Feeds:
Posts
Comments
gotham news 1957

Gotham News, 1955 by Willem de Kooning ( 69 x 79” Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo)

We looked at images of paintings by Helen Frankenthaler, Jackson Pollock, and Willem de Kooning, including pictures of the paintings in galleries, and Helen Frankenthaler and Jackson Pollock working in their studios, to show the very large scale of pictures in this school. I also told them where some of these pictures are, and had a snapshot of one (Small’s Paradise, by Helen Frankenthaler) I took in Washington D. C. in March.

I told them how Abstract Expressionism was painting that was not of something, but was the thing, in the words of Jackson Pollock. And how painting is a language, in which you can express things you can’t put into words.

The paintings they liked were both by de Kooning: Excavation and Gotham News, which is the one we talked about. The kids each noted something about the picture, and brought out the bright colors, and how it references people, dogs, layers, cities, noise, excitement, Batman, buildings and other structures, without being pictures of those things.

It could be too that they were drawn to this picture because it holds up better on the rather dim interactive white board projectors the school has. You don’t get the benefit of the brilliant colors of Helen Frankenthaler’s work. We held up the laptop so they could get an idea of the brilliance of the actual paintings.

Inspired by the picture, they made paintings in the manner of Abstract Expressionism. I think some of them felt like they were being naughty, by using a finger or their hands, in making layer on layer, in using gobs of paint, and even in scraping back to get to layers below. But they were not naughty, they were all fully involved in the paint and what it was doing. This was the most energetic and focused group I’ve had, as far as everyone diving in.

We asked them to mix at least 3 colors, and this time not to make a picture of a thing but to paint with colors and shapes and lines, and to try different brush sizes.

We even had time to clean up and to spend a few minutes looking at our work.

IMG_0384smallIMG_0385smallIMG_0386smallIMG_0387smallIMG_0388smallIMG_0389smallIMG_0390smallIMG_0391smallIMG_0392smallIMG_0393smallIMG_0394smallIMG_0395smallIMG_0396smallIMG_0397smallIMG_0398smallIMG_0399small

By Rebecca Poulson

Presented at the Alaska Historical Society Annual Meeting, Cordova, Alaska 2015

I have been working on the history of the Sheldon Jackson School and College, which began as a Presbyterian mission in Sitka in 1878.

I wanted to understand what was behind its rapid establishment and early growth, and why some of the early students had important positions in Tlingit clans.

I had assumptions about why the mission might have been attractive: because of industry taking Native land and resources, and because of alcohol.

But, as I reread sources, it didn’t fit. Industrial takings of land for fishing and mining did not get under way until the later 1880s, after the school was well established, and alcohol abuse, I learned, is a symptom, not a cause of loss.

What was the mechanism of the weakening of Tlingit control of southeastern Alaska? And, what was it about missions that made them attractive at this time? Obviously I can’t answer these questions, but I want to map out the context in a little finer grain. I am relying on the work of many others, and am grateful to them.

The first major impact of European colonization on the North West Coast was through the maritime fur trade, starting in 1785. Hundreds of thousands of sea otter pelts were sold in Canton between 1785 and 1820, nearly all of these purchased directly from North West Coast Natives. Guns, wealth, and epidemics led rapid, often violent, change, but did not affect Native control of the region.1

Meanwhile, beginning in the mid-1700s, Russians came from Siberia and worked their way along the Aleutian Chain and into the Gulf of Alaska, coercing Native labor to hunt sea otter for their furs, with a devastating impact on Native people and sea mammals alike.

But by the time the Russians had wiped out the otters in the Aleutians and central Gulf of Alaska, and came to southeastern Alaska (they established their first fort in Sitka Sound in 1799, it was destroyed in 1802), Sitka Sound was already a regular port of call for American and British ships trading for sea otter pelts with the indigenous Tlingit.

Russians managed to establish a fort at Sitka in 1804, but, by then catches were already going down, and the sea otter were soon depleted. This plus resistance from the Tlingit, but mostly the lack of resources and manpower, meant that Russians never controlled southeastern Alaska, in spite of their occupation of Sitka from 1804 until 1867.2

The Russian settlement depended on southeast Alaska Natives for food, and bought tons of halibut, potatoes, berries and game. But more than that, they had to respect Tlingit law: a wrong by one clan to another had to be compensated. Classically, this was a life for a life, of equivalent importance. In dealings between North West Coast Natives and Europeans, this was modified to material compensation.3

When a Russian governor allowed relations to deteriorate in the mid 1850s, he was removed. But his neglect led to a Tlingit attack on the fort in 1855, when five or six Russians were killed and dozens wounded.4 Russian authorities regularly paid Natives for injury done by Russians.5 Overall, the Russians depended on diplomacy, not force, to stay in southeastern Alaska. In 1847 Russian American Company officials even mediated a dispute between the Hudson’s Bay Company fort at Wrangell and local Tlingit.6

And, in spite of their efforts, the Russian Orthodox missionaries could not interest many Tlingit people in conversion.7

Contrast this with the situation in 1879. Tlingit leaders were asking for Christian missions, in spite of not being treated with anything like regard for their rank.

In 1879 the naturalist John Muir and Presbyterian missionary S. Hall Young traveled in northern southeastern Alaska, to missionize and to explore glaciers.

With “but one or two exceptions” Muir reports that people at villages, including Kake and Hoonah, were interested in missions and schools, having heard of the work of William Duncan, at Metlakatla, in British Columbia.8

Muir and Young were transported by Tlingit men, converts to Christianity, including T’aawyaat, a leader of the Naanyaa.aayi clan of the Stikeen (Wrangell) area.

It is obvious from Young’s writings, in which he calls them their “Indian guides,” and describes T’aawyaat as “noble but simple,” that he does not consider him as an equal, much less with respect. 9

Muir and Young were treated like honored guests, and each visit ended with a request for missions and schools.

First of all, what had happened to undermine Tlingit control of southeastern Alaska?

One factor was probably direct military force. Alaska was a military Department, then a District, until 1884 – full 17 years of military rule.

This military was hardened by the recent Civil War, but more than that by the Indian Wars in the lower 48, then at their height. In the fall of 1868, an Army sentry killed men leaving Sitka by canoe. Mistakes by the military – never punished – led to the deaths.

Relatives of the men, from Kake, went to see General Davis about compensation, but were denied. These relatives then killed two Euro-Americans, at what is now called Murder Cove on Admiralty Island.

This resulted in the so-called “Kake War” in 1869, when the USS Saginaw shelled the three villages and burned all the houses but one to the ground, a total of 28 clan houses, many of them 30 or 40 feet square, and destroyed canoes, as well.10

Back in 1857, Tlingit from Kake had killed a white settler on Whidbey Island, after an incident in Washington Territory in which a Kake clan leader had been killed, and American authorities had refused compensation.11

So this prior act was in the background of the military’s brutal response. They often did not hold their own people to account for instigating violence. They sought to punish Native individuals, then, if they could not, to punish the entire group, to teach them “that we do not fear them.” This was the unfortunate pattern of the Indian Wars in the lower 48 states, and of the British Navy, as well. In short, the American military, unlike the Russians, did not rely on diplomacy, did not respect Tlingit law, but relied on force.12

The Kake incident was repeated at Wrangell, later in 1869, when soldiers killed two Tlingit men. When the victims’ father retaliated by killing a white merchant, the Army shelled the village of Ḵaachx̱ an.áakʼw, then when he gave himself up, summarily “tried” and hanged him.13

Awareness of impact of colonization in B.C. and Washington State

People from southeastern Alaska regularly traveled to Victoria and Puget Sound and would have been abundantly aware of the onslaught of settlement and gold miners, backed up by military force, in British Columbia and in Washington Territory.

In the maritime fur trade days, maritime merchants left traditional networks intact. But with the trade turning to land furs, the Hudson’s Bay Company worked relentlessly to displace Native middlemen, building forts from the early 1830s, to deal directly with fur suppliers.

Then in southern coastal British Columbia, from the early 1850s the government worked to settle colonists and develop industry, with military backing, that included destruction of villages and canoes.14

In Washington Territory in the mid-1850s, all Natives were forced onto reservations.15 While the Euro-American population was not large, they were aggressive in seizing land for settlement, mining and potential commercial development. The mid 1850s through the 1860s saw multiple violent interactions between Natives and the military, both British and American, in coastal British Columbia and North West Washington. In 1856 the USS Massachusetts fired on a camp of Natives at Port Gamble, killing dozens, including people from southeastern Alaska.16

In a way, southeastern Alaska under the Russians looks almost like a haven of indigenous control, in the 1850s and 1860s.

Economic displacement

A third factor – in addition to direct military action, and knowing what was coming – may have been displacement from trade.

During the maritime fur trade years and under the Russians, Tlingit were not only providers and consumers of goods, but were middlemen in trade with other Natives. Key were the trade routes to the interior at the Stikine River and the Chilkat and Chilkoot, which were tightly held monopolies.

But also, throughout southeastern Alaska, the clans who controlled trade with the Russians at Sitka (and Russian trading vessels) and the British at Fort Simpson and Fort Victoria, could profit by controlling trade to other Natives.

With American entrepreneurs coming in, they may have lost that niche: American traders were everywhere, buying and selling direct to the consumer.

It could be that it was not alcohol itself, so much as the fact that the market was “flooded,” so to speak, by white traders, that had such an impact on Tlingit economy.

This had probably already started before the transfer. Tlingit control of the Stikine River, which they had defended in 1838 by burning down a Hudson’s Bay Company fort inland17, was weakened by an 1862 gold strike in the interior, then destroyed in the 1872 Cassiar gold rush.

British and American smugglers evaded the Russians to trade in southeast. But the Transfer opened the floodgates for American traders.

In an 1870 report to Congress, Frank Mahoney, a Sitka businessman, writes that on Kuiu and Kupreanof, the Natives “catch some furs, . . . , besides trading with some of their neighbors. Their trade has fallen off considerably since the occupation of the Territory by the Americans. They formerly were in the habit of getting their trading goods from small crafts from Victoria, but at present the Indians north, south, east, for two hundred miles, either come to Sitka or get their wants supplied by the small crafts that load or are owned by Sitka merchants.”18

In fact, American commercial interests were behind the acquisition of Alaska in the first place. Unlike the Oregon Territory, it was not desirable for settlement, farming and industry. Instead it was seen, and could be argued still is seen, as a place to be exploited for its resources, and – perhaps – as a market. American merchants knew of its whaling, maritime furs, and fishing potential, and probably its potential as a market, because they were already exploiting these fields when it was still Russian.

Why missions?

And finally, Tlingit people had strong trading and cultural ties with the Tsimshian people, and were well acquainted with the Tsimshian experience with missionaries.

Anglican missionary William Duncan came to Fort Simpson, now Lax-Kw’alaams, on the Skeena River, just south of the border with the United States, in 1856. At that time, the Hudson’s Bay Company fort was flanked by a Tsimshian village and trading site.

Duncan gained a following that included clan leaders. Why were these people interested in what he offered? Canadian scholar Susan Neylan has researched how converts in the early days were able to keep their traditional status, and that literacy was seen as a valuable asset for leaders.19

Native interaction with missionaries changed over time, and the things that drove the first generation of converts were different for later people. The rapidly changing dynamics is what I would like to emphasize.

Then, Duncan and converts built a town at Metlakatla, previously a summer village and trading site, near Prince Rupert.

I think that the key features of his work were that at this new village, within a few years, thanks to mission funds, they had a sawmill and new frame houses; and, in the year after their moving, in 1862, a smallpox epidemic struck the coast. While hundreds died back at Fort Simpson (and thousands, up and down the coast), through inoculation and the isolation of infected individuals, only a few lives were lost at Metlakatla.20

In 1874 Methodist missionary Thomas Crosby arrived at Port Simpson. Like Duncan, he fought (unsuccessfully) against the taking of Native land; but more than that, established churches and schools in the villages, at the request of the residents. His mission at Port Simpson was itself at the urging of Tsimshian people who had converted to Methodism at Victoria a few years before. 21

These mission efforts included sawmills and eventually a cannery at Metlakatla. In this way, Duncan’s and Crosby’s missions promised to bring Tsimshian people some measure of economic empowerment, that they had enjoyed prior to British colonization. So the desire for missions by the Tlingit, since it was based on the model of William Duncan, could have been driven in part by an effort to get sawmills and other commercial operations of their own, and new, prestigious, frame-style houses.

Anthropologist Aurel Krause visited the Tlingit at Chilkat in 1882, and reported that “after they had gone to church for half a year and sent their children to school, went to the missionary and complained that they had not been rewarded for their virtue and had not received boards to build their houses as the Tsimshian had.” 22

Origin of the Sitka Mission

Among the earliest missionaries in Alaska were a group of Methodist Tsimshian Natives at Wrangell, during the Cassiar gold rush in the mid-1870s. A letter written by a soldier in 1877, pleading for missionaries, to continue the work, came into Presbyterian missionary Sheldon Jackson’s hands.

Sheldon Jackson parleyed that letter, by getting it published in the Chicago Tribune, and in his newspaper the Rocky Mountain Presbyterian – later called the Home Missions Monthly – into funds for his project.

He brought missionary Amanda McFarland to Wrangell, where she started a girls’ home. Then in 1878 he sent young missionary John Brady and teacher Fannie Kellogg to Sitka, where they started a day school, although Brady left that same year, and Kellogg went to Wrangell to marry S. Hall Young.

By this time, 1879, Tlingit people seem to have been desirous of missions, and especially schools, illustrated not only by the experience of Muir and Young and Mrs. McFarland, but by the success of the Sitka school, restarted in 1880, and the enthusiasm of the earliest group of students – who included young men of standing in Tlingit society.23

In 1879, Sheldon Jackson was passenger in a trading canoe to Port Simpson, where he wanted to visit the missions. This canoe came from Chilkat, and the clan leader it belonged to asked Jackson to send his people a missionary and schools. The man’s son, who would become Kawootk’, or Rudolph Walton, became one of the first students at the Sitka School. His family made the move to Sitka, and the entire family was baptized in the church.24

In 1879 Presbyterian missionary Alonzo Austin came to Sitka, and his daughter restarted the day school for Natives in 1880. She said later that she found such enthusiasm for English, that she started the school day with it, so students would come on time.

Soon some of the boys asked for permission to live at the school. They suffered hardships when their school building – the old Russian hospital – burnt down in January 1882 and they had to live in a drafty shed.

Then, after the Presbyterians acquired the current land for the mission, these young men, and Austin and others built their own large school building, dismantling an abandoned cannery, boating it 7 miles and hauling it up the beach.

Walton was to become a leader in the Kiks.adi clan, and another early student, Kaads’aatí, William Wells, was L’ooknax adi Clan heir. (A similar image, published in the memoir of a missionary school superintendent, is captioned – “As I might have lived – a chief among my people.”)25

All in all, Sheldon Jackson found a much more conducive environment for missions than he had found in the southwest United States. Native leaders were coming to him asking for missions and schools; important clans were sending their young leaders.

Success begets success; the early success of the school at Sitka begat more funds, and probably helped Sheldon Jackson in his quest for political influence in Washington, D. C.

Aftermath

While part of the attractiveness of the missions for Tlingit people could have been the possibility of economic empowerment, that was not part of the Presbyterian agenda. In fact, the Presbyterian mission at this time was explicitly the destruction of Native power, the clan system, society and culture. They wanted sober, Christian workers, but they saw them as occupying the lower levels in the economy.

Now this is pure speculation, but I wonder if the Cottages settlement, the model community on mission property founded in 1888, may have been instigated by Natives, hoping for industry they would control, on the model of Metlakatla. If so, they were disappointed.

Even by the mid 1880s, there seems to have been some disillusionment, leading to a lawsuit in 1885. Many families pulled their children from the school. By the late 1880s, the Russian Orthodox Church grew exponentially with Native converts, likely because this church allowed Native control.26

In southeastern Alaska, just as in Washington and in Canada, Native people faced gross discrimination and dispossession. They were discriminated against in law – in disputes with non-Natives, they were rarely backed up by authorities. They were not citizens, and could not get property for industry. They were paid less than non-Native workers. In this climate, any opportunity for gaining a foothold in the economy would have been attractive.

Peter Simpson, an early student from Metlakatla, had a boatbuilding shop at the Cottages. The boat in the center, the William, may be the boat of that name he built for Rudolph Walton.

Eventually, and indirectly, association with Sheldon Jackson school may have helped graduates to occupy an important place in the economy, through their domination of commercial salmon seining – running, owning and building boats, what Mark Jacobs, Jr. called the “historic ANB fleet.” But that’s another story.

1James Gibson, “The Maritime Trade of the North Pacific Coast” in William C. Sturtevant, ed. Handbook of North American Indians (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1988) vol. 4, History of Indian-White Relations, ed. Wilcomb E. Washburn, 375-390

2Kenneth N. Owens with Alexander Yu. Petrich, Empire Maker: Aleksandr Baranov and Russian Colonial Expansion into Alaska and Northern California (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 2015),Andrei Val’terovich Grinev, The Tlingit Indians in Russian America, 1741-1867 trans. Richard L. Bland and Keterina G. Solovjova (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2005),Katherine L. Arndt and Richard A. Pierce, A Construction History of Sitka, Alaska, as Documented in the Records of the Russian-American Company, 2nd Edition (Sitka, Alaska: Sitka National Historical Park, National Park Service under Cooperative Agreement with the Department of Anthropology, University of Alaska Fairbanks, 2003)Ilya Vinkovestsky, Russian America: An Overseas Colony of a Continental Empire, 1801-1867 (New York and London: Oxford University Press, 2014)

3George Thornton Emmons, The Tlingit Indians, edited with additions by Frederica de Laguna, Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History 70 (Vancouver and Toronto: Douglas and McIntyre, 1991) 46-53

4Arendt and Pierce, 192-194

5Arendt and Pierce, 137 (one example, taking Tlingit testimony, and compensating for the life of a slave in 1847)

6Grinev, 198

7Sergei Kan, Memory Eternal: Tlingit Culture and Russian Orthodox Christianity through Two Centuries (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 1999), 25-89

8John Muir, Travels in Alaska (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1988), 105

9Samuel Hall Young, Alaska Days with John Muir (New York, Chicago, London and Edinburgh: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1915; reprint, Salt Lake City: Peregrine Smith Books, 1990), 129 and throughout

10Zachary R. Jones, “’Search For and Destroy’: The US Army’s Relations with Alaska’s Tlingit Indians and the Kake War of 1869,” Ethnohistory 60, no. 1 (Winter 2013), 1-26Robert N. DeArmond and Richard A. Pierce, The USS Saginaw in Alaska Waters, 1867-68 (Kingston, Ontario and Fairbanks, Alaska: Limestone Press, 1997), 63-97

11DeArmond and Pierce, 91

12Robert M. Utley and Wilcomb E. Washburn, Indian Wars (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1977)Barry M. Gough, Gunboat Frontier: British Maritime Authority and Northwest Coast Indians, 1846-1890 (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1984)

13Zachary R. Jones, “The 1869 Bombardment of Ḵaachx̱ an.áakʼw from Fort Wrangell: The U.S. Army Response to Tlingit Law, Wrangell, Alaska” Sealaska Heritage Institute and National Park Service American Battlefield Protection Program, in collaboration with Wrangell Cooperative Association, City and Borough of Wrangell, 2015

14Gough, entire book

15Utley and Washburn, 179-183

16Gough, 51-147

17 Grinev, 196

18Frank Mahoney, “Letter from Frank Mahoney on the Indians and their trade in Eastern Alaska” Appendix F in Vincent Colyer, Bombardment of Wrangel, Alaska, Report of the Secretary of War, Secretary of the Interior, and Letter to the President (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1870), 20

19Susan Neylan, “Longhouses, Schoolroom, and Workers’ Cottages: Nineteenth Century Protestant Missions to the Tsimshian and the Transformation of Class Through Religion” Journal of the CHA 2000 New Series 11, 51-86

20Peter Murray, The Devil and Mr. Duncan (Victoria, British Columbia: Sono Nis Press, 1985)

21Clarence R. Bolt, “Crosby, Thomas,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 7, 2015, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/crosby_thomas_14E.html.

22Aurel Krause, The Tlingit Indians, Results of a Trip to the Northwest Coast of America and the Bering Straits trans. Erna Gunther (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1956), 230

23Ted C. Hinckley, Alaskan John G. Brady, Missionary, Businessman, Judge, and Governor, 1878-1918 (Miami, Ohio: Miami University, 1982) 25-73Don Craig Mitchell, Sold American, The Story of Alaska Natives and Their Land, 1867-1959 (Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press, 2003), 65-110A. E. Austin, “History of the Mission” The North Star 5 no. 12 December 1892 1-4

24Joyce Walton Shales, “Rudolph Walton: One Tlingit Man’s Journey Through Stormy Seas, Sitka, Alaska, 1867-1951” (Ph. D. diss., The University of British Columbia, 1998)

25Kan, 216

26Kan, 245-277

matisse4

A Still Life by Henri Matisse

The very beautiful still-life paintings by Ms. Love’s Fifth Grade class in 2015. I’ve been meaning to put these up for a while. The students first learned about color mixing. They did these paintings in one session, painting from still lifes set up with colored cloths and fruit. They are done with tempera paint on canvas board (just because the teacher had some she wanted to get used!).img_2132smallimg_2133smallimg_2134smallimg_2135smallimg_2136smallimg_2137smallimg_2138smallimg_2139smallimg_2140smallimg_2141smallimg_2142smallimg_2143smallimg_2144smallimg_2145smallimg_2146smallimg_2147smallimg_2148smallimg_2149smallimg_2150smallimg_2151smallimg_2152small

The Cottages

Presented by Rebecca Poulson at the 2016 Annual Meeting of the Alaska Historical Society

Introduction: This is a fascinating group of people, whose choices and circumstances are at the heart of Alaskan history. My research only scratches the surface.

