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Monday, September 10, 2012


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. 
St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox          Painting of Church
  Church – Juneau, Alaska

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.
This August she celebrated her 90th birthday.  She no longer paints.  To see more of her work, visit this website.


Angela M. said...

Wow, she's amazing! I love her work. Lol, if anyone had mentioned Sarah Palin, I would've had to hurt someone :) I was born in Juneau and would love to someday see my birthplace.

Toni Noel said...

My daughter, like Rie Munoz, visited Alaska on vacation, fell in love with it, interviewed for a job and moved there. When we visited her on vacation, we saw first hand most of the scenes depicted her in her painting. I especially like the native women enjoying a sauna in their traditional home.


R. Ann Siracusa said...

Toni, That's the one I like the best. She has a series of these which are delightful.

Cindy Spencer Pape said...

I love the stylized watercolors and what a fabulous story of a strong, talented woman! Thanks for sharing this with us!

Fran Lee said...

Stunning work! Such talent!

Elf2060 said...

Beautiful artwork, thank you for sharing!

Sandy said...

What a wonderful tribute to a fantastic, brave woman. Thank you for telling us about her, Ann.

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