Most creative people, regardless of the media they work in, can appreciate creativity in other fields. I love art, and in Alaska this spring (2012), I became aware of a contemporary watercolor artist whose work I was unfamiliar with. I was amazed and delighted to make such a wonderful discovery.
The artist is Rie Muñoz, and she is considered an Alaskan State Treasure.
Rie Muñoz The Embrace
Rie Muñoz’ paintings are fresh, spontaneous, and full of fun. She conveys the subtle messages everyday life in her work. About herself, she writes:
"My artwork can best be described as expressionism. The term applied to work that rejects camera snapshot realism, and instead, expresses emotion by distortion and strong colors. My paintings reflect an interest in the day-to-day activities of Alaskans such as fishing, berry picking, children at play, crabbing and whaling. I am also fascinated with the legends of Alaska's Native people. While I find much to paint around Juneau, most of my materials comes from sketching trips taken to the far corners of Alaska."
Rie wasn't born in Alaska. She was born in Van Nuys, CA, in 1921, but spent much of her early life in Holland where her Holland-Dutch father was a partner in a business magazine. He wrote stories about business in America, so he traveled to the US often with the family. In 1939, when Germany threatened to occupy Holland, Rie was sent to the US with a younger brother to live with friends in Plainview, NJ.
Since the US gave visas only to parents with minor children living in the US, her parents applied and received visas. A few days before they were scheduled to leave, Hitler attacked Holland. Rie's parents weren't able to come to the US until 1947. After one year of high school, she joined her older brother in Hollywood, CA, where she had to earn a living. She began with a job decorating windows in a North Hollywood dime store.
At some point she moved to Seattle. While living there, in 1950, she traveled to Alaska on vacation, taking the Inside Passage by steamship. When the ship stopped in Juneau, she fell in love with the city and its surroundings. She writes that she gave herself the one day before the ship sailed to find a job and a place to live.
After walking a few blocks, she went into the offices of the Daily Alaska Empire newspaper, where she was hired on the spot. Next she walked along Seventh Street and saw a woman hanging laundry out to dry. She asked the woman if she knew of anyone with a place to rent and the woman said, "I have a place for you." So Rie moved in with the Finnish woman and her husband, paying them $5 a week.
After she collected her belonging from the steamship two days later, she called her parents and told them she wasn't coming back. And Alaska has been her home ever since.
That's a pretty gutsy lady, if you ask me.
In Juneau, her first painting was of the St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church on Fifth Street downtown. She worked in oils in the beginning before perfecting her craft in watercolors.
Over the years, Rie Muñoz has been a journalist, a cartoonist, editor, teacher, museum curator, and artist. At one point, she taught 25 Eskimo children on King Island, a 13-hour umiak (a walrus-skin boat) voyage from Nome.
She studied art at Washington and Lee University, Virginia and at the University of Alaska-Juneau. She received the University of Alaska's Honorary Doctorate of Humanities Degree in May of 1999.
These are photos of some of the signed prints I purchased at her gallery in Juneau. I wish I'd had the money to buy more.