I’d like to thank everyone who has shared their stories and who has worked to document this history. See the bottom for written sources, but I’d also like to specially thank Mrs. Carol Feller Brady, the late Ellen Hope Hays, and Mr. Gil Truitt for sharing their memories, knowledge, and insights into this community and Harold Jacobs for sharing his knowledge of Tlingit genealogy and tradition. Without their generosity this history would be a closed book.

5

The school plat; the Cottages are at the bottom. Sheldon Jackson Collection, Alaska State Library Historical Collections

The Cottages was a model community for Christian Natives, former students of Sitka’s Presbyterian mission school. It was located on mission property at the edge of the Sitka National Historical Park, on Kelly and Metlakatla Streets. The first three homes were built in 1888. By 1889 there were 6, in 1900 9, 1910 15, 1920 18, 1930 17.

7

Photo Shop Studio photo of Sitka in 1928, showing the Cottages at far right, and the Indian Village on the left, separated by the town of Sitka

It was a tiny community of no more than 18 homes, and fewer than 70 residents; more of a neighborhood than a community. There were strong ties to the Village, where nearly all the rest of Sitka’s Native residents lived until well into the 20th century.

8

9

Sitka from the Western Harbor, from the 1869 Coast Pilot of Alaska, First Part.

Why was the Cottages founded? This requires looking back at the circumstances of the founding of the mission itself, in 1878.

In the mid 1780s to the 1810s, the maritime fur trade in sea otter pelts brought great wealth to the region without taking away indigenous control. By the mid-19th century, however, settlers, traders and miners, backed by military force, were aggressively displacing Native people in British Columbia and Washington Territory.

In Southeastern Alaska, the Russians did not have the ability to be aggressive toward the Tlingit. Instead they relied on diplomacy and engaged in mutually beneficial trade. Tlingit clans were major players in regional commerce.

After the 1867 Treaty of Cession, southeastern Alaska became the American frontier. Americans had the military might the Russians did not have. American traders displaced Natives from trade. I believe that it was this rapid destruction of the indigenous economy, under threat of force, that made missions attractive in the late 1870s, when they were not earlier.

Americans brought the belief that Natives are inherently inferior and must be subjugated for the good of society. Results of the treatment of Native people based on this narrative are then taken as evidence of their natural inferiority. This discriminatory cycle was probably behind why Native people wanted missions and schools, and ultimately, why, in spite of the sacrifices this group made, the settlers at the Cottages suffered much the same fate as other Native people.

10

The Sitka school began in earnest in 1880, and very soon had boarding students – a small group of young men and boys who asked to be allowed to live at the school. The mission laid claim to the present campus in 1882, and students and staff soon built a large dormitory and school building.

The school was this successful right from the start, in large part because of the desire of certain Tlingit leaders to send their children. Missionary Sheldon Jackson, who founded Alaska’s Presbyterian missions, was a prodigious fund raiser. He fictionalized how depraved Natives were before Christianity, but that would not have been effective without the clear evidence of success in the mission students, in the growing facilities, and especially in the Cottages.

11

Cottages families in front of Cottages Hall, around 1904. Collection Sitka National Historical Park.

cottages-ids

This is my effort at matching the names to the persons in the photo – no guarantees!

Starting left to right, front row – Eaton Hunter, Ralph Young, Don Cameron, John Cameron, Frank Price, Ben Peck, Tillie Howard, George Howard, unknown, Esther Cook, mary Cook, Tillie Wells, Bella Simpson, George Bartlett, Ruth Bartlett, David Howard (Middle?) Louis Simpson (boy?), Mrs. George Bartlett, Mrs. Albert James, Jean Wanamaker, Louisa Peck, Mrs. Maud Wells, Mary Simpson, John Newell, Lila Newell, John James

Mrs. Ralph Young (in white blouse?), Mrs. Elsie Newell, Mrs. John James, Mrs. John Willard (holding grand child), Mrs. Don Cameron, Mrs. Thomas Cooke, Mrs. George Howard, Mrs. Ray James (holding Ray Jr.), Albert James,

(Next row?) Edward Grant, Thomas Cooke, John E. Gamble,

Very top row? George Howard, Peter Simpson, John Willard, Willie Wells, Ray James Sr., Andrew J. Wanamaker, Cyrus E. Peck Sr. Identifications from publication The Voice of Brotherhood.

13

The Cottages Band, 1904. Alaska State Library Historical Collections, Sheldon Jackson College Collection.

14

Cottage Women’s Missionary Society. Photo Sitka Historical Society 91.26, folder 660.

Cottage Women’s Missionary Society Back Row – left to right: Mrs. John James Mrs. Cook Miss Gibson Mrs. Wanamaker Mrs. Young

Next row: Mrs. Newell Mrs. Dundas Mrs. Ray James Gibson Young (boy)

Next row: Mrs. Albert James & Baby Dorothy Mrs. Geo. Howard Mrs. Willard Mrs. MacKay Mrs. C. Bailey

Bottom row: Jenny Sing Mrs. Simpson Mrs. Sam Johnson & baby Ruth Bartlett Mrs. Bartlett & baby (two of the children are not identified)

Identifications from a Sheldon Jackson College pamphlet, collection Sitka National Historical Park

Contrasts and Conflicts

The Cottages presents a problem for us today. Cottage leaders stated that the old ways will bring Native people down. They were proud to be living in American-style homes and wearing American clothes, proud to be speaking English. We see the deliberate abandonment of language, in particular, as a great loss. I think the important thing is not to project our 21st century ideas onto them.

Even as Cottages leaders stated that they needed to put the old ways behind them, the reality was that life at the Cottages was permeated with Native identity. If we just go by the photographs, and the way it was framed at the time, we would think that these people’s identity began fresh with their adoption of an English name.

12

Cottages families, in front of Cottages Hall, late 1906/early 1907. Sitka National Historical Park SITK 808.

But, a Cottage person’s identity would have been based on his or her Native name, family, lineage, relationships and in clan and house history going back thousands of years; identity changed with conversion, but was not replaced.

And, place. These people were still in the place their ancestors had enriched with complex significance. Only a few hundred yards away was the site of the 1804 Battle of Sitka, the major conflict between the Russians and the Kiksadi clan, that resulted in the cession of what is now Sitka to the Russians. Newcomers would not feel the resonance of that event, of what led up to it and the consequences, instead seeing a pretty view or a resource to be exploited.

So while these people look like they have completely assimilated, they knew who they were.

Who were these founders of the Cottages?

15

Cottages families in 1912. Merrill Collection, Sitka National Historical Park.

Some of the Cottages residents in 1912: Bottom row: Dorothy James Truitt, Jennie Simpson Sing, Ray James, Jr.
Middle row: Tillie Howard Hope (the mother of Ellen Hope Hays), Mr. and Mrs. Sloan, Carol Feller Brady’s mother Elizabeth Kadashan James, Carol’s father Ray James with Carol’s sister Flora, and David Howard (Tillie’s brother).
Back row: Ray James’s sister Olinda Bailey, Peter Simpson, Jr., Mary Simpson, Peter Simpson with Baby, Jennie Willard, John Willard, and Ray James’s brother, Albert James.

 

The community included important tradition bearers. Marriages were proper marriages between opposite clans. Perhaps partly due to culture and partly due to economic need, many traditional food gathering traditions were also followed.

Many of the families were closely related. Matriarchs of three families were sisters, whose parents, Kok Gla or John and Lucy or Mary Sloan, while not English speakers or graduates of the school, also lived at the Cottages.

These women are Kiks.adi, Point House. The eldest was Amelia, who later married Don Cameron, who came from Chilkat. Mary Sloan married Tsimshian Peter Simpson, and Lottie was the first wife of George Howard, Tlingit from Kake.

A fourth sister married a businessman born in England, Bernard Hirst. They lived in downtown Sitka, and their sons attended the “white” school.

In 2004, Ellen Hope Hays, who grew up at the Cottages, a Kiksadi Point House woman, whose grandmother was one of the Sloan sisters, showed me this photograph, saying, this is a photograph of descendents of those who fought the 1804 Battle of Sitka. The photograph was taken in 1912, one hundred years after the Battle, and one hundred years before she showed it to me – and her own mother is in the picture, as a girl. The leader of the Tlingit defense in 1804 was a Kiksadi Point House man, Shk’aawulyéil. Her grandmother’s great- grandmother was his sister.1 Another granddaughter recently told me that this photograph was taken at the fort site.

There is therefore a wide gap between how the Cottage members saw themselves, in the context of history, place, and lineage, and how the community looks to us now.

A granddaughter says that Amelia Cameron and her parents did not go to the school or speak English, but lived there because of clan ownership. Her husband, Don Cameron, was Kaagwaantaan. He was a translator for ethnologist John Swanton, and himself provided traditional narratives.

 

The Cottages community included William Wells or Kaads’aati, of the Luknax.adi, and Rudolph Walton Kawootk’, a Kiksadi man. Both were among the “original students” at the school. Both were in line to become leaders, and they and their families made the decision in 1880 to send them to the school. Both became devout Presbyterians.

Elizabeth James was sent to Sitka from Wrangell, by her father, Kaagwaaantaan leader Kadashan, an early convert to Protestant Christianity, and he and his mother were also tradition bearers, contributing material to Swanton. Elizabeth married a son of Amelia Cameron, one of the Sloan sisters.

Perhaps the best known of the Cottage community is Peter Simpson, a leader in civil rights and land claims. He was a member of the Christian community at Metlakatla, British Columbia led by missionary William Duncan, and part of the exodus in 1887 to New Metlakatla in the United States.

Models

The missionary activity by William Duncan was well known to Presbyterian missionaries, and to Tlingit people, who have strong trade and even family ties to the coastal Tsimshian. Founded in 1862, the Christian Native community of Metlakatla had their own frame houses, large church, and a sawmill, and other industries.

It seems likely that the Cottages was modeled at least in part on Metlakatla. We can’t know how much of the idea for the community came from the missionaries, and how much may have been the idea of certain Tlingit people.

In 1887, William Duncan led 800 Christian Tsimshean people from Metlakatla, in British Columbia, to New Metlakatla, in southeastern Alaska. The following spring, in 1888, Presbyterian missionary Sheldon Jackson brought Peter Simpson and 31 other boys from Metlakatla to his Sitka training school.1 (7)

19

Hamilton and Simpson Sawmill, Port Gravina, Alaska. Taken by B. A. Haldane of Metlakatla, Alaska, 1895. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) 297380.

Then, in the fall of 1892, when he was about 21, Peter Simpson and some other Metlakatlan graduates of the Sitka school returned south and started Hamilton, Simpson and Company, a sawmill, at Port Gravina – a town they founded – across Tongass Narrows from Ketchikan. The all-Native company eventually had a fishing operation, ran a tug, owned a large store, a carpenter shop, and rental cottages. Gravina burned down in 1904 and was not rebuilt.

Of course most enterprises in southeastern Alaska failed sooner than later, but Natives had more obstacles to success. Simpson’s granddaughter Isabella Brady told how as Natives, they could not get title to the land to rebuild, and says that this is the source of his lifelong fight for land claims.2

Could it be that the Cottages settlers hoped to have a place to do business? Commerce at the Cottages was limited to a boatbuilding operation and sales of handicrafts to tourists, but, by the teens, people associated with the school and the Cottages dominated Sitka’s boatbuilding and commercial salmon seining, which was a big deal at that time.

The boatbuilding operation began in 1906 under Peter Simpson. Men who worked with Simpson, nearly all related by marriage, went on to build most of the hundreds of boats built in Sitka in the 20th century.

20

Peter Simpson’s shop at the foot of Metlakatla Street. Photo Sitka Historical Society.

21

The boat at center is named “William,” perhaps the boat built for Rudolph Walton. Merrill photo Sitka National Historical Park.

 

Simpson’s shop was on the point of land below Metlakatla Street. In the fall of 1908 he had five men working there, and enlarged his shop. In 1909 they launched a 34-foot boat for Rudolph Walton, the William, and had built “many” others.3 (15) In 1910, when he was nearly 40, Simpson employed his brother-in-law George Howard, who was about his age, and John James at his shop.4 (16)

23

Sealing boats gathered for blessing by the Orthodox priest. The store may be Rudolph Walton’s store. Herring Rock is at right. Merrill Photo, collection Sitka National Historical Park.

George Howard left the Cottages, and built a home and boatshop on the northern edge of the Village in the teens. He built sealing boats and fishing boats. Peter Simpson was often “high boat” in the fur seal hunt in the 1920s.

Hope working

Andrew Hope at the bandsaw, fisherman Andrew Soinio in foreground. This may be Scotty Jennings’ boat shop, in the 1920s. Photo from a glass slide in the collection of the Sitka Historical Society.

Andrew Hope, who was a graduate of the Sitka school, married the daughter of Lottie Sloan and George Howard. His eldest son grew up as the adopted son of the Cameron family at the Cottages.

25

Early day salmon seiners, from The Silver Years of the Alaska Canned Salmon Industry: An Album of Historical Photos by Laurence Freeburn.

Dozens of boats were built by this handful of men and their associates. I’ve counted over 50 documented vessels (over about 32 feet) built in Sitka in the 22 years between 1909 and 1931, and at least 31 were built by Alaska Native builders. There were many smaller boats as well. The largest output was in the teens, when engine-powered seiners came to Alaska.

Most of these early seiners were financed by the canneries, for top producers, and nearly all of these men were also affiliated with the Cottages.

These men did not learn to build boats at the school. I believe they learned by working with Scandinavian and other immigrants of the time, and Tlingit craftsmen applied their woodworking and boat design knowledge to the new technology. Other Native builders built boats in villages and towns all over southeast. There were a few non-Native boatbuilders as well.

Rudolph Walton or Kawootk’ was one of the original students at the school. His name was given him by his sponsors at the school, a Philadelphia family who named him after a prominent Presbyterian of that city. Walton was proud of the association.

Walton was a carver and jeweler, and sold his work at the Cottages, but then built a store and home in the Village in 1905.

In 1906 he was at the center of a school integration case, when his step-children were barred from attending the “white” school. The testimony in this case, expecially the way Natives are treated, reveals the gross racial bias that was not usually on display. He was involved in clan affairs, for which he was condemned by the missionaries; while his attempt to get his kids a good education resulted in condemnation by other whites.

This epitomizes the bind that Cottage people were in: they made the sacrifice of their traditions and language, and apparently of clan leadership, in order to secure a future for their children, but in spite of their proper clothes, education and manners, they were still treated with gross bias – possibly, as for Walton in the Davis Case, even more so, because they dared to challenge the status quo.

Most of the founders of the Alaska Native Brotherhood had been educated at the Presbyterian mission school and were affiliated with the Cottages.

We are fortunate to have people with us today who grew up in the Cottages, and who tell their story, or even write about what it was for children in the 1930s, the last days as a community.

They describe the joys of growing up with the Sitka National Historic Park for a backyard; of playing with cousins, and feasting on traditional foods, when families went fall fishing, or to canneries in the summer. And the grandparents, aunts and uncles and great-aunts and uncles, as well as parents who practiced and taught traditional food gathering. How musical many of the residents were, and the excellence of the Sheldon Jackson School choir and basketball programs, and how warm and welcoming the school staff was to these young kids. And the spontaneous picnics, and church-centered celebrations of Thanksgiving and Christmas, and being a part of the Sheldon Jackson School community.

But the striking thing in these narratives is that most are stories of survival. What unfortunately shaped this community, was premature death and the unfortunate consequence of repeated, severe trauma: alcohol abuse. This, I believe, was a direct result of forces that were against Native people from the very start.

By the 1880s, most Americans saw enormously improved living standards and life expectancy. But this improvement was not enjoyed by Alaska Natives. Even in the 1930s, homes in the Cottages did not have running water. Economic and social marginalization stemming from racial discrimination probably had something to do with it, but whatever the cause, Alaska Natives saw a horrific rate of premature death. At least two men’s deaths were related to overwork.

Ellen Hope Hays, who was a child of the Cottages, said that it was disease that had the biggest impact on Native people, more than racism or alcohol.

I went to the Division of Vital Statistics in Juneau and copied out the deaths in Sitka in the 1930s. When I ordered the list by age at death, I was shocked. At least eighty percent of the family names of those who died at age 30 or younger are those of Native families.

Peter Simpson outlived all 15 of his children – only two lived to adulthood, and both lost children of their own, and died leaving others. Carole Feller Brady’s entire family died – parents, three sisters, and two brothers – by the time she was still only a teen. Many of the families were closely related, and the small size of the community, made these intense losses devastating.

In 1937, four young men from the Cottages – two graduates, a current student, and the young husband of a graduate – drowned. In 1936 and 37, 5 other Cottages residents also died prematurely. This is from a community of only 17 homes.

Nine of the seventeen people in this photograph died prematurely.

By the 1930s, Sheldon Jackson School staff were concerned about the situation, in which alcohol abuse was a problem in many homes. Cottages founders tried to revive the Cottages Society, but the devastation wrought by so much trauma was out of anyone’s control.

Carol Feller Brady, whose two idolized older brothers were among the drowning victims, and whose father died of tb the year before, tells how school superintendent Les Yaw told her sister not to be too hard on their mother, who was drinking: “her heart is buried six feet underground.”

Everyone we’ve interviewed had stories of tremendous loss, of siblings, parents.

But all those people also have beautiful stories of family, food, and traditions. Their stories help us to understand how they survived circumstances that overwhelmed others, whether by force of will, by not looking back, or by cultivating forgiveness. “Life was hard,” is as close to a complaint as we’ve heard.

We can also learn from the story of the Cottages how racism shaped the experiences of Native people, and how those same stereotypes and assumptions persist today, ironically stemming from the consequences of generations of deliberate categorization of Natives as inferior.

Selected sources:

Joyce Walton Shales, “Rudolph Walton: One Tlingit Man’s Journey Through Stormy Seas, Sitka, Alaska, 1867-1951” (Ph. D. diss., The University of British Columbia, 1998)

Sergei Kan, Memory Eternal: Tlingit Culture and Russian Orthodox Christianity through Two Centuries (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 1999)

Twelfth Census of the United States, Census of Alaska, Southern District, Sitka, Alaska 1900, accessed at family search.org.

Thirteenth Census of the United States, Population – Alaska, 1st District, Sitka, Alaska 1910, accessed at findmypast.com.

Ted C. Hinckley, Alaskan John G. Brady, Missionary, Businessman, Judge, and Governor, 1878-1918 (Miami, Ohio: Miami University, 1982)

Don Craig Mitchell, Sold American, The Story of Alaska Natives and Their Land, 1867-1959 (Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press, 2003), 65-110

A. E. Austin, “History of the Mission” The North Star 5 no. 12 December 1892 1-4

Zachary R. Jones, “’Search For and Destroy’: The US Army’s Relations with Alaska’s Tlingit Indians and the Kake War of 1869,” Ethnohistory 60, no. 1 (Winter 2013), 1-26

Susan Neylan, “Longhouses, Schoolroom, and Workers’ Cottages: Nineteenth Century Protestant Missions to the Tsimshian and the Transformation of Class Through Religion” Journal of the CHA 2000 New Series 11, 51-86

Peter Murray, The Devil and Mr. Duncan (Victoria, British Columbia: Sono Nis Press, 1985)

1.This and most of the other Tlingit geneology from Harold Jacobs, personal communication.
2.Murray, p. 207 (boys to S.J.); William Gilbert Beattie, Marsden of Alaska (New York: Vantage Press, 1955), p. 19 (boys to S.J., incl Simpson); North Star, September 1888 (Simpson in school here).
2 Isabella Brady (grand daughter of Peter Simpson), personal communication
3 North Star, March 1909, p. 2 (boat for Walton, many boats past few years), Chronology p. 38 (Walton’s boat the William)
4 1910 Census (Simpson, Howard, James building).

Following is a paper I wrote for an art history class, with Dr.Glenn  Benge, at Tyler School of Art around 1999.

bather-1935

Pierre Bonnard, Bather 1935

Introduction

Pierre Bonnard was a member of the most prominent artistic group in Paris in the 1890s, when he was in his 20s, and he produced some of the most original and valuable work of that fertile time. Yet he lived and painted into his 80th year, producing his masterpieces well after he and his friends were out of the spotlight of modern art, which had gone on to Matisse, Picasso, and to Abstract Expressionism by the time Bonnard died in 1947.

