Tom and Betsy.  At the time, there was a train from Tijuana into Mexico.  The Leshes traveled on the train to Mazatlan, then took a ferry from Mazatlan to La Paz.  They liked the beaches there, but couldn’t drive to Baja until the road opened a few years later.  For four or five years, they would spend three or four months in Baja, camping on the beaches.  They traveled in a pickup with a camper.  They stayed in a primitive trailer park in La Ribera (between La Paz and Cabo San Lucas, on the Sea of Cortez) and got to know the area and the locals.  Then Jack won a drawing in the year 2000 for a free trip anywhere that Alaska Airlines flew, so they went back to Mexico.  At that time, they found a small house in La Ribera that they could rent year-round for a low fee.  They had this place for five years.

Shortly before renting the house in La Ribera, they bought a trailer.  They had become friends with people who raised mangos on an up-country farm, and they got permission to move the trailer there, and stayed in it from time to time.  Unfortunately, they never visited when the mangoes were ripe.

In 1975, Jack sold the inn to his daughter, Sal, and her husband, Tom McLaughlin.  The McLaughlins ran it for four or five years, and then sold it in 1980 to their brother, Dave.  Now that Jack no longer owned the inn, he needed something else to keep him busy.  He went to work for Alaska Discovery, an outfitter organized by Hayden Kaden, who is from our community.  Jack served as a guide on excursions by kayak into Glacier Bay.  They first started with kleppers, collapsible kayaks that folded into bags.  At the beach a float plane would drop them off, the guides put the kayaks together and everyone traveled up-bay and back, camping for seven days.  Then they would be picked up at the same spot where they started the trip.  Later, they used firm-structured kayaks, transporting them and guests to the drop-off spot by tour boat.  The boat would start at Bartlett Cove and travel up the east arm.  Kayaks, guests and guide disembarked, and were then picked up at the same spot a week later.  They hauled all their food and camping supplies with them.  Jack says that the trips were fun, unless it rained all seven days.  This excursion adventure is still ongoing.

Salmon Roe House

In 1980, Jack started building their house.  They had been living in a small cabin on their land, named “Salmon Roe,” and now rented by Connie Edwards.  At the time, it had two little rooms, no electricity, an outhouse, and a pump in the kitchen for water.  Sally grew tired of living there, and told Jack they needed to build a house. Since they didn’t have money to buy building supplies, Sally said she would get a job to pay for it.  She worked for the ferries and also as a chef at the Governor’s Mansion in Juneau.  Since she worked to pay for construction materials, Jack said he felt obligated to build her a house.  He built it himself, with help from his sons and his son-

A bend in the river

in-law.  In 1984 they finally moved in.  They named this new house “meandro,” which means “a bend in the river.”

When the owners of the Gusto Building Supply decided to sell in 1986, Jack and his son, Jim, bought the business and ran it until 1992.  The business was not profitable enough to satisfy Jim, who is an excellent finish carpenter.  He found he could make more working as a carpenter, so they sold the business.

The new house

In 1995, Jack went to work for Dave at the inn.  He started as a maintenance man.  “I fixed all the things I did wrong originally,” says Jack.  When he got too old to crawl around under buildings, he ran the office for about five years, doing all the necessary paperwork, including payroll, reservations, and sometimes chauffeuring guests.

In 2008, Jack retired and became a gardener.  He especially likes growing trees and bushes, but has plenty of garden space and a small greenhouse.  His favorite annual is peas.  He grows enough to last him through the winter.  He also likes to grow salad greens and kale.  He has a bed of cultivated strawberries.

Jack Lesh has lived a full and varied life, and has contributed much of value to the community of Gustavus.  Thank you, Jack,, for sharing some high points of your story with us.


This story is the first of two about Jack Lesh, one of our oldest Gustavus residents.  This first part covers his life up to 1965, when he and his family moved to Gustavus. The second part will be about Gustavus, and Jack’s life here.  Read on and enjoy!

Jack Lesh was born in Chicago in 1922, the first-born in his family.  At age two, he moved with his family to Berwyn, IL, a suburb west of Chicago.  He lived there until he graduated from 8th grade.  Then they all moved to Oak Park, IL, because the town had a much better high school.  When it came time for college, his folks didn’t have much money.  Jack enrolled in Antioch College in Ohio for 6 months until he ran out of funds.  He then worked for 6 months and earned enough to go back to college for a year.

Antioch held their school year all year, in 10-week divisions.  The students would go to school for 10 weeks; then to a job for 10 weeks, giving students experience in doing a job in an unfamiliar place.  Personnel would find the jobs for all the students in the program, with the purpose of teaching them to be on their own.  Jack liked having the work experience part of the curriculum.  It gave him a chance, however small, to earn some money while in school.

Jack’s going to Antioch turned out to be a pivotal point in his life.  Of course, one reason was because he met Sally Townsend, who became his lifetime partner, while there.  It also had to do with Antioch itself.  Jack enrolled there because the tuition was more affordable than at other schools.  He did not realize until he spent time there that his core beliefs and developing world view meshed beautifully with Antioch’s philosophy.

The college was founded on the belief in social and gender equality.  The school was the first United States college to designate a woman as full professor.  They fostered independent study and independent thinking.  According to Wikipedia, Antioch believed in the development of the individual as a whole.  Thus, the students’ work/study experience gave them a chance to take care of themselves in a new environment.  Students were expected to achieve educational goals through programs designed to create social change.  They were given a great deal of responsibility for shaping their own education, with course-work being collaborative and experiential.

Jack reminisced to me about Antioch.  He said they did not participate in major sports leagues, nor did they have fancy dress-up dances, such as proms.  The school did participate in sports as part of their physical education program.  Each floor of the dorms was a separate “house.”  Each house had its own team.  Also, as someone had donated a large tract of forest adjacent to the campus, it provided a place for hiking and bicycling.