Here are reproductions of a print and a painting from the begining and end of his career: the lithograph Family Scene* (21 x 26 cm, private collection, Switzerland) of 1892, and the painting White Interior (109 x 162 cm, Musée de Grenoble) of 1932. Bonnard’s early works, like this print from 1892, when he was 25, show a combination of decorative, abstracted shapes, a flattened space, and the use of quirky yet descriptive marks to make a work that is decorative without being bland, charming without being too sweet, and observed yet not overly descriptive. Bonnard’s combination of these things, which was unique to him, can be summarized as the combination of a pleasing but odd design and a subject it takes a moment to read, which are integral to each other. What makes his prints, and paintings, work is the way our brain has to move between the plane of decorative marks and the space and figures represented, the play between illusion and surface.

Over the years he transformed his style into something even stronger. This painting was done in 1933, when he was in his mid-60s. The overall decorative effect is now achieved with color, and the graphic elements – shapes and line – are not as prominent. In the painting there is more of a feeling of something going on below the surface. But in the painting as in the print, much of its success is due to the relationship of the marks and design of the surface of the work to the illusionistic space we see at the same time.

In this paper I will address the following questions: How was Pierre Bonnard’s work a product of the 1890s, and how is his work an expression of the ideas about art which were current? What is the significance of the subdued colors and intimate scenes chosen by Bonnard and by his close associate Edouard Vuillard, which caused them to be called “Intimists”? What made Bonnard’s work unique – what does it have in common with, and how does it differ from, the work of Vuillard, the work of others in the Nabi circle, and the work of other contemporaries? And finally, how do the lithographs and paintings of Bonnard’s early years lead to the colorful canvases of his later life?

The 1880s

Pierre Bonnard began to study art at the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs in 1885, after he had earned his baccalaureate. He soon dropped out and began to train for the civil service, but with the intention of continuing to paint on his own. In 1887 he renewed his art studies, at the Académie Julian then at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, while still in training for the civil service and then working as a clerk. In 1889 he failed his civil service exam and won a poster contest, and so began his career in art.1

These paintings are by two of the masters who exemplify the attitude towards art to which we owe the rebellion of the late 19th century. They are William Adolphe Bouguereau’s Return From the Harvest of 1878 (241 x 170 cm, Cummer Gallery of Art, Jacksonville) and Prayer in the Mosque of ‘Amr (88.9 x 74.9 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art), 1872, by Léon Gérôme. Gérôme2 and Bouguereau taught at the Ecole des Beaux Arts at the time Bonnard was there. The Académie Julian, which Bonnard and most of the Nabis also attended, was a private studio school which the Ecole des Beaux Arts instructors would visit to correct the pupils.3 The painstaking and highly skilled execution, and exotic, romanticized, mythical or historical subject matter and classical perspective of Gérôme and Bouguereau were valued by the establishment, and were what the younger painters rebelled against. Only certain subjects were thought appropriate for a good painting. The extreme naturalistic detail detracted from the work — as art historian H. R. Rookmaaker observes, “Looking, for example, at Bouguereau’s Satyr and Nymphs we get the impression of seeing a snapshot taken in a nudist camp” — and the overall work tended to be stiff and formulaic.4

Influences on the Nabis

While still in art school Pierre Bonnard became friends with the other young painters who were to call themselves the Nabis, the Hebrew word for prophet. These young Parisians had in common a comfortable middle-class background and an excellent, liberal education.5

These slides show two paintings by Paul Sérusier, the leader of the Nabis, who was also an art theorist who wrote down some of their ideas. One is from 1888, The Breton Weaver (72 x 59 cm, location not given), and shows the style that got one of his paintings accepted into the Salon. The next slide dates from 1890, and is titled, Paul Ranson in Nabi costume (60 x 45 cm, collection Mme Ranson, Paris). Ranson was one of the Nabis, the one at whose house they met. It looks like there is some humor there. They did dress up sometimes, and had special words and signatures.6 These examples show the revolutionary change in Sérusier’s style, from the Weaver’s naturalistic light and details, to the odd perspective, bold outline, and simplification of the portrait.

The Nabis were a loose association, mainly a group of friends who were all serious artists.7 They were formed, however, around the ideas of Paul Gauguin. In 1888 Sérusier, on the last day of his holidays in Brittany, finally approached Gauguin, who was staying at the same inn.

This slide shows Paul Gauguin’s painting The Vision After the Sermon of 1888 (73 x 92 cm, National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh) which was revolutionary in several ways. The stylized, simply-drawn figures, the flattening and distortion of the illusionary space, and the simplified areas of color, especially the large area of bright red are all new, developed by Gauguin working with Emile Bernard at Pont-Avens in Brittany.8

On his last day in Brittany, in the late summer of 1888, Sérusier went out painting with Gauguin, and painted a landscape with Gauguin’s instruction. The slide is Sérusier’s cigar-box lid, Landscape of the Bois d’Amour at Pont-Avens (27 x 22 cm, private collection, France), his attempt at translating the master’s instruction that day.9

Back in Paris Sérusier shared what he understood of Gauguin’s theories and showed his friends the painting, which became the group’s “talisman.” In 1889 they could see a show of Gauguin and his followers at the Café Volpini in Paris.10

Gauguin’s and Bernard’s painting used the actual means of drawing to express the artist’s state of mind. They valued most those elements of painting which were not found in nature, line in particular, and flat, unillusionistic areas of color, intentional distortion, and simplification.11 Maurice Denis, one of the Nabis, said they learned from Gauguin, “that every work of art was a transposition, a caricature, the passionate equivalent of a received sensation.”12 The artist had to select the elements in what he saw that were necessary to his vision, and ignore the others. Because so much of the art admired by the establishment was realistic, but formulaic and effete, Gauguin and his colleagues came to value the ideal of ‘primitive’ art, art not affected by the Italian Renaissance, and saw a primitive style of drawing and painting as more likely to convey emotional truth.13

In the work of the previous generation, that of the Impressionists, the painting is still a window into illusionistic space. Gauguin and the Nabis took painting one step beyond, asserting its existence as “a flat surface covered with colors arranged in a certain order,”14 as articulated by Nabi Maurice Denis (then age 20) in 1890, with expressive and decorative aims foremost.

Japanese prints had begun to circulate among some French artists in the 1860s, and by the 1890s were the fashion in Paris. A show in 1890 at the Ecole des Beaux Arts had over a thousand woodcuts and illustrated books.15 In addition, crude popular woodcuts, called Images d’Epinal after the town that produced them, had a new value to the young painters, with their crude and non-illusionistic line and flat colors.16

Symbolism

An important element of the esthetics of the Nabis and of Gauguin was Symbolism, current in both literature and art. These slides show Symbolist painter Odilon Redon’s lithograph The Breath which Leads Living Creatures of 1882 (27.3 x 20.9 cm, no location given) and the charcoal drawing Woman’s Profile with Flowers (50 x 37 cm, Rijksmusem, Holland) of the early 1890s.

Symbolist poets tried to get away from subject matter altogether. The many images in their work would be purely representative of ideal concepts, summoned only by the poet’s mind. This was in reaction to Positivism, formulated in the early nineteenth century but still current, which said that science alone can explain the universe, and to Naturalism in literature, in which the actions of the characters of a novel are completely dependent on their circumstances. The idea for the literary Symbolists was that only art could reveal true reality, which had nothing to do with literal description or rational analysis.

The originator of literary Symbolism, Stéphane Mallarmé, stated that he wanted “to paint not the thing, but the effect it produces.”17 He wanted, through suggestion, to evoke the pure idea behind objectively perceived reality. Mallarmé became famous (and infamous, through his identification with a “decadent” character in a novel) in 1884 and the ideas of Symbolism were popular among the Paris avant garde.18 Mallarmé was known personally by the Nabis, and Bonnard had the highest regard for his work.19

In Symbolism in art there are many varieties, but they have in common the idea that art should be expressive of something beyond ordinary visual reality, usually mystical, and not simply a depiction of what we see. There were different styles of visual Symbolism, and some artists used very naturalisitically and literally painted things and figures which indicated some mystical theme. Gustave Moreau was champion of this school.

Odilon Redon was a Symbolist artist closer to the ideas of Mallarmé, and they later became friends. Redon was known and admired by the Nabis, though he had been doing his strange works for decades before becoming popular with the younger generation of writers and painters of the 1890s.20 Redon valued line as an abstract element, the “arabesque,” and wrote, “All my art is limited solely to the resources of chiaroscuro and it also owes a great deal to the effects of abstract line, that power drawn from deep sources which acts directly upon our minds. An evocative art can achieve nothing without recourse to the mysterious play of shadows and of the rhythm of lines conceived in the mind.”21 Thus the pictorial means of the work of art convey meaning as much as the subject, an idea that was part of Gauguin’s theory as well.

Symbolism, like all art movements, was in many ways a reaction to the faults or outdated aspects of preceding movements. Impressionism seemed too shallow, being concerned only with representing exterior effects of light. Academic Naturalism in painting was even more superficial, with its emphasis on super-realistic (yet romanticised) rendering of figures and landscapes. The English Pre-Raphaelites, though linked with the literary symbolists, were also ignored by the Nabis, because, like many of the cruder symbolist painters, the Pre-Raphaelites painted ideas in a literal fashion, rather than transforming them through the tools of painting into something which would work directly through the visual, without recourse to intellectual or literary allusion.

Decoration of Puvis de Chavannes

Another important influence on the Nabis was the older painter-decorator Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, another Symbolist, although he disclaimed the association.22 This painting is his Summer from 1891 (54.4 x 86.3 cm, Musée du Petit Palais, Paris), the small version of a mural. Though his symbolism is rather literal, his work above all is decorative. Puvis had revived mural painting in France.23 His subject matter is not unlike oil paintings acceptable at the time, and in fact his work was so acceptable that he did murals for the Sorbonne and the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) in Paris.

In order to complement the architecture, the painting is in soft, flat colors and has no deep space, which would break up the visual surface of the wall.24 His style of painting is rather simplified, and there is little modeling. Another decorative aspect is that the figures and ground work together in the composition. The decorative aspects of his work – the simplification, the unnaturalistic colors, flattening of perspective and integration of figure and ground – seemed very modern to the Nabis.25

Early paintings.

This painting by Gauguin, Portrait of Vincent Van Gogh (73 x 91 cm, Van Gogh Foundation, Amsterdam) was done in 1888. The other painting is by Nabi Edouard Vuillard, Self-portrait with Sister (no size or location given), in 1892.Vuillard was another Nabi, who was most closely tied to Bonnard, and who shared a studio with him for a time. Vuillard’s style at this time was similar to Gauguin and Bernard, with the simplified forms, lack of modelling and decorative use of color.

Both Vuillard and Bonnard experimented with Gauguin’s style of heavy outlines and flatly applied color. Before long though both had developed their own styles. This landscape (Chateau of Virieu, in Dauphiné, 22 x 27 cm, private collection, Paris) was painted by Bonnard in 1888, before Sérusier’s revelation. It is naturalistic in forms and colors, and the composition is not that interesting. The second painting, The Review (23 x 31 cm, private collection, Paris), done in 1889, shows Bonnard’s version of the artistic interpretation of a scene, in the new style, influenced by Gauguin and Japanese woodcuts. (In reproductions in books this painting is much brighter.) The heavy outlines, bright colors, lack of modelling, and tilted perspective are all elements of Japanese wood cuts and of the ideas of Gauguin. The soldier closest to us, blocking the picture, and making some interesting graphic shapes in the composition, is pure Bonnard: kind of surprising, but right, in how he fits in to the imagined space and into the compositional space.

Two “Intimist” paintings of the 1890s.

These two paintings of the 1890s, Two Women By Lamplight (1892, 33 x 41 cm, G. Grammont Collection, Paris) by Vuillard and Breakfast Under the Lamp (1898, 24 x 33 cm, private collection, Montreux) by Bonnard, have much in common. The same pallette is used in both. What caused these painters to choose the browns, dull blue and brownish orange, over the brilliant colors of the Impressionists and even Gauguin? They also both used an earthy pallette for their respective series of color lithographs published in 1899.

One reason might be subtlety. There is no obvious action in the paintings, no obvious social commentary or overt symbolism, no provocative title. Just as with the suppression of details, the slightly unreal, but subtle colors are demonstrating that the meaning in the painting is going to come from the painting itself, and not something imposed on it.

The Nabi painters greatly admired the Symbolist painter Odilon Redon,26 whose main work was in black and white lithographs, with no color at all. They were also in contact with him. Redon wrote, “My drawings inspire, and are not to be defined. They do not determine anything. Like music, they take us into the ambiguous world of the indeterminate. They are a kind of metaphor, Rémy de Gourmont had said, giving them a position all their own, far from geometric art.”27 Redon felt that color would take away from the expressive line. He only started using much color in the 1890s and later.

Both Vuillard28 and Bonnard knew and admired the Symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé.29 The literary Symbolists exalted suggestion over description, “Never the Color, always the Shade,/ always the nuance is supreme!”30 Unlike other painters influenced by Symbolism, Bonnard did not paint things that were supposed to be idealized or unreal. The important idea in literary Symbolism for Bonnard and his friends was probably the idea of suggestion, rather than description. In an 1891 interview Mallarmé said: “To name the object is to destroy three-quarters of the pleasure we take in the poem, which is derived from the enjoyment of guessing by degrees; of suggesting it. That is our dream. Symbolism is the perfect way to approach this mystery: one gradually conjures up an object so as to demonstrate a state of mind, or, conversely, one chooses an object which, when gradually deciphered, reveals a state of mind.”31

Bonnard and Vuillard show their affinity for the idea of suggestion in the literary symbolists in the simplification and subtlety of forms and colors. Bonnard was a a kind of Symbolist, because he was intentionally invoking ideas through his paintings that were not completely in the actual subject matter, through color, shapes, and vagueness. He was just subtle about it, and this made his work much more effective, in that it works in a way only visual art can, without using intellectual concepts.

The dark colors are also expressive of a certain mood, of reflection, closeness and even claustrophobia. There is probably something of the descriptive, as well. Paris apartments in the 1890s probably looked like that, before electric light.

Bonnard scholar Helen Giambruni argues that their suggestive interiors owe a lot to the plays of Maeterlink, whose plays were put on by the Théâtre de l’Ouvre, when the Nabi painters were very involved in doing sets there, and his “notion of another, more significant reality – the unformulated emotional undercurrents existing beneath the banal surface of everyday human interactions” 32

Another aspect of Bonnard’s and Vuillard’s art was the idea of using ordinary things as subject matter. This was again in reaction to academic painting, which relied on grand subject matter, and was yet another way of making the artist himself more apparent in the artwork. It was not original with the Nabis; Manet, for example, had painted street scenes, waitresses and courtesans.

Bonnard and Vuillard have been called “Intimist,” though both did as many street scenes as interiors, and bourgeois interiors as subject matter were not unusual even among the Impressionists. The works of Vermeer, whose beautiful paintings are of everyday interiors and ordinary women, were in vogue at the time. Paintings of intimate, dimly-lit interiors (think of card players) were common in the 1890s.

But in the paintings of Bonnard and Vuillard, while the domestic interior as a subject is not new, the extreme closeness – emotional and perceptual – is new. In the reduction of illusionistic space, and the flattening of the picture, everything comes out at the viewer. The slightly off, quirky composition surprises us by putting us right into the room, rather than letting us view it as through a window.

And now, how is Bonnard’s painting different from Vuillard’s? In Bonnard’s, much more than in Vuillard, the figures lose their identity to become part of the formal structure of the painting.33 Even in the highly patterned surface of Two Women, in which the figures and grounds are united with color, there is still a separation between them and their background. You sense there are two people there, two presences. In Breakfast, on the other hand, how many people are in the room? It took me a while to see the face of the fifth little person in the foreground. In his painting, also, the interplay of forms and colors is in itself more interesting, because of the movement of the curves and s-shapes through the composition.

These two prints, from the late 1890s, Bonnard’s Child in Lamplight (1897, 33 x 45.5 cm, private collection, Paris) and Vuillard’s Interior with Pink Wallpaper (1899, 88 x 193 cm, Museum of Modern Art, New York) are also Intimist, although in the different medium, color lithography, the effect is different. Instead of the brushy vagueness of Bonnard’s painting, or the rich colors and patterns of Vuillard, they use graphic marks and the light of the paper to convey an atmosphere. In the Child, the lampshade’s graphic shape is the main thing in the composition, dramatizing the littleness of the child. Its dark shape and clear outline also make the rest of the picture more mysterious by contrast, and, I think the little white face and hands coming out of the shadow, convey the impression that something is going on inside that head.

Vuillard’s lithographs of the series that included the Wallpaper print, Interiors and Landscapes, published in 1899, are almost abstract. The pattern on the wallpaper becomes the subject of the print. The flattening and the integration of the lamp into the wall behind it again bring the room to the viewer’s face.

Art has always been about more than the things depicted, so in a way nothing Bonnard was doing in this regard was new. But because the Nabis were reacting against the Academic realism of their time, they felt they had to come up with a new method of painting which did not rely on a close representation of reality, and so was more obviously a creation of the artist.

Other Nabis, Symbolism and decoration.

These two paintings are by Paul Sérusier: Pont-Aven Triptych from 1892-93 (71 x 33 cm, J. C. Bellier) and Meditation, from 1890 (no size or location given). While Bonnard did not tie his art to the literal, either literal representations of reality, or literal depiction of emotional states or ideas, most of the other Nabis did. All of the Nabis except Bonnard, Vuillard and Ker-Xavier Roussel had Theosophist, mystical or Catholic interests34 and took more to the mystical side of Symbolism, as these paintings by Sérusier show.

Nabi Maurice Denis was a strongly religious Catholic, and his art was obviously symbolic, mystical and Christian. These two paintings, Procession Under the Trees (no size or location given) and The Cup of Tea, or Mystical Allegory (92 x 55 cm, private collection) were done in 1892. The Cup of Tea is also strongly decorative, to the detriment of the work.

Another pitfall was the tendency for the work to become merely decorative. The Nabis’ distinguishing characteristic, against their other contemporaries, was their emphasis on art as decoration. Turning the painting into a decorative object was an idea of Gauguin, when he changed the painting from an illusionistic space into a primitively outlined composition of line and color, with a strong integration of figure and ground. Sérusier took this a step further, saying that the expressive power of line and color was the most important thing.35 The idea for the Nabis was that the artist could distort what he saw, but the aim in the end was that it be beautiful, or decorative.36

In a way Manet and the Impressionists had shown the way to this modern way of composing a picture, with a decorative lack of focus, against the classical, hierarchical style of the academy. The art critic Peter Shjeldahl puts the dispersed style of composition into the modern context: “(Monet’s) problem was, as ours is, how to construct a vision of the world without a hierarchy of values, an order of importance. If your eye falls impartially on all that confronts it – and any other way of looking at the world seems false – how can you compose other than blandly or arbitrarily? The bland and the arbritrary held no terrors for Manet, who recognized them as qualities of the absolutely modern: the emotional leveling of democracy, the attention-shredding disarray of the city.”37 A decorative, all-over style of composition found in the art of the Nabis is thus an important part of modern art.

Actual decoration was the aim of most of the Nabis. Vuillard did much of his work as mural decoration in private houses, where he used distemper (glue, chalk and pigment), which is used for painting walls. Maurice Denis, the strongly religious Catholic, went on to decorate church interiors.38 Jan Verkade converted to Catholicism and joined an abbey that decorated churches.39 Paul Ranson designed tapestries. Nearly all of them, including Bonnard, did program covers, posters and set design for the various new theaters, to which they had connections through their friends and contemporaries.

The international craft movement was going on at the same time. The Nabi painters and Gauguin saw nothing wrong with, and even praised, designing and painting for decoration, as a way to bring together art and life.40 The Nabis, and their artistic ideas, were part of an artistic and literary scene in Paris. In contrast to the disasters of the Impressionists’ time, the Franco-Prussian war and the Paris Commune, which fed the reaction against the Impressionist styles,41 the 1890s in Paris were relatively secure for Bonnard and his colleagues.

While the Nabis were revolutionary in some ways, they were also stylish in other ways. In using subdued colors and flat space, their art could fit better into a tastefully decorated home. The browns and dull yellows they used were popular decorating colors in the United States in the 1880s; perhaps there was an element of fashionable good taste in their choices.

These two paintings contrast Bonnard’s version of the decorative with that of one of the other Nabis, Ker-Xavier Roussel. In the painting by Roussel, Woman in a Blue-flecked Peignoir of 1891 (35 x 27 cm, private collection) the shapes and colors are too harmonious, and our attention does not stray much from the woman’s face. In Bonnard’s painting of the same year, Women with a Dog, (1891, 40 x 32 cm, S. and F. Clark Art Institute), we see some of his unique strengths, even at the age of 24: he is extremely free with the figures, so that there is action in our identification of what is going on; and the flat patterning of the girl’s dress adds to the artifice of his representation. The faces are averted and generalized enough that they are not the focus of the composition. It is deliberately unbalanced, unlike the Roussel. We are continually surprised, by unexpected colors and shapes. In this picture Bonnard is at his most decorative, but it is still an interesting picture.