Academic quality at Antioch was very high, and completely run on a spirit of honesty.  Students took final exams to their rooms to complete.  They were assumed to be honest.  Jack found the spirit of trust in the students to be very refreshing.  A great deal of camaraderie, existed between students and teachers, as there was more fraternizing between them than at other schools.  Students and teachers got to know each other well, so the relationship was comfortable.  A general idea prevailed that we are all searching for something.  We are all equal, with no difference between faculty and student.

As part of his work-study program, Jack did two jobs with Arco Paint Company.  The first one was in the mail room.  Next, he worked as an assistant in the paint lab, which developed special paints, commercially produced for certain kinds of use.  At another  job, he worked half-time at the campus coffee shop, which he managed.  As luck would have it, Sally came to work for Jack.  At closing, they had to clean up, so they would turn on the nickelodeon and dance.  In 1942, they  married, and danced together for many years.

In 1943, Jack got drafted, and took his army basic training.  When this training was completed, the army did not need any more infantry in Europe, so Jack was enrolled in a program that provided aptitude tests, followed by college classes.  Jack attended colleges in New York City for this program, including Fordham and New York University.  At the end of six months, the army again needed infantrymen.  He was sent to an army base in New Jersey, where he worked in a medical dispensary as a Physician’s Assistant.

As testing showed that Jack had an aptitude for medicine, he was sent to medical school for six months.  He attended Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, in New York.  When the six months ended, the war was over, and Jack was discharged while he was in school.

By this time the couple had two children, Mike and Pete.  Sally worked and Jack got the G.I. bill for money to help with college.  He finished medical school in New York.  For the last two years of school he worked as a med-tech in the hospital.

Jack graduated from medical school in 1949.  By now, he and Sally had their third child, Jonathan.  Jack did his internship at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, MI.  Interns got paid very little.  Because he had a family to feed, Jack interned at the hospital that paid the most.  He joined the Air Force as a lieutenant.  The Air Force paid for a year of internship in exchange for two years of service.  He did his two years immediately after he graduated, at Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane, WA.  When he was discharged, his debt was paid.

The Lesh family went to Falmouth, MA.  They liked the West, and would have gone to Sand Point, Idaho, but the doctor there did not welcome them, as his son would be working there soon, so another doctor was not needed.  Jack had heard of an opportunity in Falmouth, which he decided to check out.  He found two other doctors with different specialties, and they started a clinic, called the Falmouth Medical Association.  He worked in this clinic for 10 years.

Jack started at Falmouth as a General Practitioner, but every doctor practicing obstetrics had quit, because Jack said he would do these cases.  Also, the Air Force was short on physicians, so they would pay for dependents to go to a regular doctor.  Consequently, Jack became almost a full-time obstetrician, even though it was not his area of expertise.

Jack had always loved to sail.  In high school, he belonged to the Sea Scouts, who had a powerboat on Lake Michigan.  Through that contact, Jack met a gentleman in Chicago who had a sailboat that he chartered on weekends.  Jack served as a crewman for three summers and learned how to sail on Lake Michigan.

In Falmouth, Jack would rent a sailboat for the day when he had time off.  Sally would accompany him when she could.  One nice, sunny day Jack and Sally went sailing.  Jack asked Sally for a cigarette, and she said, “Didn’t you bring the cigarettes?”  No, Jack didn’t have them, so they went back home to get them.  This incident prompted then to quit smoking.

Jack’s mural

These days, Jack has a special sailing reminder on his living room wall, at the end of the room opposite his favorite chair.  Connie Edwards, our local health aide, had been painting and redecorating Jack’s kitchen.  Connie asked local artist Jess Mulligan to paint some sunflowers above a shelf.  They turned out so well that  Jack asked Jess to do a mural.  She painted a lovely scene showing serene water surrounded by lush nature, and in the center of the water rests a sailboat.  Its name is the “Lesh Go,” which was the name of the traveling school bus that brought the family to Alaska.  Jack says he always wanted to sail around the world, so now he can sit in his chair, look at that beautiful mural, and take an imaginary sail anywhere he wants to go.

Near the end of their 10 years in Falmouth, Jack accepted a patient who was single and pregnant, and who did sketches to support herself.  By then, the Lesh family included eight children.  The young artist, Zada Clark, sketched all eight of the children to pay her obstetrics fee.  Those eight drawings, now mounted in a single frame, hang on one wall of Jack’s living room.  The children in the drawings, from oldest to youngest, were Mike, Pete, Jonathan, James, David, Sally, Betsy, and Tom.

The children

The hospital was 20 miles away from Falmouth, so going to and from work involved a lot of driving.  Being on the beach, the town quadrupled in size in the summer, going from  8,000 to 30,000 residents.  Jack and Sally started thinking about a western move.  They decided Alaska was the Far West, so they planned a trip there.  Of course, they would have to go North for a long way before they went West, and they had to traverse most of Canada first.  They bought a school bus and refurbished it and left for Alaska in 1959.  They had thought about coming earlier, but Sally refused to make the trip until the last baby was out of diapers.  The bus migration included Jack, Sally, and the eight children.

The family traveled in the school bus because it was affordable, and the only solution they could find for moving a big family to Alaska.  No way could they pay to fly 10 people here!  No car was big enough to hold everyone.  So they made a shopping trip to Boston, where they found several buses to choose from in a used car lot.  They bought the used school bus.  Jack’s oldest son, Michael, and Jack remodeled the vehicle for the trip.  They took out most of the seats and built shelving for storage.

The remodelers also made a teepee.  Sally made a cover for it out of canvas.  As the school bus had been used as a “band bus,” it was equipped with a large rack on top for all the musical instruments.  The teepee and poles rode up there, along with the family canoe.  At night, once a camping spot had been selected, the boys would put up the teepee.  They became very good at this job; they would have their bedroom set up in a few minutes.  All 5 of the older boys slept in the teepee.  Sally, Jack, and the baby slept in a small tent.  The two young girls slept in the bus.

They drove the Trans-Canada Highway, the main artery East and West across Canada, from Montreal to Alberta.  This road was paved.  From Alberta to British Columbia, they took the Yellowhead Trail.  This section of road was not paved, and provided an adventurous segment of their journey, as it was a one-lane road, used frequently by logging trucks.  When they met one of these, they would have to back up to one of the frequent turn-outs provided.  There was only one settlement on this entire stretch of road.