Bonnard’s color lithographs

Bonnard’s first really wonderful works are his color lithographs of the 1890s. This slide shows his poster for the magazine La Revue Blanche (80 x 63 cm, Museum of Modern Art, New York) done in 1894. Color lithography is the perfect vehicle for the ideas of Bonnard and his circle at this time: the limited pallette encourages a simplified, artificial color scheme; it is ideally suited to the flat tints copied from the Japanese and popular French prints; and line is paramount. In his early prints especially, the decorative element is foremost.42 The idea that art is surface and pattern is especially happily expressed in something as obviously two-dimensional as a color print on paper.

In this poster the figures, setting and text are integrated into a decorative composition, but it is saved from being too harmonious by the size and odd outlines of the big dark area. The edgy, sketchy line animates the ragamuffin and the lady’s cape. What is the dark shape on the right? I have read it is a gentleman, and you can see this if you see a top hat with a white reflection on his head. The magazine rack is very stylized, as is the pattern applied flatly to the kid’s scarf. These are taken from Japanese prints. What Bonnard has added is his wiggly outline, which at the same time seems random, and is descriptive of the essential elements of the slightly scary lady of fashion and the flying elbows and clothes of the newsboy.

Bonnard’s first commissioned art work had been a color poster for France Champagne, with only a few colors, of a girl with a cup of champagne and piles of bubbles, outlined with a sinuous, lively line that has a life of its own. The hand-drawn letters were also an innovation, and are tied in to the overall design. (That first, innovative poster caught the attention of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and Bonnard led him to his lithographer.)

The influence of Japanese woodcuts is most obvious in Bonnard’s lithographs. Colta Ives, in her book The Great Wave documents not only the stylistic influence but how specific prints by the Edo masters inspired individual works by artists of the 1880s and 1890s. The Japanese prints, which were at the same time sophisticated art works while also satisfying what Gauguin and others were looking for in “primitive” art, were extremely important in what they contributed, but are outside the scope of this paper.

Pierre Bonnard was particularly susceptible to the Japanese wood cut style, and his Nabi nickname was the “very Japanese Nabi.”43 One aspect of his style which may have made him like the Japanese prints is his dry humor. The Japanese prints, like Bonnard’s, convey a sophisticated but charming view of the world, never “cute” or clever. There is some distance, but also affection. The dry, whimsical freshness of the Japanese prints looks like the perfect antidote to the cloying romanticism and self-serious classicism of the French painting establishment, not to mention the quasi-religious ambitions of the Symbolists.

The elements of style of the woodcuts, which give them this understated comprehension and which Bonnard (and Gauguin, the Impressionists, and others of the Nabis) appropriated included the unusual viewpoints and perspectives, such as extreme closeups and high viewpoints; the dominance of outline; colors barely modulated; and flatness and distortion in service to the overall decorative design of the plate. Space, colors and subjects are simplified. This is exemplified in the print “Family Scene” from the beginning of my talk, where the funny fat little baby and his keepers are in an odd perspective, making the adults as droll as the baby.

Bonnard’s prints have a sketchy, unfinished look to them. The beauty and charm is in the gesture of the drawing, the line. Bonnard was a good draughtsman, and his drawing is his strongest point at this time of his career. In lithography every nuance of the crayon is reproduced in the print.

In his suite of prints “Quelques Aspects de la Vie de Paris” (Some Aspects of Paris Life, 1899) Bonnard takes as his subject the ordinary street scenes, rather than the great sights of the city. These two prints are Houses in the Courtyard, 1895-96 (34.5 x 25.7 cm, Museum of Modern Art, New York) and Boulevard, from circa 1896 (17.3 x 43.5 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

Colta Ives says that Hiroshige and Bonnard were both “on the lookout for the anecdotal and picturesque in the urban scene”44 but I think that what saves them is that they were not: the people are quite ordinary, there is an almost total lack of anecdote. What makes their prints interesting is that they have taken a common scene and transformed it into pattern, and the interest is in the interplay between the reality depicted and the pattern, not in the “anecdote” or the “picturesque.”

Still, in these prints there is an element of interesting subject matter. The movement of Bonnard’s artistic development is away from making use of the charm inherent in his subject matter. In his prints of the 1890s, he is still choosing scenes with some attraction in their own right, though he is drawing it out.

These lithographs are masterpieces as graphics for their decorative and pleasing qualities. In them he brings out, and essentially creates, the delight of seeing the energy and rhythms of shoppers and tradespeople on the Paris street, the sparkle of sun on a bright day, the dark glow of shopwindows on a rainy night. In doing this so well he is not merely recording a sight but interpreting it through visual means, with shapes, rhythms, and colors and textures, which evoke the feelings he had when he saw the scenes.

The suite of Paris lithographs was done over a three year period, 1896-1899, and there are obvious changes as the suite progresses. These changes can be summarized as “more scribbly” as he incorporates elements of Impressionism into his work.45 The actual prints are very attractive. The colors are all rather dull – they all have at least four colors, and at least two of these in each print are a brown, olive or dark gray. Even the brightest color is usually dulled down, and overprinted colors often contain complements, giving a muddy tone. Yet the overall effect is usually bright. This is achieved in the earlier prints with lighter colors, and areas of white.The use of dull colors is probably for the same reasons I outlined above for the Intimist paintings: subtlety, suggestion, style and verisimiltude.

In the early prints, the energy of his composition is from the graphic shapes, carefully laid out and realized. In the courtyard print, the use of all that white paper is rather daring. All that is happening is in the relationship of squares and lines

Houses in a Courtyard is a print that, when we were at the print room at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Mat noted was not very interesting. In these prints, the decorative aspect is foremost. They don’t stand up well next to dramatic prints like those of Rembrandt, because the energy is more superficial. They need to be seen by themselves, because their charm is in what they are, their decorative aspect, and not so much in how and what they depict, the way a classic etching draws you into the print.

The main thing that is going on is in the interplay between the illusion and the actual marks and tones he has laid down. The emotion of Gauguin, or the mysticism of the other Nabis, is tastefully absent. The view is that of a perceptive, but cool Parisian. The row of windows in the Boulevard is like a syncopated rhythm against which the figures and shapes in the foreground, most of them dark shapes, bounce and harmonize. The energy in the print is from these outlines and their distribution over the surface.

This painting from 1895, The Horse Carriage (30 x 40 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C.), of a similar subject in a similar treatment shows how prints were more successful in Bonnard’s work in the1890s. The silhouettes in front do not quite work with the brushy scene in the background. They need something more in common to make the contrast effective. As it is it looks like two paintings, or a painting and a cut-out, superimposed. He likes bold, graphic shapes, which are hard to integrate into a traditional painting.

These two works, a painting and a print of the same image – the painting Rue Tholoze, c. 1897 (53 x 68.4 cm, private collection, Texas) and the print Narrow Street Viewed from Above, of 1896-97 (36.8 x 21 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) – again show Bonnard better at using the tools of lithography to express his subject. In the painting, the overall distribution of color, texture, and shapes dissipates the interest. In the lithograph, he has closed in on the subject, and made bold use of contrasts, of pale buildings and darker shopfronts and the street, to make a graphically interesting composition. This print as a painting would lose that contrast: the white could not be as pure and flat without drawing attention to itself, it would not be as simple in its effect. The lines and shading and shapes of people all add to the energy of the print, and these would be lost in the brushy style of his paintings. The surprising viewpoint and distortion and graphic interplay of the windows are realized in a much stronger way with his simpler means.

The prints The Bridge, 1896 (27 x 41 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) and Street Corner, 1897 (27 x 35.5 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) owe a lot to Japanese prints, in their distortion of a street scene into a decorative composition. In these graphics though, as I mentioned above, the composition never degenerates into decoration only. The tension among the elements of the design is one reason. The dark figures on the right are related to, but contrast with, the scraped-back carriages on the bridge. The diagonal of the street and the smaller diagonal of the right hand figures lead you through the image, but in a jerky way, interrupted by the interesting outlines of the figures. In many of the prints are marks which refuse to be identified, like the dark shape on the sidewalk of the Street Corner, which could be a bundle or a person.

These two prints are The Pushcart (1897, 29 x 34 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) and Street at Evening in the Rain (1896, 25.7 x 35.5 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). The main way he escapes the perils of flat decoration is in the interplay between the surface of the design and the illusion of the thing depicted, which is pleasurable and keeps our mind active when we look at the prints. In each of the prints things are distorted, but in such a way that the relationships in space seem even more “right” than in a traditionally rendered picture. This is the skill of a good draughtsman, to be able to place his figures to have their outlines and features work in the composition, while his liberties only emphasize, with how well the work reads as a description of reality, its artificiality, its actual existence as a two-dimensional work. His apparent spontaneity also gives the pictures a feeling of freshness. The abstraction and unusual views are slightly surprising. His color choices are also “right” and seem to be natural.

In the later prints in the series Bonnard makes extensive use of a very coarse crayon scribble texture with his darkest color, giving a sparkling effect, as in the Street at Evening.

As the prints progress, the rectangle gives way. This is one of the last prints in the series, The Avenue du Bois de Boulogne (1898, 32 x 46 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). The Bois de Boulogne was where, in the 1890s, the fashionable would stroll or drive to see and be seen. The imagery is very loosely suggested, and the visual energy is less from the interaction of shapes than from the energy of his lines themselves, the scribbly trees and the indications of shading on the right. He still makes use of dark silhouettes, but the outlines are not as tight as they were earlier. In this print, also, many of the shapes are not readable or barely readable and the effect is much less descriptive than impressionistic, in the sense of conveying an emotional effect,of a little too much light and activity. In this print as in the Street at Evening many shapes only become legible after we view them for a while.

Bonnard’s paintings

The series of color lithographs of Paris did not sell well,46 so Bonnard would not have felt encouraged to do more. Bonnard did do a major set of crayon lithographs in one color to illustrate deluxe editions of Verlaine’s Paralellement (1900) and Longus’ Daphnis and Chloë (1902). Both were published by Ambroise Vollard, who had published the Paris lithographs. Bonnard scholar Sasha Newman argues that these nudes were the beginning of classical and 18th century allusions in his work, and went along with his discovery of Impressionism in the late 1890s.47 After this his lithographs were less innovative, as his creativity was expressed in his paintings.

Bonnard’s most wonderful accomplishment in his prints and in his paintings is the interplay between representation of the objects or the scene, and our awareness of the artist’s marks and the flatness of the actual print or painting. While in the prints the effect is mainly pleasant and decorative, in the paintings he uses this interplay (now with color, rather than graphic shapes and line) to imply another layer of meaning. In both though much of the tension and energy comes from the relation of abstract mark to depiction.

Bonnard’s greatest achievement is in his paintings after about the turn of the century. The ideas and movement begun in his prints are carried on, through the medium of color. The equivalent of the expressive line in the lithographs is brushwork and color in the paintings. The paintings continue the distortion of the prints.

As the critic Max Kozloff48 and others have noted, Bonnard is particularly elusive as a painter. Especially right after his death his paintings were taken by many at their most superficial level, as pretty, stylized representations of a content bourgeouis existence. The fact that he could sell his paintings probably didn’t help this assessment. Viewers now see much more in his work, meanings that come out of how the glittering surface relates to depiction.

This painting, Nude in the Light or L’eau de Cologne from 1908 (124 x 109 cm, Musée Royal des Beaux Arts, Brussels) shows a transition between Bonnard’s more graphic early works and the colorful surface of his later paintings. The main figure in the painting is nearly silhouetted, and much of the energy of the composition is from the line we follow around her body, up from her feet so solidly planted on the floor, over her knee and up the flat curve of her thigh and stomach, and the curves of her buttock and hip, her elbow and breast, the graceful finality of her standing leg. She is not that integrated into the features of the room, which are described with light. Bonnard had “discovered” Impressionism rather late, in the late 1890s.49

In these paintings, Dressing Table and Mirror (124.5 x 109.3 cm, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston) and Dining Room in the Country (164.5 x 205.7 cm, Minneapolis Institute of Art), both from 1913, Bonnard is back to an overall composition, but now instead of graphic shapes and line the painting is realized with color. There are still verticals and horizontals, but these are modified with shadings of color.

The subject

In his paintings after 1913 or so, the woman in the paintings begins to be less and less about a sweet young thing, and less and less about any person at all, and more about his response to her, or even his response to the surface of her body, which came to be no more or less than the other surfaces in the room. These two paintings from 1925 are The Bath (86 x 120 cm, Tate Gallery, London) and Nude in the Bathtub (101.6 x 63.5 cm, private collection)

Bonnard took some charming photographs of his niece and nephews, who look like they had a lot of fun. But the paintings done from the photos don’t work. I think this is because, even though his early paintings do rely somewhat on the inherent charm of their subject, the success is already more dependent on abstract values which can only come when the subject itself is no longer important. This movement was begun in the lithographs, where objects first began to merge their identity with blocks of color or line.

In the paintings the activity is now in the surface itself. The objects and scenes themselves are now devoid of traditional pictoral interest, and hold no inherent charm or picturesqueness. Figures are now no more important than the room itself. As Richard Shone noticed, after about 1913 Bonnard “abandons lamplit interiors, street scenes, multifigure outdoor compositions, and sexually explicit compositions.”50 No more cute babies and erotic nudes.

These two paintings are again of Marthe Bonnard, the subject of the Nude in the Light. The difference is striking: Marthe in real life of course is seventeen years older, in her 50s, though there is no indication of that in the painting. The descriptive, pleasing graphic outline is gone, and her figure, blurred by the water, is reduced to generalized shapes. Her body is completely absorbed into the composition of the painting. In the painting Nude in the Bathtub, with Bonnard’s legs, the primacy of the painting itself over description is emphasized by the fact that what would normally be the focus of a painting with two figures, their heads, are not even in the picture.

Surface and depth

These two paintings are The French Window of 1933 (86 x 112 cm, private collection, Paris) and The Cafe of the Petit Poucet of 1928 (134 x 204 cm, collection G. Besson, Paris). In The Cafe of Petit Poucet Bonnard treats a subject similar to his series of lithographs of the 1890s.The composition is completely dispersed over the surface. But instead of this dissipating the paintings’ energy, as it would have when his means were shapes and line, in these paintings the pieces of color and their relationship to the illusionistic space are the active elements. In the painting, most of the image is actually a reflection in the mirror. In The French Window Bonnard again uses a mirror, which has the effect of making the painting more unreal, while you can’t say anything is actually made up. (In the Bonnard pamphlet from the MOMA exhibition, the tiny figure in the background of a 1936 painting of the same subject is identified as a woman, while in the catalogue it is identified as Bonnard himself, a testament to his ambiguity.) The mirror device makes the the painting’s surface’s relation to the depth of what is depicted even harder to pin down.

The critic Richard Shone observes how “Bonnard’s flickering strategy of advance and retreat in both pictorial and depicted space makes a dreamlike continuum.”51 The distance between the surface, and the actual things and people we can almost see, gives the painting almost physical depth, like a hologram. This abstraction of Bonnard, Jean Clair says, creates the necessary distance to plunge a specific time into “once upon a time.”52

Two detailed articles, by Jean Clair53 and by John Elderfield54 on Bonnard’s use of optical phenomena make use of a quote from his journal, “to show what one sees when one enters a room all of a sudden” to explain how the allover color, texture and composition simulate the effect of seeing something for the first time.55 Clair notes how Bonnard uses mirrors, windows and reflections to “break down the hierarchy of vision”56 as in these two works. This gives it a feeling of freshnesss and spontaneity, the way his jumpy line and unusual shapes worked in the prints.

Jean Clair argues that Bonnard’s depiction is close to how we see things physiologically – that traditional perspective is artificial, and that in actual vision things far away from us can be as important as something close.57 Clair perceptively note that the illusion of seeing all around us all at once, like a panorama, makes us feel “in” rather than “in front of” things.58

First of all in these paintings is the interplay between what is depicted and the surface of the canvas. This becomes a push-pull of depth and shallowness, where the uniformity of intensity of his color defies the simultaneous illusion of depth.59 This is evident in The French Window, where the orange and blues are as intense in the distance, the tree, the sky and horizon, as in the foreground. His use of warm and cool colors in arbitrary (in regard to the illusion of space ) ways also has this effect.60 Max Kozloff notes that, because of the conflict between the brushstrokes and colors and representation, he does not draw you in to what he is depicting.61 Instead everything is present at once.

Memory

These two late paintings, Nude in the Bath of 1937 (no dimensions given, Musée du Petit Palais, Paris) and Nude in a Bathtub of 1946 (122 x 151 cm, Carnegie Institute Museum, Pittsburgh) though ten years apart, show the dissolution of his subject into pure color and surface.

For Bonnard, the key to his art was memory – to have an intense experience, attached to the most common objects, and through working from memory to invest that meaning into the canvas. He worked from sketches and memory, and said, “if the object is there at the moment he is working, the artist is always in danger of allowing himself to be distracted by the effects of direct and immediate vision, and to lose the primary idea on the way.”62 He also said late in life that “If this seduction, this first idea is erased, there is nothing left but the motif, the object, which invades and dominates the painter. From that moment on he is no longer in charge of his own painting.”63

Giambruni says that the Nabis, and Marcel Proust, knew and appreciated the works on consciousness by Henri Bergson. She summarized his teaching as saying there is “no one perceptual reality . . . . The truth of one’s own experience in what Bergson called ‘duration’ is therefore too fluid and complex to be grasped by reason. Only sudden intuition can give us access to memories of past experiences stored in the unconscious. Those memories that spring back to consciousness must have some peculiar value as ‘symbols for the fundamental truths of that internal world of our consciousness which is all we know of reality’ as Edmund Wilson said of Proust.”64

The critic Max Kozloff, too, observes that Bonnard responds to “Nature as a world remembered,”65 and Clair compares Bonnard’s painting to the work of Proust, talking about the “distillation of memory” which allows the painter to recreate his original sensation.66 His concern for recreating the effect of a momentary vision and understanding comes through in the interplay of pattern and illusion.

The effect of this effort is a kind of melancholy, but not an unpleasant one.67 Bonnard once said a picture should be a little world unto itself.68 Marcel Proust was a contemporary, and like Bonnard had the idea that memory was the way to artistic creation. Not conscious memory, but unconscious memory, the kind that adheres to things you don’t give any thought to, and reveals, emotionally, the ineffable meanings of existence. The interest in, and the effect he achieves, of memory, creating or evoking something that is not actually in the scene depicted, is from the 1890s. He did it to some degree in his early work but his paintings from the teens and after are a fuller expression of the idea.

We saw several of Bonnard’s self portraits, including this one from 1938-40 (Self-Portrait, 76 x 61 cm, The Art Gallery of New South Wales) at the Museum of Modern Art show, which, by contrast, illuminate one of the things he was doing in his other paintings. In these portraits, unlike the many pictures he did of Marthe, you sense the presence of a person (as pointed out by Dr. Benge). In the other paintings the figures are shapes, which we see without seeing them as other individuals: we see them as if remembering a scene which reminds us of something, a feeling rather than who was there and who said what. This is accomplished in most of the paintings by cutting off and distorting the figure, so that the identity is obscured. Figures rarely or never look in our direction. And the figures are treated in the same way as the room, blending their identity still more with the background, in the surface of the painting.

In the portrait, though the figure is not looking at us, his face is the main thing in the painting, and there is no overlooking it, the way you can lose entire people in other works. He looks old and sad in an almost disturbing way: there is the poignancy of the artificial light on his balding head, his skinny neck, and the way his face is obscured in shadow as if it does not matter.

The room of late self-portraits at the MoMA show was almost painful, and shed a different light on to the other, more indirect, paintings in the other rooms, and made you realize the subtext of melancholy and reflection, even in the brightest and most subjectless.

The painter and critic Patrick Heron, in an essay written shortly after Bonnard’s death, argues that Bonnard’s success is in the relationship of reality and abstraction. He says that while the value of the painting is its abstraction, it is powerful because it bears reference to real things, as opposed to intentional abstraction, which, being more intellectual, is more sterile.69 He says, “the form of objects hardly exists in isolation from the total configuration.”70 Heron also notes the tension of the relationship between surface and illusionistic depth, “characteristic of all great painting.”71

In addition, Patrick Heron notes that Bonnard, unlike Picasso or other abstract painters, did not make his objects allude to other objects. “But Bonnard’s method was to invest more and more quality, more and more beauty into those unfeigning objects of his, which remained themselves throughout.”72

However, Heron argues that what Bonnard had, and what was missing in British art in 1947, was an optimistic pleasure in visual reality.73 I disagree. Bonnard was using visual reality, but I hope that his “pleasure” was not in the appearance of things but in ideas that came to him, that he could convey, by making his paintings of the objects, in which the meaning hovers between the illusion and pattern, and has nothing to do with an original pleasure of perception itself.