The trip took them 60 days, from Falmouth to Juneau.  On the first part of the journey, they made steady progress, but when they got to British Columbia, they would find a place they liked and camp for several days.

On the second or third day of their trip, they were in a state park in Ontario.  A river ran through the park, parallel to the road.  The river drained into a lake where they would camp for the night.  The ranger there assured them that the river was a very calm one, so they took the canoe off the bus, and Jack and Dave, then about 6, took the canoe down the river while Sally drove the bus to the camp.  Jack and Dave had not gone far when they hit some fast-flowing rapids.  The canoe overturned, throwing Jack and little Dave into the water.  Jack grabbed his son and the two made it to safety.  They retrieved the canoe and returned it to the water below the rapids.  However, Jack lost his camera to the river.  When they again saw the ranger, they scolded him for not telling them about the rapids.  “Oh, I forgot about that first little bit,” he said.

On a side trip through a Canadian national park, they saw a sign alongside the road, pointing to an uphill trail.  It said, “Typical Mountain Sheep Habitat.”  They got out and looked up where the sign pointed.  About 20 yards away, a sheep stood on a rock and looked down at them.  Those Canadians sure know how to post accurate signs!

If you would like to read more about the Lesh family trip in the school bus, look for Sally Lesh’s book, Lunch at Toad River.  It’s a good read.  Sally also wrote another book titled  All My Houses, which outlines her history by following the trail of houses she lived in over the years.

When they finally arrived in Alaska, they liked it, and drove almost everywhere they could drive.  Homer appealed to them, except the doctor there had someone else in mind for his clinic, and did not want them there.  They stayed for a while in the Eagle River Campground.  A neighboring family at the campground came from Juneau, and suggested they go there.  The Leshes had read an article in the Alaska Sportsman about Gustavus, showing a picture of the inn and cows in the foreground.  The city of Juneau was not far away.  So Jack flew to Juneau, where he interviewed at two clinics.  Both of them offered him a job, so he took one of them, and the family moved.  While living in Juneau, they visited Gustavus and stayed at the Gustavus Inn.  Jack wanted to work there, but didn’t know how they could afford to live there.  So, he worked at the Juneau clinic for two years.  The doctors at the two clinics had an antipathy toward each other, which created an unpleasant atmosphere.  Jack didn’t want to be part of it, so he quit the clinic.

Then, the Health and Welfare Department in Juneau hired Jack to serve as their medical person for all of Southeast Alaska.  He worked on 2 federal programs:  Maternal and Child Health, and Crippled Children’s Services. Being federal programs, they had a requirement that the employee had to have a Master’s in Public Health.  Jack had to go to Berkeley, CA, for 1 year to get this degree.  The whole family accompanied him.  Jack says that this new job was bureaucratic, requiring him to work in an office most of the time, and doing very little doctoring.

The Gustavus Inn

In 1965, drawn by that article they had read in the Alaska Sportsman, they decided to move to Gustavus.  They bought the Gustavus Inn.  However, they couldn’t survive on what they made from the inn at that time, so Jack spent four days a week at the state health department; then home again to do needed repairs to the inn.  After about four years, he quit working for the state.  For a time he covered the practices of doctors from other Southeastern towns when they went on vacation.  On one of these trips back to Falmouth to cover for a former partner, the whole family went along, and they bought a second school bus.  They wanted it to drive guests at the Gustavus Inn back and forth to the airport. Jack and two of the boys drove the bus back, and Sally and the other children flew home.  Jack quit his clinic work in the early 70s.

When they first bought the Gustavus Inn, it had 8 bedrooms.  Jack set one of them up as an examining room, buying doctor’s furniture from a man in Juneau.  He put out the word that he was open for business.  At the time, Gustavus only had about 50 residents.  After having his office open for three months, Jack had seen only two or three patients.  It turned out to be more lucrative to rent the room as a bedroom.

Jack told me that he loved practicing medicine, but he didn’t want to live in a city to do so.  After the Gustavus move, he drifted out of his medical practice because he had found the place where he wanted to live and a lifestyle that brought him happiness.

“To what do you attribute your long life?” I asked Jack.  “Part of it is because I’ve inherited good genes,” he answered.  “My mother lived to age 93.  I believe your emotional attitude is important, too.  I have a zest for living and I am happy.  I eat a healthy diet and lead a physically active life.”

We are glad you brought your family to Gustavus, Jack.  You are an inspiration to us all!


After asking Kathy Hocker if I could interview her for this blog, I realized that writing about her would be a challenge.  She has so many talents!  How could I do justice to all of them?

Then we did the interview, and I discovered that it would be easy to cover all her talents because she uses them to create the whole of who she is and what she does.

Kathy’s field is science; her college major was forest ecology.  During the interview it became clear that she has her feet firmly planted in the natural world.  Every one of her varied talents — art, writing, editing, teaching — become tools she uses to enhance her commitment to the observation, study, and understanding of the world we live in.  Her singing weaves it all together.

Kathy Hocker was born in Las Cruces, NM in 1968.  After three years the family moved to Edinburgh, Texas, at the very southern tip.  When Kathy was six, they all moved to Juneau.  Kathy has been in Alaska ever since, except for college and a brief time in California.

She went to Harvard, where she majored in forest ecology.  She was interested in biology, and hoped to find her niche there.  She got a bachelor’s from Harvard (they call it an AB.)  She really wasn’t excited about a master’s in science, but she realized that the path that made her happiest was the one that allowed her to share the beauty and poetry of science.  She explains as follows:

1.  She sees science as a way to understand the world, calling it a natural and elegant function of our psyches.  She says that the  fundamentals of science flow in our consciousness.

2.  It is her belief that science reveals beauty.  She says, “Even during field work, you are in the middle of a wonderful opportunity to notice things of beauty.  Being in a very careful state of observing leaves you open to seeing, hearing, and experiencing the beauty around us.  There is beauty in the fundamental nature of the universe.  You can see lovely symmetry, balance, and interconnections between all things.”

In 1992, Kathy went to California, where she taught at an environmental school.  Several counties in the state have outdoor facilities with cabins.  She worked with students who were all from schools in Shasta County.  The program was based in Whiskeytown, California, near Mt. Shasta.  Kathy took these fifth and sixth graders on hikes where she would teach them about natural history.  She worked with each group of students for one week.  There were enough schools in the county to allow her to teach classes for the entire school year.

In the natural history classes, Kathy taught concepts, but, more important, she taught students how to be, out in the natural world:  to look and to listen.  They did hands-on activities.  For example, they would be blindfolded and would go through a section of forest, just using their hands to find the way.  Also, each student would learn one thing, such as the name and use of a plant, and on these hikes, would teach the other students what they had learned.

They took night hikes without flashlights.  The first order of the night would be to overcome their fears.  They would be scared, giggling to cover their nervousness, or very quiet.  Some would say, “I can’t do this.”  In time they would come to the realization that there was nothing out there to “get” them.  They just observed another face of nature.  When the hike was finished, they were proud of themselves for their accomplishment.

Commonly,  foxes, owls, and bats occupied their night world.  Students learned to identify animal sounds.  Listening to the owls was a treat.  The area was inhabited by great-horned owls and long-eared owls, among others.  Grey foxes at night made a bark/screech that was downright spooky at first, until they learned what made the sound.

The only dangerous encounter in the camp was with a rattlesnake that was found in the boys’ bathroom.  They removed it with a snake noose — a pole with a loop at the end.  The loop was guided around the snake and then pulled tight.  The snake could then be lifted and carried someplace far away.

A most important happening occurred while she taught there.  She met Cheryl Cook, who is from the San Diego area and who was also teaching there in 1992.  Cheryl played guitar and sang, and soon the two started singing together.  It didn’t take long for them to gain their first audiences — the students they taught.

When the teaching year was finished, the two returned together to Juneau.  Kathy taught Environmental Education in Juneau in the mid-90s, for a program called Discovery Southeast.  Through this program, she became the resident naturalist at Mendenhall River School, a position she held until 1996.  As naturalist, Kathy had classes of third, fourth, fifth and sixth graders.  Each season she would do a unit with each class, which included a couple hours of classroom time and field trips.  They studied aquatic animals, insects, birds, animal tracks, and land forms.

In 1994, the couple got an introduction to living in Gustavus by building a cabin.  Kathy’s mother and father owned land here, so Kathy and Cheryl built a cabin on their property.  The groundwork was laid for their eventual move here.

Even though Kathy’s major was science, she never let go of her desire for an involvement with art.  She went to Fish and Game and showed them some of her drawings.  They needed some illustrations for a publication and hired her to draw them.  At a chance meeting with her middle school art teacher, Kathy mentioned that she had just been working on these drawings.  Her teacher mentioned a graduate program in scientific illustration.  Kathy applied to the program at the University of California in Santa Cruz.  She was accepted, and she and Cheryl moved there.  It was a one-year program in Science Communication.  She could choose the science writing or the science illustrating track.  Though she had trouble choosing, she decided the art program would give her more skills and techniques.

After their return to Juneau, Kathy went back to working at Discovery Southeast.  She was still interested in scientific writing.  Internship for that program involved working with an interpretive design company known as Sea Reach, Ltd., based in Sheridan, Oregon.  She started illustrating for them; then she began writing interpretive materials.  Company projects range from making single interpretive signs to creating interpretive plans for parks, national forests, or visitor centers.  A lot of thought goes into what you experience in a visitor center.  An interpretive plan helps lay out what messages are communicated, and how those messages get communicated in an engaging and concise way.  Kathy travels for Sea Reach, maybe 4 times a year, either to their home office in Oregon or to projects already underway.  Just recently she went to Valdez to a Chugach National Forest visitor center to start the process of planning, writing, and designing new exhibits.

In the late 90s she started teaching drawing as a tool for observing and keeping nature journals.  Though she worked mostly with youngsters, she had some adult students as well.  Using drawing as a tool to develop powers of observation ties back to her California classes, which focused on how to draw, but also to learn more and connect more with the natural world.  Her classes in field sketching in California were her favorites, so she decided she wanted to teach the same thing.  Her mission in her classes is to help people understand that you don’t have to feel like an artist.  Far more important than what is on the page is what is inside you when you are drawing.  Kathy says, “There is a human tendency to categorize things, then feel like we’re done with them.  I like to delve deeper and observe what the creature is doing.  It is important not to pigeonhole a creature into a quick category, as you might miss some wonderful or important things.”

Kathy used the wren, a special bird to her, to illustrate how quiet observation of a creature’s activity can provide unexpected pleasure.  If you sit still and watch, very often the tiny wren will run across your feet.  Once Kathy was watching a small bird investigating the snowy landscape nearby.  A stick poked up from the snow, and next to it was a little tunnel where the snow had melted away from it.  The wren found the tunnel and went down it.  Kathy waited for some time for it to reemerge; instead, it popped out of the snow in another place.  It had dug its own tunnel through the snow to the surface.

Kathy likes to demonstrate, especially with kids, but also with adults.  She says, “Get them involved.”  As a standard first lesson, Kathy will draw a feather, then have the students draw one.  While she is drawing, she wants them to participate.  She will say, “Look at the feather.  What do you notice about its shape and color?  Plan out where we will start your drawing.  What should we draw first?”  The group usually says, “Start with the stem.”  Kathy teaches them some vocabulary:  “The stem of a feather is made up of the rachis and calamus. Look at the rachis,” she will say.  “Is it in a straight line?”

“No, the center part is curved.”

“Reach up with your finger and draw that curve in the air.”

Kathy will continue to involve them as she draws.  This technique is useful, because it removes their inhibitions.  The drawing becomes collaborative.  They are now part of the process.  Next they draw the feather on their own.