Even though Remembrance of Things Past is all about the past slipping away, which is sad, the melancholy world of the hero is at the same time beautiful and pleasant, because it is its own world with its own laws and wholeness. In the same way, a room full of Bonnard paintings leaves one with a feeling of sadness, even though the colors are so bright; yet it is a pleasant melancholy, because in the unity, the new creation which can only arise from the connection between the things seen in pictures and the colors and patterns, Bonnard suggests the unity and meaningfulness and ultimate mystery of existence.

This is a photo taken in the early 1980s of the actual bathroom at Pierre Bonnard’s last house, le Bosquet, in the south of France.74 I think it is useful to see how far from the descriptive Bonnard’s paintings were, and how successfully he created his own, parallel world in the layer of paint.

In his paintings as in his prints Bonnard, more than other artists, made use of the interplay between the artist’s marks and illusionistic representation. In the prints the effect of this interplay was fresh and personal; in the paintings he used it to express deeper meanings. In developing this purely visual language he took to a fulfilling degree ideas of the 1890s, which are fundamental to modern art: the idea that art is the way to true reality, in a way logic and analysis cannot approach; and the idea that to express this the artist must transform what he sees and experiences with the tools of visual art: marks and illusion.

* Titles of paintings shown as slides are in bold face.

1 Sara Whitfield, “Fragments of an Identical World,” in Sara Whitfield and John Elderfield, Bonnard (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1998), 256.

2 Thomas Parsons and Iain Gale, Post-Impressionism: The Rise of Modern Art, foreword by Bernard Denvir (London: Studio Editions, 1992), 139.

3 John Rewald, Post-Impressionism – From van Gogh to Gauguin (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1978), 252.

4 H. R. Rookmaaker, Gauguin and 19th Century Art Theory (Amsterdam: Swets & Zeitlinger, 1972), 2-4.

5 Charles Chassé, The Nabis and Their Period, trans. Michael Bullock (New York, Washington: Frederick A. Praeger Inc., Publishers, 1969), 9.

6 Gloria Groom, Edouard Vuillard: Painter-Decorator: Patrons and Projects, 1892-1912 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), 8.

7 Chassé, 14.

8 Rewald, 181, 182.

9 Ibid., 181-184.

10 Ibid., 256-260.

11 Helen Giambruni, “Domestic Scenes,” in Colta Ives, Helen Giambruni and Sasha Newman, Pierre Bonnard: The Graphic Art (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1989), 54.

12 Rookmaaker, 134.

13 Giambruni, 60.

14 Pierre Louis [Maurice Denis], “Definition du néo-traditionnisme,” Art et Critique [23 August 1890], 540, quoted in Groom, 11.

15 Colta Feller Ives, The Great Wave: The Influence of Japanese Woodcuts on French Prints (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1974), 7.

16 Ives, “City Life,” in Ives, Giambruni and Newman, Bonnard Graphic Art, 100.

17 Guy Michaud, Mallarmé, trans. Marie Collins and Bertha Humez (New York: New York University Press, 1965), 32.

18 Grange Wooley, Stéphane Mallarmé, 1842-1898. A commemorative presentation including translations from his prose and verse with commentaries (Madison, New Jersey: Drew University, 1942; repr., New York: AMS Press, n. d.), 43-50.

19 Ives, “An Art for Everyday,” in Ives, Giambruni and Newman, Bonnard Graphic Art, 13.

20 Rewald, 153-165.

21No reference given, quoted in Chassé, 30.

22 Chassé, 24, 25.

23 Groom, 11

24Parsons, 62.

25 Chassé, 24, 25; Parsons, 80, 81; Groom, 11.

26Stuart Preston, Edouard Vuillard (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, 1985), 22.

27No reference given, quoted in Chassé, 30.

28Preston, 21.

29Thadée Natanson, Peints á leur tour (Paris: Editions Albin Michel, 1948), 320, quoted in Ives “An Art for Everyday,” 13.

30Paul Verlaine, “Art Poétique,” Selected Poems, trans. C. F. MacIntyre (Berkeley/Los Angeles, 1961), 180-181, in Giambruni, 81.

31Jules Heret, “Enquête sur l’évolution littéraire,” in L’Echo de Paris, 14 March 1891, 2; reprinted in Les Interviews de Mallarmé, edited by Dieter Schwartz (Neuchâtel: 1995), 30-31; quoted by Whitfield, 12, 13.

32 Giambruni, 91

33 Whitfield, 10

34 Preston, 15

35 Rookmaaker, 168.

36 Groom, 12.

37 Peter Shjeldahl, The Hydrogen Jukebox: Selected Writings of Peter Schjeldahl (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1991), 194.

38Chassé, 58.

39Ibid., 83.

40 Ives, “An Art for Everyday,” 10; Preston, 12; Groom, 11.

41Charles S. Moffett, The New Painting: Impressionism 1874-1886 (Geneva: Richard Burton, SA, 1986), 102.

42 Giambruni, 91.

43 Chassé, 121.

44 Ives, The Great Wave, 61.

45 Newman, 175.

46Ives, “City Life,” 134.

47 Newman, 175-77.

48 Max Kozloff, “A Vertigo of the Senses,” Art in America 86, no. 7 (July 1998): 54-61.

49 Newman, 175.

50 Richard Shone, “Pierre Bonnard,” Artforum 36, no. 9 (May 1998): 139.

51 Shone, 139.

52 Jean Clair, “The adventures of the optic nerve,” in Sasha M. Newman et al., Bonnard: The Late Paintings, edited by Sasha M. Newman, with introduction by John Russell (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1984), 30.

53 Ibid., 29-50.

54John Elderfield, “Seeing Bonnard,” in Whitfield and Elderfield, Bonnard, 33-52.

55Clair, 44; Elderfield, 37.

56Clair, 37.

57 Clair, 35-36.

58 Ibid., 44.

59 Ibid.

60 Ibid., 42.

61 Kozloff, 56.

62AngèleLamotte, “Le Bouquet de roses; Propos de Pierre Bonnard recuillis en 1943,” Verve 5 no. 17-18 (1947): 75-77, quoted in Ives, “An Art for Everyday,” 13.

63Quoted in Joan Ungersma Halperin, Félix Fénéon: Aesthete and Anarchist in Fin-de-Siècle Paris (New Haven and London: 1988), 100, quoted in Giambruni, 85.

64Giambruni, 87.

65 Kozloff, 56.

66 Clair, 31.

67 Shone, 139.

68 John Russel, The Meanings of Modern Art (New York: Harper and Row, 1981), 274.

69 Patrick Heron, The Changing Forms of Art: Studies in contemporary painting and sculpture (New York: The Noonday Press, 1958), 119.

70 Ibid., 122.

71 Ibid.

72 Ibid., 126.

73 Ibid., 128-29.

74 photo by Sargy Mann, in Elderfield and Whitfield, 261.

Here is part three of three parts of my boatbuilding in Sitka. Most of the research was done in 1989 and 1993, when I interviewed boatbuilders and their sons and daughters. Please contact me if you would like to use any part, if you have corrections, questions, or additional information.

Boatbuilder Peter Simpson, far right, and the Sheldon Jackson School superintendent Les Yaw to his right, with the crew building the seiner SJS. From left: Joe Ozawa, John James, David Howard, Peter Sing, Yaw and Simpson. Photo from the Sheldon Jackson collection at the Alaska State Library Historical Collections.

Boatbuilder Peter Simpson, far right, and the Sheldon Jackson School superintendent Les Yaw to his right, with the crew building the seiner SJS 1936-37. From left: Joe Ozawa, John James, David Howard, Peter Sing, Yaw and Simpson. Photo from the Sheldon Jackson collection at the Alaska State Library Historical Collections.

Peter Simpson and Sheldon Jackson School: The 1930s and 1940s

Peter Simpson built two seiners in the 1930s, when he was past 60. In 1934, he built the TWO BROTHERS, named for his grandsons, Henry and Sam Sing. The TWO BROTHERS still fishes out of Sitka. Herman Kitka rebuilt the TWO BROTHERS from the waterline up and opened up the bow somewhat. The boat now also has a larger wheelhouse than when she was first built, when the galley was below decks.i

Peter Simpson’s son, boatbuilder Louis Simpson, died in March of 1936 of pneumonia, at age 40.ii

In 1937 Simpson built the SJS for the Sheldon Jackson School. Les Yaw was superintendent of the school at the time. In his book Sixty Years in Sitka he writes that Simpson first came to him with a sketch of the boat on brown paper. Simpson may not ever have used plans, instead building with half models and sketches.iii

Simpson used yellow cedar for the ribs of the SJS. Simpson and Sheldon Jackson School students got the yellow cedar themselves, and milled it at the school sawmill. Yaw says Simpson preferred oak, but used yellow cedar because they had no money for oak, which has to be purchased from outside Alaska. The planking above the waterline, the deck beams and much of the superstructure were also yellow cedar. He used Sitka spruce for the planking below the waterline, because he said it was tougher.iv

Simpson had to lower the shop floor two feet to build the SJS,v so his earlier boats must have been smaller, or launched before the superstructure was put on, or, built in some other place. A photo of the building of the SJS shows Joe Ozowa, David Howard, John James, and Simpson’s son-in-law Peter Sing working on the boat.vi

The Sheldon Jackson School sawmill had only just been put together from an old mill that school staff and students salvaged from an abandoned mine on Indian River. The school annual says that this sawmill was the only one in town. Simpson helped get it running and ran it for the school. He also encouraged Les Yaw to salvage a donkey from the site of John Brady’s sawmill at the present Thomsen Harbor. The donkey was a portable engine and winch for pulling logs out of the woods or up to a sawmill. Simpson may have used this same engine when working for Brady just after the turn of the century. The salvaged sawmill burned down in 1940 but was rebuilt with different machinery in 1941 and operated into the 1960s, run at various times by Simpson or by Andrew Hope.vii (37) It probably provided wood for many of the Sitka boats built after that time. The donkey winch is still sitting next to the Sheldon Jackson College library.

The SJS

The SJS was renamed the MISS LINDA, and may still be fishing. The SJS had a few features that put her at the cutting edge of modern boat construction: she is supposed to have been the first boat built locally with the galley (cooking area) on deck, that is, in the wheelhouse, rather than below decks. The older seiners only had a small wheelhouse, with a place to steer the boat, and maybe a bunk, on deck. A large wheelhouse was a later addition to many of the old boats. In addition, the SJS is also supposed to be the first boat built locally with a high-speed diesel, instead of gasoline, engine. This was an innovation of the school engineer, Charles Stuart.viii (38)

Charles Stuart had been an engineer in the British merchant marine, and was the engineer at Sheldon Jackson for over two decades, from 1924 to 1945. He had been involved in the sawmill rehabilitation, and with his students was also involved with the metal and machine work on the PRINCETON HALL.ix (39)

Peter Simpson taught boat building and sawmill engineering at Sheldon Jackson from 1938 until 1945. He and his students built four skiffs and six round-bottomed boats in 1938 39, and built six skiffs and round bottom boats for the local military in 1942. For those boats he used red cedar and yellow cedar.x (40) His granddaughter, Isabella Brady, says he also built a new round-bottomed boat each spring for her grandmother (who died in 1936), which they would use a year, then sell.xi (41)

Older Sitkans remember his boats as well crafted, and a pleasure to row. His round bottom boats were Aon the Davis model.”xii (42) The Davis family of Metlakatla made rowboats in the 1920s and 30s which they would sell all around southeastern Alaska, for handtrolling and general purposes. Their early boats were double-enders, built for rowing, but the majority of their production had squared off sterns, for mounting an outboard motor.xiii

Simpson was a craftsman, who would not let his students use a dull tool. His grand nephew, George Howard Sr. says Simpson would tell him “Do it once and do it right.”xiv (42a) Everyone I have talked to remembers him as a pleasant man.

Peter Simpson was a founder, and more than once Grand Camp President, of the ANB. He is remembered as a calming influence, a persuasive, quiet man who was more important behind the scenes than in the spotlight. Land issues were very important to him. One reason the Gravina sawmill, of which he was a founder and shareholder, was not rebuilt after it burned was that the owners could not get title to the land because they were not considered citizens of the United States.

Peter Simpson was also an active member of the Presbyterian Church, and, in his earlier years, was active in various Cottages groups, including the Cottages band, in which he played trombone. Peter Simpson died in 1947.xv (44)

Andrew Hope Shop in the 1940s

At the beginning of World War II the Navy requisitioned the PRINCETON HALL then the school’s workboat, the seiner SJS, which had been built by Peter Simpson and Rudy James and crew in 1938. Sheldon Jackson School was left without a boat, so in the winter of 1942 43 Andrew Hope built the SJS II. He carved a half model for his boat. He used yellow cedar planking above, and spruce below the waterline. This was the same planking arrangement used by Simpson on the SJS, and later by Richard Peters, who worked with Hope, on the LAVERNE II in 1946. Hope used Douglas fir for the deck.xvi (17)

Boatbuilding Woods

Most of the trees in the thick forests around Sitka are western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) and Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis). Hemlock wood is relatively hard and brittle, and doesn’t stand up to rot, so it is rarely if ever used in boat building. Sitka spruce, while also not particularly rot resistant, is light and tough. The largest cut was in World War I, when it was used for light aircraft frames.

Sitka spruce is still renowned by boatbuilders world-wide for spars (masts and booms). Locally, it has been used for planking, especially on small boats, like the sealers, but also on the larger fishing boats, because it is light, tough, and available in the woods around Sitka. Herman Kitka,a fisherman and shipwright who has worked with Andrew Hope, says it outlasts yellow cedar under the waterline.xvii (18) Peter Simpson used it under the water line, with yellow cedar above, on the SJS. Andrew Hope did the same thing on the SJS II and on the LAVERNE II.xviii (19a)

In addition, Sitka spruce can grow to several feet in diameter, and the large logs yield wide clear lumber, which is what is needed for planking stock.

Yellow cedar (Chameacyparus nootkatensis) is much less common in the forests. It often grows very slowly. The wood is yellow, and strongly fragrant when freshly cut; it is pleasant to work, and very resistant to rot. It also has a reputation for checking (splitting) and for not taking paint, but different builders and boat owners have different opinions on this. Yellow cedar is closely related to Port Orford cedar, which is a highly regarded boatbuilding wood. Yellow cedar has been used to build complete boats, including the planking, frames, and deckbeams,xix (20) but it has been used mainly for deckbeams, ribs, and planking above the waterline.

Local woods, Sitka spruce and yellow cedar, are economical to use if the boat owner or builder cuts them himself, but there has not always been a sawmill in Sitka. Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) is the usual wood for boat repair and building. It does not grow as far north as Alaska, but since the 19th century has been commonly available here because of the large timber industry in Washington and Oregon. Douglas fir is rot resistant and strong.xx (21)

White oak is actually several species of oak (genus Quercus) which share rot-resisting qualities. This also has to be imported to Alaska, but is desirable for the bent ribs of the boats. It bends extremely well, and is much harder and more durable than any local wood for ribs, which have to hold all the fastenings of the planking. Yellow cedar has sometimes been used for ribs, maybe again because of cost, but some builders may have preferred it.

Hope shop in the 1940s, cont.

The Hope shop was very productive. In addition to the boats listed earlier built in the 1920s and 1930s, Andrew Hope was recorded as the builder of the NEVA and the TAMARA SAN, both documented in 1942. Mark Jacobs Jr. says Hope built a troller LAVERNE, possibly the one built in Sitka in 1942. He is also on record as the builder of the HOPE, MARTHA K (now the NORTH CAPE) and SJS II in 1944; the ALLANAH in 1945; the EMPRESS (renamed the MARTHA K) in 1946; PATRICIA MAE in 1947; the GOTA in 1950; and his last boat, the gillnetter VALI for his daughter and son in law in 1961.xxi(22)

Andrew Hope was prominent in the ANB, and was Grand Camp President, and for decades was head of the Tlinget and Haida Tribes, which was formed to fight for land claims. After 1944 he was elected to seven terms in the territorial then the state legislature, and was on the Sitka Common Council for nine terms from the 1920s through the 1950s.xxii (23)

Hope has a reputation for strong, well built hulls. He preferred building to repair, but his main occupation was as a fisherman: he seined the Sheldon Jackson School boat SJS II,xxiii (23) and when the school got out of fishing seined his own boat, the NEVA. He would also pick up students for Sheldon Jackson School on the last trip of the season.

Mo Johnson worked on building the PRINCETON HALL as a Sheldon Jackson student, and also fished with Hope. He says he was great to work for, and had a good eye. He says the joints in a timbered stern fit with no gaps, and Hope would sight down the length of each plank to check for fairness.xxiv (23a)

Most of Andrew Hope’s boats were built by eye, from half models. The models were made to a scale of one half inch to the foot. The red cedar model of half a boat sliced down the centerline was cut transversely, and the sections enlarged and set up square and plumb. Herman Kitka, another boatbuilder, built with Hope and says that there was seldom any need to fair in the molds once set up.xxv (23b)

Andrew Hope, with Herman Kitka, built the NEVA for Todd cannery. They got some spruce logs, and some yellow cedar from Crawfish Inlet, which they cut at the Sheldon Jackson sawmill. The boat was built to Hope’s design but had some design flaws, not corrected. Kitka says Hope said, let it go, we’ll never see it again, but years later Hope bought the boat, and put on a larger wheelhouse.

Hope built the TAMARA SAN for Hans Peterson, with no cannery financing. The HOPE, a troller, was built for Henry Yrjana.

The MARTHA K, later renamed the NORTH CAPE, was built by Herman Kitka for himself. He bought lumber from Hope, which was mostly fir, except for yellow cedar for the beams.

The ALLANAH was documented in 1945, built for Fred Brandes. Richard Peters, Al Rottluff, and Fred Brandes helped build the boat with Hope. The builders had $12,000 to work with, which was almost enough, as Al Rottluff recalled.

The EMPRESS, now named the MARTHA K, was built in 1946 for the New England Fish Company. The boat was built all of fir, and was designed by Hope.

The Pyramid Packing Company financed the hard-chine Edwin Monk (a Seattle marine architect) design PATRICIA MAE, later renamed the NEKA QUEEN, for John Young.xxvi Hope built the SATCHEM, documented in 1952 for “Cap” Anderson from Chichagof for shrimping. He used all Douglas fir for this boat, which is still in Sitka.

Also working with Andrew Hope were Lawrence Widmark Sr. and Richard Peters, a dockworker, who ran a pile driver. Peters built his LAVERNE II with Hope, documented in 1946. The LAVERNE II is a small hard chine seiner, now used as a troller. Her current owner says that when the breaktimber, which is the large beam at the step in the deck, was replaced, they found the two sides of the hull identical, a mark of careful workmanship.xxvii (25) Mark Jacobs Jr. says that the original LAVERNE, a small trunk cabin troller, was also built by Hope. This might have been the LAVERNE built in Sitka and documented in 1942, owned by Elis Peterson in 1948.xxviii

Herman Kitka

Herman Kitka went to the Sheldon Jackson School, then went to the Wrangell Institute in 1935, where he learned boatbuilding from plans from a Norwegian named Gus Anderson. The program consisted of one year of academic work and a year of part-time apprenticeship.

Herman Kitka has always been a fisherman, but when his small gas troller blew up and he found himself “on the beach” with nothing to do, he built himself the MARTHA K in 1939. He worked on building several boats with Hope, including the PRINCETON HALL, the NEVA, his own MARTHA K (later sold and renamed the NORTH CAPE), the SJS II, and the EMPRESS. He later bought the EMPRESS and renamed her the MARTHA K, the boat he has now. Kitka has also done some major rebuilding projects on the MARTHA K. Herman Kitka is mainly a fisherman, with his own boat since 1937. When the Sitka Marine Railway started at Jamestown Bay in 1946 he also worked there sometimes.

Andrew Hope never liked to do repair, and there were not any facilities in town for hauling boats out of the water, so when the Sitka Marine Railway opened in 1946 boats went there for repair.xxix (24)

The canneries in Southeastern Alaska went into a decline after the war, and most closed by the 1970s. They stopped financing new boats and sold off their fleets. The canneries, and the seasonal migration to the canneries and fishing grounds, were once a way of life for many in Sitka. There is only one remote cannery now operating in southeastern Alaska.

The number of seiners around Sitka also declined    from twenty or thirty boats to only a few that still seine out of Sitka. One reason for this might have been the canneries= system of managing the boat’s finances, if not actually owning the boat, so the fisherman only had to fish and did not have to deal with the business aspects of fishing. This left fishermen unprepared to run their own operation when they had to.xxx (26)

The Howard Brothers Shop in the 1940s

The PRINCETON HALL

In 1941 Andrew Hope is recorded as the builder of probably the best known of the boats built at Sitka: the Presbyterian mission boat PRINCETON HALL. The 65 foot PRINCETON HALL was built to replace the Presbyterian Board of Home Mission’s boat PRINCETON, wrecked in 1939. These boats were used for transporting mission and Sheldon Jackson School staff and students around southeastern Alaska.