Her work took her to different places in the state.  She started in Juneau, beginning with community schools and elementary schools.  Finally, she taught courses at the University of Alaska.  From there, she was put on the state teaching artist’s roster, the Artist in Residence program.  She travels a couple of times a year to a different place in the state for this program.  The program gives her the opportunity to see more of Alaska and to experience more of the uniqueness of life here.  She has traveled by snow machine, lugging all her art materials, along frozen rivers.  She has taken a Yupik steam bath.  She has eaten Native foods, such as caribou, herring eggs, and seal oil.

In 2001, Kathy and Cheryl bought a house in Juneau, which they owned until 2015.  Cheryl started working summers at Glacier Bay as “Captain Cook,” running the day boat tour to the glaciers.  The two were in Gustavus just for the summers for a couple of years; then they sold their house in Juneau and moved to Gustavus in 2015.

In 2001, Kathy ran into a scientist, Mary Willson, whom she had worked for right after college, about 10 years previously.  They had not spoken much since that time.  In talking about birds, Mary mentioned that she was doing research on American Dippers — the small gray songbirds that nest along fast-moving streams and dive underwater for insects and little fish.  Kathy volunteered to help Mary out and ended up in a 10-year collaboration with her, working for her and with her during the study.  During the time they worked together, Mary published five scientific papers about dippers with Kathy as co-author, and she and Kathy wrote two books about the birds:  “American Dippers” and “The Singer in the Stream.”  Mary is now a dear friend.

For Kathy, an added bonus to her work is that much of it is done outside.  Working with Mary afforded her some unique adventures.  To get a close view of the nests of the dippers they studied, they often had to scramble around in steep stream canyons.  Once or twice, Kathy even had to rappel down cliffs or swim through streams.

While looking for dipper nests, Kathy and Mary discovered something quite rarely seen:  active nests of marbled murrelets.  These small seabirds are well-known to anyone who spends time on the water in Southeast Alaska, but their nesting habits are still somewhat mysterious.  They’re known to nest in old growth trees, many miles inland from the ocean — but what Kathy and Mary found were three murrelet nests on the ground, at the tops of waterfalls near Juneau.  They returned to the nests periodically to see the chicks as they grew from speckled balls of fuzz to handsome black-and-white juveniles.

A strain of beautiful music weaves its way through all that Kathy does.  She has been involved with music since taking piano lessons as a child, but was never very serious about it, until she met Cheryl.  When they moved back to Juneau, they joined song circles, and began performing in 1995.  Kathy says she learned to harmonize by copying the “Indigo Girls.”  She and Cheryl harmonize well together, partly because they have sung together for so long.  Kathy says she can (usually) hear the harmonies with Cheryl’s voice easily.

In Juneau, they performed at Gold Street Music, an invitational coffeehouse venue founded by a group of Juneau musicians.  One of the group was Elva Bontrager, a wonderful music catalyst who brings musicians together and helps them bring out their best.  Performers did 20-minute sets.  Kathy and Cheryl found the club to be a great musical venue that was available the rest of the year after Folk Fest.  They did sing at Folk Fest, but mostly with other people.  Now the duet sings on Thursday nights with the library band in Gustavus and at Lou Cacciopo’s “Outpost,” which has a musical night every other week.  Lou opened the outpost a couple of years ago — he lengthened his art studio, put in a stage, lights, and a nice sound system, and invited local musicians to perform.  Lou’s Outpost is “a non-profit music venue dedicated to building community and providing pioneering musicians with quality stage time in a nurturing atmosphere.”  (Watch future blog articles — Lou, an excellent artist in several mediums will be featured in one of them.)

Kathy started playing mandolin in early 2000.  Her dad sent her one, as he had started playing fiddle.  (Kathy wonders if perhaps he wanted to start a family band.)  Both Kathy and Cheryl like to perform, though Kathy feels her voice is not strong enough to sing solo.  She’s happy to have Cheryl’s strong voice to sing harmony with.  The duo selects songs or types of songs that suit their voices.  They have found that there is a particular set of vocal characteristics that blend well.  Cheryl has a particularly strong alto, so Kathy sings a high harmony.  They feel the message in the lyrics is important, but they also like to mix in funny songs.  Kathy and Cheryl have been together and creating their lovely music for 24 years now.  Kathy says that their singing together is symbolic:  they listen to each other and hold each other up.

Here’s a special treat:  a YouTube video made by another local Gustavian, Bill Eichenlaub, of Kathy and Cheryl singing at the Outpost.

Kathy’s art grows from her love of the natural world.  She creates cards, mugs, jewelry, sketches or paintings, collaborates with quilter Ellie Sharman of Gustavus, illustrates for children’s books, and writes books.  She also designed the wildlife tables in the Alaska State Ferry vessels, and did some of the illustrations.  Each ferry has the same tables in their dining area, though the Tustumena has a slightly different species assortment appropriate for Southwestern Alaska.

Kathy’s editing skills grew out of her work with Sea Reach, the company that does the interpretive signs.  She had to edit others’ work for the signs, and though not formally trained in editing, she has had quite a bit of experience.  She edited my last book and did a fine job.  She has also edited books for others in our writer’s group.  She feels that while she can be a strong editor (in part due to her experience at Sea Reach where the text gets edited extensively before going on an interpretive sign), she is learning how to balance that with keeping a writer’s unique voice.

For 13 years, Kathy practiced Shotokan (Japanese/Okinawan) karate, which she learned in Juneau.  She had an excellent teacher, Diana Stevens, who was the dojo’s chief instructor.  Diana won an AWARE “woman of distinction” award in 2011.  Kathy advanced in her karate training with a great group of people.  Through this teaching / practice she developed more physical strength and flexibility.  The practice emphasizes character and integrity.

When they can fit it into their busy schedules, Kathy and Cheryl like to travel.  They have been to Hawaii, Europe, South America, Ireland, Holland, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Chile.  Their travels have given them some unusual adventures.  In Holland, they bicycled through the Dutch polders (low-lying tracts of land enclosed by dikes) watching all kinds of fascinating European birds including kievits (lapwings) and gruttos (redshanks.)  Both of these are meadow birds common to that area.  In Hawaii while traveling the Kona Coast, they watched an octopus flash-change color and texture, and while travelling to the island of Innisheer, Ireland, they saw a basking shark.