The PRINCETON HALL was designed by Seattle marine architect Harold Lee, and was to have been built in Seattle. Bids came in too high, and the Sitka builders took on the project. xxxi (1)

Andrew Hope had his own shop then, but he may have had a boat in it at the time, and it was smaller than the Howard shop. (The NEVA and TAMARA SAN were also documented in 1942.) The PRINCETON HALL was built in the shop of his brothers in law, George and David Howard, at the north end of Katlian Street.xxxii (2)

The Howard brothers’ shop had been built in 1940, the year before the PRINCETON HALL was built, replacing the smaller one their father, the first George Howard, had built around 1913. The new shop was then extended 25 feet for building the PRINCETON HALL. The extension was later taken off. This shop stood just east of the Seafood Producers Co op, until it was torn down in June of 1990.xxxiii (3)

The Howard brothers, especially George, and Sheldon Jackson School staff and vocational students worked on the boat. The students at Sheldon Jackson worked half days on the boat, and half a day and evenings on their schoolwork. Machine shop and metal working students under Charles Stuart installed the engine and fabricated the bronze railing, bow iron, and rudder.xxxiv (4)

The keel was fir, the ribs oak, and the deck teak. Teak is often used on yachts, and not on workboats. These were all usual materials for boatbuilding in the Northwest, and all brought up to Sitka from south. But the deckbeams were yellow cedar, either for economy, or because the builders preferred it.xxxv(5)

The boat was launched on December 4, 1941, just days before the attack on Pearl Harbor. She was soon requisitioned by the Navy for use as a patrol boat. The Navy mounted a gun on the foredeck and painted the boat gray. The Presbyterian Board of Home Missions got her back after the war, and sold her in 1961.xxxvi (5a) The PRINCETON HALL is still in use, after complete renovation, as a charter boat out of Juneau.xxxvii (6) Her current owner, Kathy Ruddy, has compiled a history of the boat’s Sheldon Jackson days.

Still other boats came out of the Howard brothers’ shop on Katlian Street in the 1940s and 1950s. The senior George Howard had died sometime in the 1920s or 1930s. His sons George and David, though they were mainly fishermen like their father, also built boats.

The NEW ENGLAND was built in the old shop, documented in 1935. The NEW ENGLAND may have been the second George Howard’s first boat. It took a while to finish, and George Howard Sr. (the third George Howard) remembers playing on the unfinished boat as a small child. This boat was built for George Ward, to replace his seiner MARY WARD, built for him in 1919 by Peter Simpson.xxxviii (6a)

In 1940 the Howards tore down the old shop and built a much bigger shop in the same place. The BETTY K, documented in 1940, may have been the first boat built in the new shop. Herman Kitka says this boat had planks half way up when Ted Kirkman purchased it, and that Kitka finished it. George Howard began the DENNY JO, documented in 1945, but in his later years he was increasingly disabled by tuberculosis; he suffered a hemorrhage when lifting something for the DENNY JO, and the boat was finished by Stanley Sutton. The JUNE K, built for Charles Bennett, was documented the same year.xxxix (7)

The JUNE K was built from a half model carved by Stanley Sutton, and then modified by George Howard, according to his son, George Howard Sr. The half model was then cut across its length into sections, from which the full sized molds were made. The molds are made in pairs, so that the half model provides the outline of both sides of the boat. The molds are set up at the proper intervals along the keel, and the boat is then built around these molds. The second George Howard also used plans for some of his boats.xl (8)

For the JUNE K, Howard used Douglas fir and white oak, and fastened the boat with galvanized boat nails. The JUNE K might still be on the beach at Angoon.xli (9)George Howard Sr., who was a child when the shop was built, does not remember ever seeing any machinery which might have been in the old shop.xlii (11)

The GOTA, which is still fishing out of Sitka, was built in the Howard shop, but after George Howard was too sick to work on it. The boat’s builder’s certificate names Andrew Hope. Richard Peters, who worked with Hope, also worked on the GOTA, along with the boat’s owner. This one changed hands before she was finished: George Howard Sr. says she was begun by Pete Anselm, and sold to Oscar Isaacson while still only ribbands and keel. Her current owner says she had a lot of yellow cedar timbers, with many spruce planks, on oak ribs.xliii (12)

When it was in full operation, the Howard brothers’ shop had grids on both sides, for boats needing repair. To haul a boat up into the shop itself, they used the city truck, which had a winch, and ingenuity. They put timbers across the doorway to keep the truck from being pulled into the shop. The boat cradle and slipway were made stoutly of wood; the cradle would be weighted with rocks at low tide, and the boat floated onto it at high tide. The boat was attached to the cradle with temporary shores and cross ties. Then the rocks were knocked off with poles, and the boat in the cradle was hauled up the greased slipway.xliv (13)

The 1940 shop had a bandsaw, a tablesaw, and a planer, which were all bought new when the shop was built. They ran off of belts from a five horsepower electric motor in the loft. The Howards also had a wood fired boiler for steaming planks and ribs, which was young George Howard Sr.’s job to tend.xlv (10)

The second George Howard’s sons say he did mostly repair, and was mainly a fisherman, and did not do boatwork every winter. His sons worked with him sometimes in the shop and also fished with him. His brother David Howard, and George Benson, who also built double-ended boats, also worked with him at times.xlvi (14)

The JENNY was documented in 1947. George Howard signed the builder’s certificate, but the boat was completed by Oscar Isaacson, a Seattle shipwright, or by Andrew Hope. Around 1950 the JENNY was found on the rocks by Sinitsin Island, deck awash, and no sign of her owner, Nestor Laakso, except for a slipper on the foredeck. The boat was towed into town and bought and restored by George Sarvela.xlvii In the summer of 1984, owner Victor Lane was killed by his deckhand, Michael Blackhurst near Kruzof Islandxlviii (14a). This troller has left her sad past behind and is still fishing, documented out of Elfin Cove.xlix(15)

George Howard died in 1956, from complications of tuberculosis.l (16)

The Sitka Marine Railway

The Sitka Marine Railway opened in November of 1945 at Jamestown Bay, at what is now Allen Marine. Wally Sims and Robert Wheeler and crew built several good-sized boats there before first Sims left, then Wheeler divorced his wife and left in 1949. Sims may have been mainly in the financial side of the business, and he was not a builder. Wheeler’s wife’s father Earl MacDonald, who had helped them set up, ran the yard after Wheeler left. This man, Earl MacDonald, had taught boatbuilding during the war, and one man at the Jamestown Bay yard had been a student of his. Wheeler had also once been an employee of MacDonald.li (1) MacDonald’s brother had been a partner in a Puget Sound yard called Prothero MacDonald.

An impressive total of four boats were documented in the year 1946. The MYRTH was the first boat built there, documented in 1946 for Rudy Sarvela. Some of the wood was spruce from a mill at Hidden Falls, but most of the wood was Douglas fir. The boatyard sometimes used yellow cedar, but mainly used fir.lii (2)

The yard mainly did repair, and became the primary repair yard in Sitka; Hope preferred building to repair, and did not have a way to haul boats out of the water. The Howard shop could pull boats out of the water, by using a borrowed truck with a winch, pulling the boat up a wooden ways.

Six or eight men worked at the yard the winter of 1946 47, but later fewer worked there. HER HIGHNES, JUNIOR, and WRJ were also documented in 1946, and the PT CRAVENS and ALRITA in 1947. Some of these were built on the same transom-stern, round-bottom design, drawn by Edwin Monk, a Seattle marine architect, in two sizes: the MYRTH and WRJ have the same register length of 37 feet, and the JUNIOR and PT CRAVEN are about a foot longer. The ALRITA is a little larger, and the hard-chine HER HIGHNES smaller. (Hard-chine means that the hull, rather than being round, has a v-bottom and a hard angle where the bottom meets the sides.) The HER HIGHNES was built by MacDonald at his home. The STEPHANIE, now the CHUCK A NAN, was built at Jamestown Bay in 1955, and is also a hard-chine design.liii(3)

Al Rottluff, a fisherman who worked for the yard in winters, says that the Sitka Marine Railway could not compete with the Puget Sound builders    wages were higher, and materials more expensive here. They also had to wait on all services that had to be done in Seattle. He says Sims and Wheeler had to put things into hock to pay the workers while waiting for the yard to get paid, especially on insurance work. The yard did mostly repair work, he says, and also built seine skiffs.liv (4)

Among other jobs, the yard rebuilt the NORTH CAPE, and the TWO BROTHERS was torn down for repair at the time Wheeler left.lv (4a)

The original buildings were salvaged from military buildings at Old Sitka. They had two railways for hauling boats up, one covered. MacDonald sold the yard in 1955 to machinist Ray Woodruff, who sold the yard to someone else, who sold it to Bob Allen in 1967.lvi (5) Allen put in the fill    the tide used to come right up to Sawmill Creek Road    but one of the old buildings is still standing, with fill coming right up to its pilings. Part of one of the railways is also still visible.

Bob Modrell and Boatbuilding at Mt. Edgecumbe School

After the war, part of the military base at Japonski Island was turned over to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which opened a boarding school for Native youth. Bob Modrell, a boatbuilder originally from Seattle, Washington, taught boatbuilding there from 1948 to 1955.lvii (6)

In 1937, Modrell had been in the first boatbuilding class at Edison Vocational School (later called Gompers, now part of Central Seattle Community College). The Seattle marine architect Edwin Monk was involved with the school, and the first edition of his book Boatbuilding has photos of a young Bob Modrell and his classmates, who included William Garden, who was to become another well known Northwest marine architect.lviii (7) After finishing his schooling, he worked at different yards; work was hard to come by because of the Depression. During the war he worked for the Navy shipyard.

Modrell’s Mt. Edgecumbe students, who included some war veterans in early classes, built a 32 foot troller to a William Garden design, on spec, which was converted to a pleasure boat. They also repaired and built a deckhouse for the shore boat ARROWHEAD. Modrell also built his lovely sailboat PUFFIN, designed for him by William Garden.lix (8)

Modrell taught boatbuilding in Hangar Two. The enormous clear spans available in the hangars were also used for carpentry classes, which built houses they moved to sites around Japonski Island. The hangars are still there – one is the B. J. McGillis fieldhouse, and the other is the Sitka campus of the University of Alaska Southeast. Though a large part of the building is now classrooms, part of the original hangar space remains.

Bob Modrell said that while some of the vets were interested in boatbuilding as a career, none of the high school students were; they were mainly interested in being able to repair their own boats. After the boatbuilding program was cut in 1955, Modrell went over to the Public Health Service, which administered the government installations on Japonski Island. He maintained the shore boat fleet, which ran passengers between Sitka and Mt. Edgecumbe until the O’Connell Bridge was built in 1972.

Bob Modrell painted, maintained and repaired the shore boats at the covered boat ways, which is still there, at the foot of the O’Connell Bridge. He had his shop in one side of the building, and the other side was storage. A large winch pulled the boat, in a cradle, up a railway track. When the boathouse did not have a shore boat in it, federal employees used it to haul out their own boats, through the Service Activities for Federal Employees (SAFE). For a time, after the

During World War II the military also had a second boat house, which they also used for maintaining their fleet of patrol boats and shore boats. The second one was a floating boathouse, located inside the 600 foot long pier, which extended toward the present bridge. Boats could be hauled out of the water with slings and hand cranks. There was a small shop in one end. Bob Modrell used it for painting, and never used the hoists.

Modrell also built harbor floats, and worked on the piers and floats of SAFE Harbor, on the Island side of the channel. He also ran the PHS tug, which they ran back and forth to Sitka with a scow.

After the O’Connell Bridge was built in 1972, Modrell went over to the carpentry shop, although he maintained the boathouse ways, the only covered ways in Sitka after the Sitka Marine Railway burnt, until he retired in 1981.

The World War II boathouse is now part of the Japonski Island National Monument. The boathouse is part of the University of Alaska Sitka campus.

Most of the shore boats had been built during the war, at the Bremerton Navy yard: the TEDDY in 1941, the ARROWHEAD in 1942, and the DONNA in 1943. The others were the DIANE, which had no document, and the DOROTHY, built for government contractors, in Seattle.lx (8a) They were all sold after the bridge was built.

Other boatbuilding

In 1946 Dave Halleck and “Pinky” Bergdahl built the SKEETER near the SeaMart Downtown store. Bergdahl had been in the military in Sitka in World War II. Halleck, his father-in-law, had been working for Pyramid cannery, and was also a carpenter and fisherman. They logged the yellow cedar for the boat, cut at Sheldon Jackson sawmill and at Baranof Warm Springs, and launched the boat in a cradle over the beach wall at the Crescent. They only fished a few years, then sold the boat, which is still fishing around Sitka.lxi (8b)

The SHARON ANN, documented in 1947, was built by some people named Rowley on the turnaround side of the Siginaka Way spit (near Thomsen Harbor), and used for carrying freight. A member of the same family may have built the MINNIE R, a halibut boat documented in 1945.lxii (8c)

Also in the 1940s, a man was building skiffs at Herring Cove.lxiii (8d)

Since the 1950s a few more fishermen have built their own boats. Paul Morgan designed and built the C RAE in 1962, across from where SeaMart is now. Morgan had done carpentry, and worked a winter at the Jamestown Bay yard. He used spruce planking because he got a good deal on some from the Columbia sawmill, but most of the boat is Douglas fir. He hauled the completed hull out Halibut Point Road after a snowfall, and launched her at Old Sitka.lxiv (9) The boat unfortunately burned in 1993, but not before providing years of service and enjoyment to the Morgans.

Harry Jimmy built the 33 foot 8 inch ANNETTE in 1955 on Back Street and in 1967 the PERIL STRAIT to a William Garden design, using mostly local materials.lxv (10) Gary Erb built the CHANCY, which he built using mostly lumber he had cut and milled himself, to his own design.lxvi (11)

Boat building and boat repair is still a living part of Sitka’s economy, and dozens of shops and individual tradesmen repair everything from electronics to planking.

Wooden boatbuilding has become unusual today in Sitka. Few wooden boats have been built anywhere in the Northwest since the 1950s. While the seine and troll fisheries were expanding in the first part of the century, there was a big demand for boats. Fewer small fishing boats are built now, and the ones that are are now built mostly of fiberglass, aluminum, and steel, which can be made into hulls more quickly. Labor is relatively more expensive now, and good boatbuilding wood is harder to come by.

Even though wood is not a common boatbuilding material any more, businesses in Sitka continue to build boats, now in other materials, when the need arises   for example rugged welded aluminum skiffs, custom built by various welding shops; fast custom fiberglass boats by Gerald Gangle; and large aluminum passenger boats, the largest 100 feet long, built by Allen Marine, many of which they still run in their own business, and recently have built some for New York City ferries.

Although the boats are not usually built of wood any more, the basic reasons for building are probably what they have always been. When the boats they could buy are too expensive or unsuitable, or when they just feel like a challenge to their skills and ingenuity, Sitkans still build boats, carrying on an old tradition as valid now as ever.

i Coast Guard Vessel Documentation (Two Brothers), Herman Kitka, Sr., interview by author, tape recording, Sitka, Alaska October and December 1988 and March 3 1992 (rebuild), Carlos Schwantes, phone interview, 16 November 1988 (galley below).

ii City of Sitka Death Records, #1167

iii W. Leslie Yaw Sixty Years in Sitka: With Sheldon Jackson School and College (Sitka, Alaska: Sheldon Jackson College Press, 1985), p. 70 (sketch).

iv Yaw, pp. 60-83 (SJS and sawmill).

v Verstovian, January 1937, p. 2 (lower shop floor).

vi Yaw p. 70 (workers on SJS).

vii Yaw pp. 60-83 (SJS & sawmill); 1936-37 Sheldon Jackson Annual, Sheldon Jackson Archives #814 (mill only one in town); Hinckley, pp. 329-30 (1902 log haul); Verstovian, Sept 1940, p. 1 (Hope runs mill); Yaw, pp. 175-195(Simpson taught sawmill).

viii Yaw pp. 60, 64, 65, 74. 75 (school boats)

ix Yaw, p. 24 (Merchant Marine) Yaw pp. 60, 64, 65, 74. 75 (school boats); Yaw, pp. 175-195 (staff).

x Sheldon Jackson School Verstovian, December 1942, p. 2 (10 boats for Navy); Yaw, pp. 175-195 (staff).

xi Isabella Brady interview (boats for Grandma); Verstovian, March 1936, p. 1 (Mrs. S. dies).

xii B. Sarvela interview (modeled on Davis, y c, easy to row); Bahrt interview (?).

xiii Loken, pp. 11-14 (hand trollers).

xiv G. Howard interview (do it once).

xv Brady interview; Paul interview; Sentinel, 31 December 1947, p. 1 (activities); Verstovian, Thlinget various issues (activities).

xvi Yaw, pp. 91-99 (SJS II); Simon Anderson, phone interview by author, 14 or 15 November 1988 (planking Laverne); Coast Guard Vessel Documentation (Peters).

xvii A. S. Harris, Sitka Spruce. USDA Forest Service American Woods circular series number FS-265 (Washington, D.C.: US Department of Agriculture, 1971) p. 5 (cut in WWI).

xviii Kitka interview (spruce on big boats) Yaw p 99 (materials on SJS II), Simon Anderson interview (Laverne II materials).

xix A. S. Harris, Alaska-cedar. USDA Forest Service American Woods circular series number FS-224. (Washington, D.C.: US Department of Agriculture, 1971) (yellow cedar booklet)

xx U. S. Navy Bureau of Ships, Wood: A Manual For Its Use As a Shipbuilding Material, First Collected Edition (Kingston, Massachusetts: Tea Party Books, 1983) (Douglas Fir).

xxi Coast Guard Vessel Documentation (Hope’s boat); Mark Jacobs Jr., note on draft 1992 (Laverne); Seesz interview (Satchem built by Hope).

xxii Hays interview; Sentinel. 15 April 1968; Andy Hope III, Founders of the Alaska Native Brotherhood ( ) (ANB, legisl, etc.); Verstovian, October 1941; Yaw, p. 77-78 (Hope Fished SJS); Verstovian, October 1949, p. 4 (Reelected to Common Council); Chronology p 217 (Hope’s terms in Legislature and Common Council)

xxiii

xxiv Johnson interview (Hope’s careful workmanship)

xxv Kitka 1992 interview (work methods of Hope).

xxvi Kitka interview 1992, Coast Guard Documentation Office, and Kitka 1992 (Martha K to North Cape, Empress to Martha K, Patricia Mae to Neka Queen); Kitka 1993 (Neva, Tamara San, Hope); Al Rottluf interview by author, tape recording, Sitka, Alaska November 21 1988 (Allanah, Satchem); Chronology p. 150 (Patricia Mae on Monk Design); Don Seesz phone interview by author (Satchem).

xxvii Coast Guard Vessel Documentation, Anderson interview (Peters), Kitka 1992.

xxviii Jacobs, note on 1992 draft, Coast Guard Documentation Office.

xxix Kitka interviews (his career)

xxx Johnson interview (decline of canneries, seiners).

xxxi Yaw, pp. 79-83 (P-H)

xxxii G. Howard interview, Jacobs interview (Hope had shop then); Coast Guard Vessel Documentation (two doc 1942).

xxxiii G. Howard interview (shop extended).

xxxiv Yaw, pp. 79-83 (P-H); Jacobs interview (kids worked)

xxxv Yaw, pp. 79-83 (who built); Ruddy interview (materials).

xxxvi Yaw, p. 90 (requisition Jan 4, 1942); Coast Guard Documentation Office (Princeton Hall sold 1961)

xxxvii Ruddy interview (restoration).

xxxviii Mark Jacobs, Jr. note on draft, 1993 (Mary Ward).

xxxix G. Howard interview, Coast Guard Vessel Documentation (boats built in shop).

xl G. Howard interview (June K).

xli ibid.

xlii ibid.

xliii G. Howard interview, Ernie Matteson, phone interview, 23 November 1988, Coast Guard Vessel Documentation (Gota).

xliv G.Howard interview.

xlv ibid.

xlvi G. Howard interview.

xlvii Kermit Olsen, interview by author, Sitka Alaska 1994 (Jenny).

xlviii Sitka Sentinel Nov. 19, 1984; Nov. 28, 1984; July 1 1985; July 2, 1985; July 16, July 26, etc. (Blackhurst)

xlix Coast Guard Vessel Documentation (Howard built); Jacobs interview (Hope built).

l Howard interview; Sentinel. 17 January 1956, p. 2 (obit, no mention of boatbuilding).

li Al Rottluff, interview 21 November 1988 (father); Rudy Sarvela, interview, December 1988 (uncle); Robert Modrell, interview 24 October 1988 (uncle); Chronology p. 98 (opened Nov. 23, 1945).

lii R. Sarvela interview, Coast Guard Vessel Documentation (Myrth).

liii Paul Morgan and Al Rottluff, interview December 1988; Rottluff interview; Kitka interview (yard).

liv Rottluff interview

lv

lvi Bob Allen, phone interview by author, November or December 1988; Rottluff interview; Morgan and Rottluff interview (yard after) Chronology p. 120 (sold to Woodruff 1955).

lvii Robert Modrell, interview by author, tape recording, Sitka, Alaska October 24, 1988 (Island)

lviii Modrell interview; Edwin Monk, Modern Boat Building (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1939).

lix Modrell interview (activities on Island).

lx Modrell interview

lxi Pauline Bergdahl phone interview by author

lxii Olson interview, Coast Guard Documentation, Chronology p. 98 (Minnie R)

lxiii Olson interview

lxiv Morgan and Rottluff interview (C-Rae); Sentinel, 20 March 1962, p. 1 (C-Rae).

lxv Coast Guard Vessel Documentation, Harry Jimmy, interview by author, tape recording, November 16 1988 (Peril Strait).

lxvi Gary Erb, interview on tape, Cas/Spe/44-19, Kettleson Memorial Library(Chancy); Matteson interview (Amanda Rose).

This is part 2 of three parts of my history of boatbuilding in Sitka. Most of the research was done in 1989 and 1993, when I interviewed boatbuilders and their sons and daughters. Enjoy, and please  contact me with requests for use, with corrections and any other information or questions.

Andrew Hope at the bandsaw, fisherman Andrew Soinio in foreground. This may be Scotty Jennings' boat shop, in the 1920s. Photo from a glass slide in the collection of the Sitka Historical Society.

Andrew Hope at the bandsaw, fisherman Andrew Soinio in foreground. This may be Scotty Jennings’ boat shop, in the 1920s. Photo from a glass slide in the collection of the Sitka Historical Society.

Introduction

Sitka has always been a maritime community, dependent on the ocean for transportation and livelihood. For hundreds of years, Tlingit people of Sitka built and used canoes, carved and steamed from single trees. When the Russians and later Americans moved in to Sitka, they introduced European-style planked wooden boats and ships. This history is about these boats. Hundreds have been built here, a large number of them by Tlingit and other Alaska Native builders.

Boats were built in Sitka because people needed them, and could not afford to buy them, and was not an industry producing boats for selling outside the immediate area. In the 200 years since the first permanent Russian settlement here in 1799, Sitka has been a Tlingit stronghold, Russian fort, Russian American colonial capital, American frontier town, fishing village, site of a WW II military installation, pulp mill town and now the small city we know today. Boat and shipbuilding in Sitka, and the builders and their backgrounds and activities, reflect Sitka’s varied history and economy and our location on the eastern edge of the North Pacific.

The Russians of the Russian American Company built ships and boats for their own colonial operations, for hunting, supplying outposts, exploration, and taking furs and correspondence back to Siberia. They built the first ship in Sitka in1805. In the beginning at least, these ships were not very good, and reflected the difficulty of maintaining a colony which was halfway around the world from support, and in a climate and geography alien to them. Shipbuilding was an important part of their endeavor to become a self-sufficient colony. They built at least 27 ships, most of them about the size of large fishing boats today. A few of the ships were fairly large, and included the first steamer built on the west coast of North America.

After the purchase of the territory of Alaska by the United States in 1867, some American entrepreneurs built sailing ships and boats for fishing, mining, or trading enterprises, but this boatbuilding activity was sporadic, reflecting the varied and unstable economy of that time, mainly trade and prospecting.

But once fisheries became a mainstay of Sitka’s economy after the turn of the century, hundreds of boats were built, not only fishing boats but pleasure boats and others. Through the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s there were at least eight boat shops in Sitka at various times. All of the builders did other things as well, like fishing, carpentry, or mining. The owner of the boat was often involved with the construction, and some fishermen built their own boats by themselves.

When the fishing tapered off, boatbuilding declined too. In the peak years of Sitka boatbuilding, there was demand for boats, materials were available, and time was cheap, which is not the case today. The decline of wooden boatbuilding in Sitka followed the pattern in the United States generally. Both labor and high-quality old-growth wood have become relatively expensive. Wooden boats are being replaced by fiberglass, aluminum and steel ones.

The following narrative includes most of the boats built here which were large enough to be officially documented, which is five net tons, or about 32 feet in length for a power boat.

Information comes from the federal lists of documented vessels; Sitka newspapers; and many interviews, most carried out in 1988. Thank you to all the people I interviewed and talked with and to those who helped me in the libraries and museums. There will certainly be mistakes, and I would appreciate corrections and additions.

PART II: AFTER 1900

Sitka’s first cannery started up in 1878,i (16a) and fishing gradually became an important industry here. But it was not until decades later, after the turn of the century, that fishing boats of any size were built here. Records are still available of decked boats over five net tons, which is about 32 feet. Very few boats were recorded as built in Sitka before 1915, but between 1915 and 1930, at least 43 were built here, almost all fishing boats.ii (1) (There seems to often be a delay between the boat’s completion and its documentation.) A total of 20 of these larger boats were documented in the three years between 1917 and 1919.. It was around this time that gasoline engines revolutionized the process of seining (pulling a net round a school of fish). Gas trollers (hook and line fishing boats) were also built locally. Many boats too small to require documentation, including small trollers, sealers and rowboats, were built as well.

Much of the fishing boatbuilding in Sitka up through the 1950s had its roots in the Cottages settlement, a group of houses adjacent to Sheldon Jackson School (now college). Here, in 1907, a Tsimpshian graduate of the school named Peter Simpson started a commercial boat shop. Later, his brother-in-law George Howard, who had been working with him, built his own shop in the Sitka Village, on Katlian Street, which was later used by his sons. Then, in the 1920s and 30s, Simpson’s nephew by marriage, Andrew Hope, started building boats, and eventually had his own shop. Among them, these men and those who worked with them built the majority of the boats built here.

Another builder, Frank Kitka, built several seiners, his last one documented in 1920. He built at least six large boats, first at the Brady sawmill then at a shop on Charcoal Island. He built his last boat on Katlian Street.

In addition, John Bahrt was building smaller boats on Seward Street. Kristian Norholm, a Norwegian immigrant, built his own shop in 1924. Arthur `Scotty’ Jennings had a shop on Katlian Street in the 1930s; he was an immigrant from the north of England. Still others built rowboats, and some fishermen built their own boats.

The Cottages

The Presbyterian mission school, which is now Sheldon Jackson College, began as a day school for Native children in 1878. It soon became a boarding school, where the children learned reading and the Bible, and received training in sawmill engineering, metal work, furniture making, carpentry, and other skills which they used in work on the school. The Presbyterians acquired a portable sawmill in 1882 and staff and students built several buildings by the end of the decade.

In 1886 they had built a boat shop, on the bottom floor of the carpenter shop, where the Sage building is now. This shop was probably for building and repairing the school’s own boats.iii (1)

None of the school’s early carpentry instructors seems to have been a boatbuilder. Students did, however, build a 14-foot rowboat for the Alaska Pavilion at the St. Louis World’s Fair, in 1904.iv (2) In 1910 some instructors built a launch, but it was out of the water again in less than a year, where it stayed for another year.v (3) By 1912 boatbuilding did become a regular part of the school’s program and continued to be so most years until the school became a junior college in 1944. The boat shop had electricity, and a bandsaw, lathe and circular saw by 1915, which they used to repair the school’s boats and to build rowboats.vi (4)

By 1906 or 1907 some graduates of the school had set up a commercial boatbuilding shop at the Cottages settlement, adjacent to the school, but the path from the school to the new shop was not direct.

Peter Simpson – grandfather of Sitka boatbuilding

Peter Simpson came to the Sitka Training School in 1888 when he was about 17 years old and stayed here a couple of years before returning south to Gravina (near Ketchikan) to be the engineer at a sawmill he co-founded. Years later, some time between 1895 and 1899, he came back to Sitka, and was a steam engineer here. When he finally started building boats at Sitka he was in his mid-thirties, about 17 years after he had graduated, and after a career as steam engineer in the intervening years. It is hard to tell at what point or from whom he might have learned boatbuilding. At the time boats were being built all over southeastern Alaska, probably often by people with no formal training at all, and Simpson may himself have been self-taught.

Peter Simpson came to the United States with missionary William Duncan. In 1887 Duncan, who had gone to Canada from his native England as an Anglican missionary, fell out with church and government authorities, and led over 800 Tsimpsean Natives from their village of Metlakatla, British Columbia, to New Metlakatla, at the site of an abandoned Tlingit village near Ketchikan in southeastern Alaska. Peter Simpson was about 16 years old at the time of the exodus. Besides an elementary education from Duncan, Metlakatlans had plenty of opportunities for practicing practical skills. At both towns the people built all their houses and other buildings. At old Metlakatla they built and ran a water powered sawmill and a cannery, and by 1890 New Metlakatla also had a sawmill and cannery.vii (5)

Peter Simpson’s contemporary Edward Marsden, also a teenager at the time, built his mother’s house in the new village, and ran the mission steamer during the move.viii (6) Simpson’s practical education probably began fairly early.

In addition, traditional craftsmen, Tsimpshean and Tlingit, had a strong tradition of working in wood and canoe building, and knew the properties of the different local woods. Although boatbuilders working with planked boats used different techniques, they used the knowledge of wood and woodworking tools of traditional craftsmen.

The spring after the move to Alaska, in 1888, Presbyterian missionary Sheldon Jackson brought Peter Simpson and 31 other boys from Metlakatla to his Sitka training school.ix (7) Peter Simpson was about 17, and he stayed here a couple of years.

Peter Simpson was still at the school in 1890, and was in Sitka in 1891, when he married Mary Sloan, a Sitka Tlinget woman of the Kiksadi clan.x (8)

Then, in the fall of 1892, when he was about 21, he and some other Metlakatlan graduates of the Sitka school returned south and started Hamilton, Simpson and Company, a sawmill, at Port Gravina, across Tongass Narrows from Ketchikan. The all-Native company eventually had a fishing operation, ran a tug, owned a large store, a carpenter shop, and rental cottages. They milled wood for building Ketchikan, but had some problems getting paid; in 1900 Peter Simpson filed a lien against a sawmill in Ketchikan, which got lumber from Gravina and never paid. But the operation lasted until everything burned down in 1904. They could not get title to their business site, because as Natives they were not considered citizens of the United States.

Peter Simpson was the engineer at Gravina and later was their steamboat engineer, and he was the vice president of the company. In a letter to the head of the Sitka school published in the North Star, the Sitka school’s newspaper, he credited the school with all the training for running the mill. “To say that Sitka Industrial Training School train me to do this.” Later in the same letter he writes, “we put all the machinery all in order and runs just as easy as the tide comes up.”xi (9)

He was still working at Gravina in 1895, but by 1899, although he was still an investor in the Gravina mill, he was living in Sitka.xii (10) He was in Sitka with his family in 1897, but that may have been only a visit. His granddaughter Isabella Brady says she has heard he ran a ferry between Douglas and Juneau, sometime between his time at Gravina and his return to Sitka.xiii (11)

In 1900 Simpson was the foreman of a sawmill in Sitka, either at the school, at the mill of John Brady (a supporter of the school) or at the other sawmill in town, owned by W. P. Mills.xiv (12) Even after he started building boats, Simpson seems to have been primarily an engineer. In 1910 and 1912 he spent the summer as foreman of the W. P. Mills sawmill, and spent the winter of 1911-1912 running the school’s steam heating plant and electric plant. In 1909 he remodeled the Native Public School.xv (13)

But by 1907 or so he was also building boats at the Cottages. In the fall of 1908 he had five men working there, and enlarged his shop to 22 by 60 feet. The school paper says that they had orders enough ahead to keep them busy until spring.xvi (14) In 1909 they launched a 34-foot boat for Rudolph Walton, another graduate of the school, a jeweler and later fisherman, and the school paper said they had been building many boats in the past few years.xvii (15) In 1910, when he was nearly 40, Simpson employed his brother-in-law George Howard, who was about the same age, and John James at his shop.xviii (16)

George Howard had married Lottie Sloan, the sister of Peter Simpson’s wife Mary Sloan, in about 1890. (George Howard later married again, around 1907.) George Howard was Tlingit, from Klawock, and also a graduate of the Sitka school. He was living at the Cottages in 1900, but at that time he had been foreman of the school shoe shop. By 1910 he was a boatbuilder, working with Peter Simpson.xix (17)

The Cottages settlement was adjacent to the school, on Kelly and Metlakatla Streets, just west of the Sitka National Historical Park. More cottages were on the present Visitor Center parking lot. It was on mission property, where married former students of the school built their own single family houses, as an alternative to returning to their home villages and living in traditional clan houses. Simpson’s shop was, eventually, on the point of land where the Merrill monument is now.

In the 1910 census, there was a fourth boatbuilder, John Bahrt, son of ship carpenter H. L. Bahrt. He was 28 in 1910. In the previous census, in 1900, he had been a laborer. His father still called himself a ship carpenter on the census, but he was involved in mining and other ventures.xx (18) Between the 1900 census and the 1910 census, Peter Simpson, George Howard, John James, and John Bahrt had all switched to boatbuilding from other jobs. This was probably in response to the need for fishing boats.

The Fisheries

Seining

The sudden increase in boatbuilding — from no boatbuilders at all in 1900, to four in 1910 — was probably due to an increase in demand for fishing boats.

By 1889 there were already 13 canneries in southeastern Alaska, including one at Sitka, at Redoubt.xxi (19) But the early seining (catching fish with a net, towed around a school of fish) was done with large rowboats, which apparently were supplied by the canneries, and the fish were carried on steamers to the cannery.

After the turn of the century, however, gas engines were rapidly adopted in the salmon seine fishery.xxii Many of the gas seiners used out of Sitka were built here.

The earliest seine boats were large flat-bottomed open boats, propelled by oars, and nets were pulled by hand. Engines were introduced on seiners on Puget Sound soon after the turn of the century. According to Herman Kitka, in 1914 Tom Sanders Jr. fished a motorized seiner, the COMET, that had been brought up from Puget Sound, for Deep Sea Salmon Company. He outfished everybody, and soon all the seiners had engines.

Herman Kitka says that the earliest motorized seiners had loose decks of 2 x 12’s which were picked up to empty the hold. This was not the case for more than a couple of years, because of the problem with rain water and snow in the boat in the winter.xxiii (1a)

Many of the seiners built in Sitka over the years were financed by the canneries. Sometimes they were built for the cannery, and sometimes they were built for an individual fisherman, who would help build the boat. The canneries had boats built for good producers, obligating the fisherman to fish for that cannery to repay the debt. Some fishermen would eventually buy their boats, but others fished on cannery boats indefinitely.

Trolling

Trolling peaked in the 1920s or 1930s. Trolling is catching fish with a hook and line, pulled slowly through the water. The early gas powered trollers were much smaller than the boats today, maybe from 20 to 25 feet long. Until the Second World War there were also the hand trollers, who fished by hand from rowboats. Some hand trollers used rowboats, and others used the carved canoes. A typical hand troller rowboat, at least in the 20s and ’30s, was around fourteen or sixteen feet long.

Sealing

Sealing boats, another special kind of boat, eventually evolved into a specific type, built at Sitka.The fur seals pass offshore of Sitka every spring on their way to their breeding grounds on the Pribilof Islands. At a few places in southeastern Alaska and in British Columbia, Native hunters would head out in boats or canoes and hunt them. Up until the turn of the century American and Canadian sealing ships would also take boats and hunters, skilled Native hunters if they could get them, and take the seals on the ocean on the seals’ migration route. Between the almost unregulated slaughter at sea and the official slaughter by the Alaskan Commercial Company on the Pribilof Island breeding grounds fur seals were very nearly wiped out. The sealing fleet shrank with the numbers of fur seals, and 1897 was the last year by law any American ships participated. High seas sealing by all nationalities was outlawed in an international treaty in 1911.xxiv (20)

Natives were always allowed to go out from shore, however, even when sealing from ships was banned. In an 1894 law, the Natives were restricted to open rowing or sailing boats, with five or fewer aboard.xxv (21)

In 1902 sealers were going out from camps at Biorka Island in all kinds of boats, including canoes.xxvi (22) But at some point a type of boat called a sealer came into common use. The Davis family, boatbuilders in Metlakatla, claim to have built the first sealer in 1905.xxvii (25) The sealing boats were around 20 to 25 feet long, graceful rowing boats built for speed. Bob DeArmond, who grew up in Sitka in the 1920s, remembers them having five rowing stations, with a steering oar in the stern, and a harpooner in the bow. He says they were similar to the whaling boats used by the Navy as launches, but much more lightly built, and thus faster.xxviii (24) The boats were sometimes built of spruce for lightness. Sealing boats were built and used for sealing at least into the 1920s. There was a Fourth of July sealing boat race into the 1930s, and the boats were well taken care of. In 1934, the champion was the SKOOKUM, over the “8”.xxix (25)

Other purposes

Boats were built for other purposes too, like pleasure, or for carrying freight, prospecting and mining. Motor boats smaller than about 32 feet are not documented, but there were probably many smaller boats, from skiffs on up, built for trolling, general duty and subsistence food gathering. Besides planked rowboats and launches, carved canoes were also being produced; in the 1900 census, three men listed their occupation as canoe builder. Their ages were from 35 to 56.

John Sarvela

Machine and metal work for Sitka boats was done at Sarvela’s machine shop, where the city grid is now, on Katlian Street. John Sarvela came to Sitka by way of northern California from Finland. He worked first at the Ready Bullion mine at Douglas. There was a strike by all the miners in 1908, and he took the opportunity to move to Chichigoff. While waiting for his family to join him there, he built a small boat, called the BEAVER, named after its engine. In 1916 or so he had the LULU built at Sitka by one of the Sitka builders, from a model he had carved. In 1918 the family moved to Sitka, and he started the machine shop, later taken over by his son Bill Sarvela.xxx (25a)

Frank Kitka

Herman Kitka says that his father, Frank Kitka, built the NECKERBAY, documented 1915, for John Young; OLYMPIC, 1918, for himself; ZINGO, 1918, for John Joseph, financed by the Deep Sea Salmon Company; BUSY BEE, 1919, for George T. Myers; and the ATLAS, his last boat, for himself in 1920, documented 1922. He also built the PTARMIGAN and the DIXIE, which may have been too small to document. He first built in a shop at the old Brady sawmill, near the present Thomsen Harbor. When that building collapsed, he built boats in a shop on Charcoal Island, which had machinery powered by a gas engine. That shop was on the beach below the site of the kindergarten, and burned down before the military took over the island.

This same shop was used by Hoonah boatbuilder Johnny Lawson, to build the PERSEVEARANCE, documented in 1927, and the O.K., documented in 1929.xxxi (1c)

Kitka built his last boat, the ATLAS, in 1920, on Katlian Street. Both the ATLAS and the earlier boat OLYMPIC were built for himself, because his main occupation was as a fisherman.xxxii (1b)

The ATLAS was out of the water at Allen Marine Ways for several years until the fall of 1993.

George Howard and Sons

George Howard might have had his own shop at the Cottages by 1912, but in 1912 or 1914 he built his own shop and house on Katlian Street, on the town side of what is now the Seafood Producers Cooperative plant.xxxiii (2) The earlier shop was much smaller than the one which replaced it in 1940, and was only big enough to build the hull of the boat and not the superstructure.xxxiv (2a) The house and shop were torn down in the summer of 1990.

George Howard probably built the ACTIVE, documented in 1917, for himself and his sons, and he built the U & I, documented 1919. The year of documentation is not necessarily the year the boat was launched, and is often a little later. The U & I was completely rebuilt in 1947 by troller Oscar Johnson, near Lindenburgh Head, and is still fishing.xxxv (3)

In the 1920 census, taken in January of 1920, George Howard and his son George Howard Jr. were on Katlian Street and listed their occupations as boatbuilders.xxxvi (3a) George Howard and his sons, David and George Jr., advertised in most issues of the Sitka Tribune, from 1922 through 1924. In their ads they used a photo of a seine type boat. Some ads read, “GEORGE HOWARD BoatbuildING PLANT Now Ready to Take Orders for Boats from 14 ft. up to 40 ft. Lumber on Hand.” The newspaper, in June of 1922, reported that they were turning out sealing boats, and that they had laid a keel for a 48-foot boat.xxxvii (4)

In March of 1923 they were building two boats, one for James Ryan, launched that month, and one for someone from Kake.xxxviii (5)

Every summer the Howards closed up shop and went fishing. George Howard built the large seiner PROGRESS, documented in 1923, for himself, his sons, and son-in-law Andrew Hope.xxxix (6)

The Cottages Through the 1920s

Herman Kitka says that Peter Simpson built the DREADNAUGHT, 1915, for Myers Cannery, for Jimmy Keunz; the ALBATROSS, 1917, for John Cameron, another resident of the Cottages; the BARANOFF, 1918, for Ralph Young, of the Cottages; the EAGLE, 1919 for Pyramid Packing Company; the MARY WARD, 1919, for Deep Sea Packing Company for George Ward; and the KATHARINE, 1919, for Deep Sea.xl (7)

Simpson is said to have built the MOONLIGHT, 1918, although the documentation lists her owner, Edward Grant, as the builder. Grant fished the boat into the 1940s, when he was killed aboard the boat when his neck scarf caught in the exposed engine. It was beached on Graveyard Island at Hoonah, until bought by a troller, Pete Moe.xli (19)

The MOONLIGHT is still fishing; the boat was completely rebuilt in 1979. By that time she was in rough shape from lack of maintenance from a series of owners. Her present owner says that before the rebuild the boat was unusually lightly built, with widely spaced frames, and no floors, the pieces which join the pairs of ribs.xlii (20) This might indicate the speed with which these boats were built, although it may be a characteristic only of this particular boat.