They took a walking tour in the English Lake District, along the Cumbria Way.  The weather did not cooperate, but they were there and had to continue onward.  They slogged through rain, snow, sleet and wind.  They watched newborn lambs cavorting in the inclement weather, full of life and fun in spite of the unpleasant conditions.  It made the discomfort of the trail a bit easier to handle.

In Chile, they visited their friend, Mary Willson, at a research station she co-founded.  While there, Mary asked Kathy to teach a sketching class to a group of Chilean college students.  Although many of the students spoke better English than Kathy spoke Spanish, she decided to give it a go in Spanish.  She recalls that they were quite good sports about it; they chuckled sometimes at her stumbles but clearly enjoyed the lesson.  She remembers being particularly pleased when she made a joke in Spanish…and they laughed!

In 2012, after spending 20 successful years together, Kathy and Cheryl decided they needed a special celebration.  Cheryl was working on a whale-watching boat, and got the use of it for an afternoon.  They took 18 friends on the boat with them and took a tour around Lynn Canal in Juneau.  The Dall’s porpoises, being social animals, wanted to share the moment, so they joined the party and swam with the boat for a long time.  The couple felt that this moment with the porpoises was an anniversary gift from the Universe.

Kathy has a charming blog.  Visit it to see more of her drawing.  The address is  Also on this site is a link to her Etsy store.

Check it out!

Thank you, Kathy and Cheryl, for moving to Gustavus.  You make such a great addition to our community!


judy-c-1A woman of many skills, Judy Cooper has lead an interesting and active life.  She was born in 1939 in Cleveland, Ohio, and grew up in Madison, Wisconsin.  When 18 she entered Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and received a B.A. from there, with a major in biology and a minor in art.  The summer she graduated she went to the Michigan State University Biology Station at Gull Lake, where she took biology courses.  She attended the University of Colorado in Boulder for 2 years, where she studied botany, zoology, chemistry, and geology.

In January, 1964, she took Peace Corps training and went to Bolivia for 2 years, where she worked with the Aymara Indians at 12,000 feet above sea level on the Altiplano.  Most of the indigenous people of the Andes were conquered by the Incas.  The Aymaras, however, joined the Incas, thereby retaining their own language and culture.  Judy was involved with a community development and preventative public health program, dealing with such diseases as tuberculosis.

After her return from Bolivia, she took a job for 2 years in North Carolina with a War on Poverty Community Action program.  While she lived there she had a brain hemorrhage and was taken by ambulance to Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  She was fortunate to have one of the best neurosurgeons in the country as her doctor.  When she recovered, she returned to her job and stayed until funding was cut.  Then she returned to Wisconsin and worked in a store until she had enough money to go to Alaska.

In 1968, Judy got her first Alaskan job in Hoonah, where she directed the Parent-Child Center.  This facility took in children from judy-card4birth to age 3.  Judy worked with the parents and the children.  After 2 1/2 years, she moved to Juneau, where she worked for Parks and Recreation in an after-school program for street kids.  Judy took them on camping trips and hikes, and they learned about appropriate behavior and safety in the mountains.

In 1972, Judy joined Local 941, Laborers International Union of North America, and went to Anchorage to learn how to do heavy construction.  As many workers had left to work on the pipeline, local jobs were available. She did jobs that were unusual for a woman.

Finally, Judy got a job on the pipeline itself.  She first worked with an insulation crew, claiming she is the only person who has ever crossed the Yukon River twice on her back.  She worked on the underside of the pipe, squirting sealant into seams.

Judy’s pipeline jobs were in Prudhoe Bay and North Pole.  On several jobs, she spent hours as a flagger, by herself in the middle of nowhere.  She played soccer with rocks to stay awake.  She also learned how to talk to the judy-card6ravens.  She and the raven would have contests to see who could make the funniest noises.

At North Pole, Alaska, Judy worked at the refinery as the only woman on a crew of 6, spending 8 to 10 hours a day unloading gravel from a dump truck into a wheelbarrow, then shoveling it into dish-shaped retainers around the oil storage tanks.  One man on the team remarked, “I never thought a woman could work so hard.”

The pipeline was finished in 1977.  Judy went on a cross-country ski trip, following Cliff Lobaugh, veterinarian for Juneau and the Yukon. They skied from a cabin on Atlin Lake to the Taku arm of Tagish Lake and back. judy-card5 Cliff, a big man, moved fast on his skis, and Judy couldn’t keep up, partly because she kept stopping to take pictures.  On such skiing trips, she always took a dog with her.  Finally, she hitched herself to the dog, and kept up easily.  On Tagish Lake, Cliff introduced her to a woman with a dog team, giving Judy a chance to see what mushing was like.  As the mushers like to say, “She caught the bug, and she was hooked.”

She bought a cabin in Tagish, Yukon Territory, spending winter months there and running sled dogs.  She started with 3 or 4 dogs, and went from being pulled by a dog while on skis (called “skijoring,” from a Norwegian word) to mushing.

Judy decided she would move to Fairbanks, so she could have a garden.  She settled in Two Rivers, close to Fairbanks, and known as the mushing capitol of the world.  While in Two Rivers, her dogs multiplied, until at one time she had 52 animals.  (As the number of dogs increased, it was harder to keep track of dogs in heat, so a couple of accidental litters pushed the total higher.)  She kept and trained all of them.  As the mushing trails started from her yard, she would take dogs on runs most days from the house, starting training in winter.  By early spring, they would have enough stamina to go on a long trip.  She would use a different team every day, 8 dogs to a team.  Thus they all got exercise.

Judy is fascinated with animal behavior.  She says, “to ask a dog to do something, you have to figure out how to motivate him.”  She loves dogs and loves raising puppies, and tries to train them all so they perform to the best of their abilities.  She worked up to running judy-card2them 10 to 18 miles a day.  Racing mushers would ask her, “How many miles do you have on your dogs so far?”  She didn’t keep track, because she had no means to measure distances.  She just kept working them until they reached their distance goal.

In March and April she took trips with a friend to the White Mountains, a BLM recreational area with cabins spaced a few miles apart.  They would rent different cabins so they could run the dogs between them.  Sometimes getting to places could be difficult because of the weather.  Creeks would be overflowing.  The trail was not flat, but slanted, and the sled slid off it sideways.  To counteract this slide, the musher had to stand on the uphill runner of the sled and lean uphill, much like on a sailboat.judy-card1

One winter, Judy and a mushing friend from Haines went on a trip to a small fishing resort on Tagish Lake.  The Haines friend brought her team and a basket sled, so Judy decided to use hers as well, instead of the toboggan sled, a decision she later regretted.  The toboggan sled has a large piece of plastic on the bottom, which allows it to ride on top of the snow.  The basket sled has narrow runners that dig into the snow.

The pair left from the town of Atlin at about 10:00 a.m.  They crossed Atlin Lake and then crossed the isthmus onto the Taku arm of Tagish Lake.  Everything looked fine when they started the trip, and Judy felt confident they’d get there with no problem.  She knew the route very well, since she had traveled it many times.

When they made it across the isthmus, the trail suddenly disappeared.  The wind had blown the snow into deep drifts, and no one had been over the trail since the storm.  Though weather conditions remained okay, the lead dogs struggled to break trail through the drifts.  After floundering in the snow for a long time, they became very tired.  The basket sleds didn’t help.  They were harder for the dogs to pull in the deep snow.  Judy would walk ahead for a distance to mark the trail, then urge the dogs forward.  They changed lead dogs, to give the original leaders a break.

Afternoon turned into a winter evening.  They couldn’t camp, as they had no cooking pots and no water for the dogs.  They couldn’t start a fire, as they had nothing resembling dry wood.  After some hours of travel, they realized they could not go back, as they had progressed too far, but had to continue forward.  They could not change routes and go across Tagish Lake, as they could easily get lost in the dark and miss their friend’s place completely.  Being on the lake ice at night was very unsafe, as there were soft spots in the ice that they couldn’t see, and they could break through and plunge to the bottom.  Unfortunately, the left shore of the lake where their trail ran had received the most drifting snow, and they had no choice but to go through it.  By now it was very dark and they could just see the outlines of the large trees close by…these trees were all they had to steer by.  In the distance they spotted the light from the friend’s place, but it was still a long way off.  Stress and weariness settled in.  Every so often, Judy’s companion would ask, “Are we getting closer?”

Finally, they parked the sleds.  Judy left her friend with the dogs and sleds and walked about one-third mile to the house on her snowshoes.  Her friend there had been worried, because she knew they were coming.  When Judy finally arrived, she was so dehydrated that she drank a quart of water.  She walked back, judy-card3taking water to the dogs and to her friend. After all, their very lives were dependent on the dogs’ ability to take them to safety, so she took care of them first. They hitched up, then followed Judy’s snowshoe tracks to the cabin, arriving at 4:00 in the morning.  Judy says that the simple route that she’d used so often turned into the trip from hell.  Instead of four to five hours of travel time, it took them fifteen.  They never would have made it if she weren’t so stubborn.

Her Fairbanks garden was wonderful.  She grew such vegetables as zucchini, lettuce, beets, carrots, chard, and green beans.  She tried to grow plants that the moose wouldn’t eat.  She had an added moose deterrent:  The dog kennels were spread out in 2 rows in a big circle with an alley down the middle.  The garden was planted inside the circle.  An 8-foot fence surrounded the whole area.  If the moose wanted to get to those plants,, it would have to jump the fence and go through the double row of dogs.

In Fairbanks, Judy started a B & B called Earthtone Huskies, renting mostly to summer guests.  The cabins had no running water, so she had to appeal to hardy folks who didn’t mind a somewhat primitive lifestyle.  Most guests were Europeans.  She met many interesting people.  Her guests’ fees helped pay for dog food.  Judy would take guests out for 30 to 45-minute rides with the team, which they all claimed was the highlight  of their trip.

Judy’s artwork is a reflection of the outdoor area where she lived.  While in junior high, j-block2she learned how to make linoleum block prints, and while in Hoonah, she began making Christmas cards.  Soon a business was born.  Now she makes one or two designs a year.  As her line of cards grew, she joined the Artist’s Coop in Juneau and did art shows in the fall and winter.

Here are instructions from Judy on how to make linoleum block prints:  First, you have to draw the picture.  Put it on tracing paper and reverse the image so when you print it, so it j-block1comes out right-side up.  Put the design on the block with carbon paper.  Use the kind that is found in triple-copy documents, as that carbon design cannot be rubbed off with your fingers.

Once the design is on the block, start carving.  Be aware that what is white on your final picture is the area that you have carved away; color stays on the raised portions.  Roll ink on the block and place paper on it to make a judy-card6black and white copy.  Rub the paper with a tablespoon until all the ink is on the paper.  When inking, lift up one side of the paper at a time to see if it is inked properly; if not, touch it up with the roller.  Make prints until you get a really good copy.  If color is needed, put it on that final copy with a magic marker.  Take it to a commercial printer.  Judy gets 500 to 1,000 cards made from her copy.

Judy ran dogs in the Yukon and in Fairbanks for 25-30 years.  Besides loving the dogs, she likes to be outdoors.  She says mushing is good exercise in winter, and the country looks totally different than in the summer.  Her mushing career evolved from skiing to skijoring, and finally, to mushing.  Often she would go skijoring when in Juneau.  The dog team picture in this article was taken outside Juneau at Spaulding Meadows, a 3-mile hike up to a great place for skijoring.judy-skijoring

After 15 years in Fairbanks, Judy moved to Gustavus.  Her hands were suffering from the cold winters, and she needed to be someplace warmer.  She thought Gustavus was a good choice because she also needed a place with flat terrain.  A knee injury from an auto accident made climbing hills difficult.