Peter Simpson built the troller SMILES, documented in 1920.xliii (8) According to the 1920 census, Cottages residents Raymond James and Simpson’s son Louis Simpson were building boats with Simpson.xliv (8a) He also advertised in 1925: “NOTICE Order your trolling boats from the Simpson Shop, Peter Simpson.”xlv (9) But in 1922, 1923, and 1924, he is only mentioned as a sealer (one of the most successful), and fisherman in the newspaper, and he also advertised his boat, the ALCO, for hire.xlvi (10) He could have been building trollers, which at that time were too small to require federal documentation.

Boatbuilder Louis Simpson, Peter Simpson’s son, died at the age of 40 in 1936 in a flu epidemic of pneumonia.xlvii (10c)

In 1922, John Willard advertised “boat work a specialty” at the Cottages, perhaps at Simpson’s shop.xlviii (10a)

Early day wood for boatbuilding

Herman Kitka says that even in the early days, most builders used Douglas fir, shipped on the steamers from Seattle air-dried, and not too many builders cut their own wood.xlix (10aa) This was apparently most often the case with the cannery financed boats.

For political and economic reasons the sawmill industry has never thrived here. For a long time after the purchase of Alaska cutting wood commercially on government land was not legal, and then when it was legal, the law was hazy and export from the state was still illegal.l (10b) In some years there was no operating sawmill in Sitka. By contrast, the logging industry in Washington and Oregon was large, competitive, and organized. Even today Douglas fir, from Washington and Oregon, is readily available, while lumber from local trees is very difficult to obtain.

Andrew Hope in the 1920s and 1930s

Andrew Hope, a well-known Sitka builder, was very active by the end of the 1920s. Andrew Hope was born in Sitka in 1896. His father was English, and his mother was Tlinget, from the Kogwanton clan. At Sitka his father was a store clerk for the Sitka Trading Company and was also involved in mining, and eventually left for the Yukon gold rush. Andrew went to the Sheldon Jackson school, and also attended the Cushman school, in Tacoma.li (21)

In 1912, he married Tillie Howard, when both were about 16. Tillie was the daughter of boatbuilder George Howard, and niece of Peter Simpson, and so young Andrew probably started his boatbuilding career working with these men.

Apparently Hope did not have his own shop until about 1940, when he built his shop on the town side of what is now Murray Pacific.lii (22) The shop still stands, although part of it was taken off to widen the street a few years ago, and it is now the shop of Harry Jimmy. Before he had his own shop, he may have built in the Howard family boatshop or Peter Simpson’s.

In the 1920s and 1930s, documents name him as builder of the BIORKA and STARLIGHT, documented in 1927; the PYRAMID, 1929; the NEPTUNE, 1930; BUDDY, 1931; and the ADMIRALTY, 1938.liii (23)

He probably had a hand in building others for which there are no records.

The NEPTUNE was built for and to some extent by “Cap” Pavloff, behind where the Wells Fargo bank is now. Pavlof used the boat for fishing and for running to his homeplace of Kodiak or beyond. Pavlof had been a captain of trading vessels in Alaska.liv (24) The NEPTUNE was documented in 1930, and is another survivor of that era, still fishing out of Sitka.

Andrew Hope built many of his boats from half models, hand carved scale models (½ inch to a foot) of half a boat, cut lengthways.lv (24a) Molds for the full sized boats were then scaled up from the model, and very seldom did the full size molds have to be faired in at all.lvi (25)

Hope built the ADMIRALTY for George James of Angoon. This boat was a copy of another Angoon boat, the seiner U & I, maybe the boat George Howard built in 1919, although there were two boats with that name.lvii (25aa)

John Bahrt.

Builder John Bahrt was also working in the 1920s, according to his nephew and namesake, who remembered helping his uncle build at least one small boat, for John Peterson. He said his uncle used copper fastenings, and preferred Douglas fir.lviii (11)

The shop was at the family home, where the Seward Square Mall is now, so boats had to be launched on rollers to put in by the old sawmill. lix(12) That waterfront has all been filled in now, and is the parking lot and tourist dock at Crescent Harbor.

John Bahrt was later the first gardener at the new Pioneer Home. He died in 1962, at the age of 82. lx (12a)

Kristian Norholm

By the early 1920s, Sitka’s builders were joined by Kristian Norholm, a Norwegian immigrant. In 1922 he was planning to put up a boatbuilding operation at Sawmill Cove. He had somewhere launched the ROSARIO, which might have been a repair job to a Norwegian-owned Seattle boat of that name, and repaired another boat. In the spring of 1923 he had built a covered ways at “Norholm Cove,” probably where older Sitkans remember his shop being, near the Forest Service building and the old airplane turnaround. He also had an engine for hauling boats up. At the time there was only a trail to his shop, and he landed materials by boat.lxi (13)

The shop was not very big. The ways were wooden. Most local boats then were not very big — 30 feet was a large boat.

Norholm did repair to the larger boats, like the halibut boats up from Puget Sound, which were almost all Norwegian-owned. He built some boats as well: he built the 32-foot CARRIE for George Rice, a local plumber, in 1922.lxii (14) Bill Sarvela helped him once when he was a teenager, in the mid-20s, on a repair to the MORNING STAR, owned by Sergius Williams. Norholm also used clenched nails, iron nails driven through the plank and frame and bent over on the inside. Bill Sarvela helped by bending them over inside, while Norholm drove them from outside the boat.lxiii (15)

At Aleutkina Bay Norholm had a cabin with a log floor adzed smooth, and a mine he worked on, drilling and blasting a tunnel. He also fished, on halibut boats and at least once herring seining. He was also something of a character.

Norholm had come to Sitka around 1915, probably to do something other than build boats. He died of exposure after being hurt in a fight at his mining claim in 1933, when he was about 48.lxiv (15a)

Other Boatbuilders

Johnny Lawsson, a fisherman and builder originally from Hoonah, built the PERSEVEARANCE in Sitka, documented 1927, and the O.K., 1929, in the Charcoal Island shop used by George Howard. The shop burned down shortly before the military took over Charcoal Island before World War II.lxv (15b)

The Tribune also mentions T. F. Demidoff repairing Booth Fisheries’ boat ELSIE, and building a 20-foot yellow cedar boat, that took him two years to finish.lxvi (16) He is also reported in 1928 building a 32-foot troller at the sawmill, with plans to install a 12-15 horsepower Sterling gas engine.lxvii

Another boatbuilder in the 1920s or 1930s was Gustav Karvonen, who built small rowboats, and a 34-foot troller for a Juneau man.lxviii (17) He also repaired the LULU for the Sarvelas. Bill Sarvela remembers him as a “meticulous, little bit of a fellow” who would sand the inside of his boats so that the slime would not stick.lxix (17b)He built skiffs on Aleutski Island, or possibly the same shop Frank Kitka and Johnny Lawsson used, on Charcoal Island. He had an engine to run a bandsaw.

His skiffs were superior to the Davis model, according to Bill Sarvela. The Davis model rowboat was a type of boat, first double-ended and later with a square stern for an outboard engine, built by the Davis family in Metlakatla and distributed all around southeastern Alaska. They were relatively narrow. Bill Sarvela says the fishermen preferred Karvonen’s, because they were more beamy (wider) and easy to row.

Karvonen got oak for ribs from barrels. The planking was spruce or yellow cedar. They had a transom (square) stern, and were wide all the way up to the transom.

He built a few on Aleutski, then a few more on Middle Island, after he moved there to a former fox farm. Eventually he had to come in to live at the Pioneers Home, but died soon after.lxx (16a)

Scotty Jennings

In the 1930s Hope worked with Arthur “Scotty” Jennings, an Englishman from Newcastle (a city near the Scottish border). Scotty’s shop was on pilings just beyond the ANB hall.lxxi (26) The spot is now filled, and is a parking lot beside ANB Harbor.

Jennings served in the English army in the First World War, when he would already have been in his late thirties. He may have originally come to Sitka to fox farm. He was a small, quick man, a “feisty little Englishman,” also somewhat deaf and “cantankerous” in his later years.lxxii (27)

He had a large shop, a former handpack cannery. Bill Sarvela remembers him as excitable, and says he would curse people always stealing his hammers, which he found again when he cleaned up the piles of shavings in his shop.

Jennings built prams, flat-bottomed boats with flat ends, about eight feet long, used as tenders on the fishing boats. Jennings could build the prams quite quickly. He and Andrew Hope once built a dory for Bob DeArmond, which DeArmond rowed to Tacoma, where he went to high school. Apparently they did not usually build dories, because they had to find a model, a dory from a halibut boat.lxxiii (27a)

He did boat repair, although he didn’t build large boats. He also worked for Sitka Light and Power Company on their generator on Sawmill Creek Road, and did dock work.lxxiv (27b)

He advertised in the newspaper in 1934 and 1935: “Boatbuilder and General Boat Repairs. Sitka Alaska.” The newspaper also reported his renovation of the Midget Bar, and his putting in a files system at the commissioner’s office. He died in June of 1949, at 68, at Juneau. He had gone there to go to the hospital, because Sitka did not have a hospital then. He was buried there, not having any relatives here. The shop eventually collapsed, and was torn down.lxxv (29)

Adolph Thomsen

Adolph Thomsen, for whom Thomsen Harbor is named, was a Sitka businessman and fisherman who built two boats for himself in the 1930s: the SOPHIA and the EROS. Both boats were around 40 feet long. Before settling in Sitka he had been a deep water sailor, originally from Denmark. At Sitka he and his family fox-farmed on Biorka Island. His wife Sophia raised chickens, goats, sheep, cows, and horses, and carded, spun and knitted wool into clothes for the family. She also caulked the SOPHIA, which did not leak a drop, according to their daughter, Anna Baggen.lxxvi (30)

In 1923 he owned three fishing boats, the MAINE, the GEDNEY, and the HECLA.lxxvii (31) He still had the HECLA in 1935 when he launched the SOPHIA. The Arrrowhead reported, when the boat was built, that it was intended for halibut fishing.lxxviii (32) The SOPHIA is probably still in use, registered out of Wrangell in 1989.

Thomsen built the EROS in 1937, after the family moved to town, near the present Baranof School playground. She had to be launched on rollers down Baranof Street.lxxix (33)

Endnotes.

i. R. N. DeArmond, A Sitka Chronology (Sitka, Alaska: Sitka Historical Society, 1993)

ii Merchant Vessels 1921, 1928, 1941.

iii Ted C. Hinckley, Alaskan John G. Brady: Missionary, Businessman, Judge, and Governor, 1878-1918 (Miami, Ohio: Ohio State University Press, 1982), p. 123 (1882 sawmill); North Star, April 1889, p. 68 (six cottages); North Star, March 1888, p. 14 (carpentry shop, others); North Star, 25 December, 1886, p. 3 (boat shop in carp. shop). The North Star was the Sheldon Jackson School newspaper.

iv. Hinckley, p. 338 (rowboat 1904 expo)

v. Thlinget, March 1910, p. 4; idem, February 1912, p. 2 (instructors launch). The Thlinget was the successor to the North Star, the newspaper of the Sheldon Jackson School.

vi. Sheldon Jackson Annuals, No. 814 in Sheldon Jackson College Archives, Sitka, Alaska (1915 annual: boys keep small fleet in repair, build rowboats, hope to build launch; have bandsaw, lathes, circ. saw in shop, elec. lights — also in program 1912, 1924, 1930, 31, 32, 33; 38-39 boys built 4 skiffs, 6 round bottom boats).

vii. Peter Murray, The Devil and Mr. Duncan (Victoria, British Columbia: Sono Nis Press, 1985), p. 42 (industries by 1890)

viii. Murray, p. 17 (Marsden ran steamer)

ix. Murray, p. 207 (boys to S.J.); William Gilbert Beattie, Marsden of Alaska (New York: Vantage Press, 1955), p. 19 (boys to S.J., incl Simpson); North Star, September 1888 (Simpson in school here).

x. Sitka Sentinel (Sitka), 31 December 1947 (married in 1891, Sept. 17); Isabella Brady, interview by author, tape recording, Sitka Alaska 18 November, 1988 (Mrs. Simpson was Kiksadi); North Star, May 1890, p. 118 (Simpson still here).

xi. North Star, November 1892, p. 238 (Gravina letter); Patricia Roppel, “Gravina,” Alaska Journal, vol. 2 no. 3 (1972): 13-15; Alaskan, 21 January, 1893, p. 3 (started); idem, 11 March 1893, p. 3 (report); idem, 1 April 1893, p. 3 (in operation).

xii. North Star, April 1895 (still down there); Alaskan 13 May 1899, p. 3 (Simpson back in Sitka).

xiii. Alaskan late fall 1897 (arrives with family on steamer); Isabella Brady interview (ran ferry).

xiv. 1900 U. S. Census (was sawmill engineer)

xv. Thlinget, September 1909, p. 2 (rem. pub. school); Thlinget, August 1911, p. 1 (steam heating plant); Thlinget, May 1911, p. 3 (to install water wheel); Thlinget, April 1910, p. 3 (Mills’ sawmill); Thlinget, February 1912, p. 2 (sawmill up); Thlinget, May 1912, p. 4 (lights all winter, next summer at Mills’ sawmill).

xvi. North Star, October 1908, p. 3 (starting 1906 or 1907, orders to spring).

xvii. North Star, March 1909, p. 2 (boat for Walton, many boats past few years), Chronology p. 38 (Walton’s boat the William)

xviii 1910 Census (Simpson, Howard, James building).

xix 1900 Census, 1910 Census (Howard marriage, jobs).

xx. 1900 Census, 1910 Census (John and H. L. Bahrt), Alaskan, passim (activities of H. L. Bahrt).

xxi. Alaskan, 13 April 1889, p. 1 (number of canneries 1889).

xxii. Homer E. Gregory and Kathleen Barnes, North Pacific Fisheries, with Special Reference to Alaska Salmon (San Francisco: American Council Institute of Pacific Relations, 1939), p 24 (gas engines spread)

xxiii Herman Kitka, interviews by the author, tape recordings, Sitka, Alaska, October and December 1988 and March 3 1992 (early seiners, financing, the first seiner) The Comet was later rebuilt by Frank Kitka’s brother Peter Kitka in 1926 – Kitka interview 3/92

xxiv. Gerald O. Williams, The Bering Sea Fur Seal Dispute: A Monograph on the Maritime History of Alaska (Juneau, Alaska: Alaska Maritime Publications, 1984) (sealing late 19th century).

xxv. Alaskan, 28 April 1884, p. 1 (sealing law).

xxvi. Alaskan, 17 May 1902, p. 3 (all types of boats)

xxvii. Marty Loken, Davis Boats, Traditional Small Boats of the Northwest Volume Two (Seattle: Center for Wooden Boats, 1981), p. 11 (first sealing boat).

xxviii. R. N. DeArmond, pers. com. winter 1991 (what sealing boats were like).

xxix. Sitka Arrowhead, 14 July 1934, pp. 1, 6 (Skookum beats 8).

xxx Rudy Sarvela, interview by author, tape recording, Sitka Alaska December 1 1988 (History of John Sarvela).

xxxi Herman Kitka Sr., interviews October, December 1988 and March 1992

xxxii Herman Kitka, interviews October, December 1988 (Atlas) and March 1992.

xxxiii George Howard Sr., interview by author, tape recording, Sitka, Alaska, November, 1988; George Howard Sr. and Louie Howard, interview by author, tape recording, Sitka, Alaska, December 1988; and George Howard Sr., interview by author, tape recording, Sitka, Alaska, July 1990 (shop, house built 1912); City Deeds #542 Book 2, granted 2 May 1914 (to

build); Thlinget, March 1912, p. 2 (many new boats from H and S shops, latest 35-footer with red & y c tender); Thlinget, May 1912, p. 4 (H busy all the time).

xxxiv Kitka interview (first Howard shop small)

xxxv Howard interviews (grandfather owned Active at one point); United States Coast Guard, Marine Safety Office, Vessel Documentation, Vessel Files and Abstracts of Titles, Juneau, Alaska (U & I built Howard).

xxxvi 1920 Census (Howards boat builders).

xxxvii Tribune, 1922-1924, passim (ads); Tribune 9 June 1922, p. ?

xxxviii Tribune, 2 March 1923, p. 1; Tribune 16 March 1923, p. 3 (boats for Kake,

James Ryan).

xxxix Tribune, 23 June, 1922 (going fishing); 24 September 1923 (back from

fishing); Coast Guard Vessel Documentation (Progress).

xl. Tribune 23 June 1922 (Willard), Kitka 1992 (boats built by Simpson).

xli. Pat Wood, phone interview by author, 16 November 1988; Merchant Vessels 1921,

1928, 1941, 1948

xlii. ibid.

xliii. Mark Jacobs Jr., interviews by author, tape recordings, Sitka Alaska, November, December 1988 (Smiles built by

Simpson).

xliv. 1920 Census (Simpson, others boatbuilders, Cottages).

xlv. Tribune, 29 February 1925, p. 4, and passim (Simpson ad).

xlvi. Tribune 27 October 1922 (fishing Alco); 16 March 1922, p. 4 (Alco for hire). Tribune, 26 May 1922 (sealing); Tribune, 9 June 1922 (high boat seals).

xlvii City of Sitka Death Certificates (Louis Simpson).

xlix Kitka interview 3/92 (early builders used fir).

l Hinckley, pp 126-28, 133, 144-46 (legality of wood cutting in late 1880s, 1890 Brady shut down) p 145 (1891 Lands Act still not clear on timber use).

li Kathy Ruddy, phone interview by author 9 December 1988; Ellen Hope Hays, interview by author, Sitka, Alaska, 27 October 1988, Sitka Sentinel 15 April 1968, p. 1 (birth date, father English, mother Kogwanton, schools), Alaskan, passim (Percy Hope mining).

lii Hays interview; Sentinel, 15 April 1968, p. 1 (marriage to Tillie); Kitka interview; Hays interview (shop in 1940’s); Howard interview; Jacobs interview (had shop at time of P-H).

liii.Coast Guard Vessels Documentation (boats built by Hope)

liv Sentinel 5 Dec 1947 (obit); John Bahrt, interviews by author, tape recording, Sitka, Alaska, November and December 1988 (to go to Kodiak); Greg Cushing, phone interview by author 16 November 1988 (built at NBA); Coast Guard Vessels Documentation (built by Hope).

lv

lvi Herman Kitka, Sr. interview by author, tape recording, Sitka Alaska March 3, 1992 (Andrew Hope’s building methods).

lvii Mo Johnson interview by author, tape recording, Sitka, Alaska January 17 1988 (Admiralty copy of U&I)

lviii. Bahrt interview (methods of Bahrt)

lix. Ibid.

lx. Bahrt interview (gardener at Pioneer Home), Chronology p 137 (died Oct. 9 1963).

lxi. Tribune. May 1922 (shop to build at sawmill cove); Tribune. 6 April

1923, p 1 (Norholm Cove); Bahrt interview (trail to shop, halibut boats).

lxii. Tribune, 9 June 1922, p. 1 (Carrie); Merchant Vessels 1928

lxiii Bill Sarvela, interview by author, Sitka, Alaska 17 November 1988 (copper fast., helped).

lxiv Sitka Court System, Death Certificate (when he came, how he died).

lxv Kitka 3-92 (Lawsson built Persevearance).

lxvi Tribune, 23 February 1923 (Elsie repaired by Demidoff); Tribune. 24 August 1923 (20′ boat)

lxvii Chronology p. 57 (Demidoff troller)

lxviii B. Sarvela, 1992 note on draft (34′ troller) and Bahrt (Karvonen built boats).

68 R. Sarvela (repaired Lulu).

lxix B. Sarvela interview

lxx Sarvela interview, Bahrt interview (Gus Karvonen) (died – ?)

lxxi Hays interview, Kitka interview (worked with Scotty); Sentinel 29 June

1949, p. 1; Sentinel 1 July 1949, p.1 (obit).

lxxii. Kitka interview (came to fox farm); Tribune, 17 November 1922 (A. Jennings leases for fox farm); Sentinel, 29 June 1949, p. 1; Sentinel 1 July 1949, p. I (obit).

lxxiii Bob DeArmond, personal communication (model for dory).

lxxiv Arrowhead 8 September 1934, 3 November 1934 (carpentry); B. Sarvela interview; Kitka interview (did repair, no large boats).

lxxv. Sitka Arrowhead 5 May 1934 through 1935 (ad); Sentinel 29 June 1949, p 1; 1 July 1949, p. 1 (obit).

lxxvi Anna Baggen, phone interview by author, November or December 1988 (fox farm, activity of Sophia).

lxxvii Sitka Tribune, 20 April 1923, p. 1 (owned three boats).

lxxviii Arrowhead 11 May 1935 (launch), Coast Guard Vessel Documentation (in use).

lxxix. Baggen interview (Eros) Chronology p. 75 (Eros launched 1937).