Though now she only has 12 dogs, Judy still runs them.  Their “trail” is Rink Creek Road.  The team pulls a dog cart or her car, which is a Geo Tracker.  She uses 6 dogs for the car, though 5 will pull it.

Here is a picture of Osa,  one of Judy’s lead dogs.  She also gets to be a housedog.  Osa is an AKC Siberian husky, daughter of Ruby,judy-osa-2another AKC husky, who was killed by wolves in Gustavus.  Judy bought two male AKC Siberians, Kumo and Barack.  One of Kumo’s pups is in Colorado, where he lives with a boy with some serious health challenges.  The dog has helped the boy a great deal, and his health has improved.

Juneau people can meet Judy in person and buy some of her wonderful cards at the Juneau Public Market, held in Centennial Hall the 3 days after Thanksgiving.  Judy’s booth is in the same place every year in the Egan Room.  Be sure to stop by and say hello and make your card selection.


carole-baker1Carole 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 large_thumb_779f077c-7ebf-4dc8-bf52-adf487d597caGilmore 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.

large_thumb_2a9b591a-3137-4ef2-ada4-eeca0508b8c7In 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, large_thumb_af3e3c9c-87a7-4b99-94c6-80589ca27597parsley, 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 large_thumb_d0f23fbf-00e1-4ded-bf12-b1a4d5c3a58cthe 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, large_thumb_0a5eae13-0d1f-4d47-8db7-8c3993c0766b-2critiqued 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 large_thumb_896b0684-b7a9-4188-acb7-90cefe7d1377from 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 large_thumb_17340bb1-16ec-415a-88e4-d0f32e3f6849lovely 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.  Herwildflowers1377131-3
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 large_thumb_ee492221-ea0d-4553-b899-1e81f6a63153paintings 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 and  If you would like to buy a piece of Carole’s art, go to  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.


Roger & MaryRoger Williams met Mary in Indiana when he went to a restaurant to visit a friend.  Mary was working there as a waitress.  They were both drawn to the other, and soon they were a couple.

The two were married in 1972 and traveled to the East coast.  Seeing pictures on a calendar of big trees in British Columbia, they decided to move there.  However, since they could not work in Canada they ran out of money and moved to Ketchikan.  Here Roger worked in a fish plant.

Ketchikan was a wild town in those days.  The mills and fish processors operated around the clock.  The town flowed with money.  Oncespoons-spatch2-2 when the couple were walking down the street, they saw a man thrown bodily through a bar’s swinging doors.  He landed on the street right in front of them.

From 1973 until 1997, when the family finally moved to Gustavus, they lived a bit of a nomadic lifestyle.  They spent time in British Columbia, Juneau, and Game Creek on Chichagof Island, returning to Indiana for a few years now and then.  Roger made his first spoon at Game Creek, cutting a chunk off a 100-ounce bar of silver to do so.  New children graced the family regularly, and by the time they moved to Gustavus, there were 10 of them.

4 spoons

Their most remote residence was their home at Game Creek on Chichagof Island.  Roger saw a recent internet report that claimed the island had the highest density of bears anywhere in the world.  Bears were part of their way of life.  Once when Roger was cutting wood on the beach, he saw a very large bear approaching his cows, grazing nearby.  As he watched, two of the cows saw the bear and charged it, chasing it off.  Another time he watched a cow and a horse gang up on a bear and send it running.  In a third incident, he and Mary were out walking.  They could see the cattle grazing in a higher pasture.  When a bear came on the scene, the cows lined up and ran at the bear en masse, sending the large animal packing.

In 1997, the Williams bunch finally found a home in Gustavus.  The family had visited Gustavus several times before they moved. big-ladle
 Roger thought he could make a living making jewelry and doing repairs.  He set up shop at the Gustavus Dray and started making a few spoons.  Then they moved to their own small shop on Wilson Road in Gustavus, where Roger made jewelry and they sold fast food.  Said Mary, “Making food was a good way to get acquainted.”  Two of their daughters also worked in the little restaurant.

Mary says they home-schooled the children for a time in Gustavus.  They had cows, sheep, and a horse.  Roger and a friend invested in some Icelandic sheep, for the wool.  They milked the cows and sold the milk to Gustavus residents.

Mary recalls that the biggest problem they had with the children was keeping track of all of them.  It became important to count heads, to make sure no one was missing.  Once in Juneau, they were almost home from a church service and realized one son, Elijah, was not with them.  They drove back to the church and found him waiting at the door with a lady from the church who stayed to wait with him.

On a ferry trip, Roger saw a spoon for sale that was made of pewter.  The bowl almost looked like a coin, giving him the idea of doing a spoon with a coin in the bowl.  He thought shop-picthat spoons could be made from silver or copper and sold as souvenirs.

By 2002, Roger was making more spoons than jewelry.  He uses a lot of coins in his creations.  Popular are Irish coins or the Alaska state quarter featuring a bear design.  One of his sons built the small structure between their house and the road that would be used for a shop.

Roger now works in copper and German silver, making ladles, serving spoons, coffee measures, spatulas, teaspoons and tablespoons.  His daughter, Hannah, does  silver spoonsome of the designs stamped into the spoons, a process called “chasing.”

Roger’s spoons are well-traveled by now.  He remembers customers from Israel, England, Poland, the Czech Republic, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, and most of the states.  He says he doesn’t think that he’s sold a spoon to anyone from Nebraska.

If you would like to purchase one of Roger’s lovely creations, you can do so on the internet site, “Etsy.”  Type in the following URL:, and you will go directly to his collection.

Roger and Mary are members of a faith called “Brethren.”  They do not proselytize; rather, they demonstrate their faith through example.  From observing these two people, I would guess that the Brethren are family-oriented, peace-loving people, kind to all and happy to lend a hand when needed.  They treat all people with respect and are soft-spoken, not argumentative.  They believe that love and caring are stronger forces than strife and anger.  This description might not fit all Brethren, but it fits Roger and Mary Williams.