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Sydney Laurence Paintings from the Permanent Collection

December 6, 2002- Fall 2003


Seven recently donated Laurence paintings are a highlight of this exhibition. The Museum acquired five Laurence paintings from Carl Valentine, husband of the late Betty Valentine. She was a niece of former territorial Gov. George A. Parks. Parks, who served from 1925-33, collected a number of pieces of Alaska artwork and gave them to her. She asked her husband to make sure the art collection returned to Alaska, and, after her death, Valentine contacted the Museum from his home in California.

The Valentine donation follows another donation earlier this year by Celia Handley, of Federal Way, Washington, on behalf of the William J. Niemi family, which has a long history in Alaska. Handley donated two paintings by Laurence, a cabin scene and a seascape.

All together, the seven paintings fill what was a notable gap in the Museum's collection, according to Museum staff. The Valentine donation is especially important.

"This is one of the most significant donations of art to the Museum in our 100-year history," said Steve Henrikson, Curator of Collections. "One of our biggest gaps in the art collection has been the work of Sydney Laurence. We did not have a single example of one of Laurence's signature images: Mt. McKinley. This donation of five paintings from the Valentines is an exciting addition that will help us to better fulfill our educational mission."

The five paintings in the Valentine group include two scenes of McKinley as well as Alexander Slough, Cook Inlet, and Eagle River Roadhouse. This donation joins many other examples of fine art kept in trust for Alaska residents by the Museum.

As Gov. Tony Knowles noted in a letter to Valentine, "Sydney Laurence is widely considered a premier 20th century painter of Alaskan landscapes and we are fortunate to have the opportunity to acquire the paintings. Funding for the purchase of Alaskan art of this caliber is seldom available to the Alaska State Museum and the museum relies heavily upon donations to expand Alaska's collection of art and artifacts."

The Handley paintings are also a significant contribution to the collection, according to Bruce Kato, the Museum's chief curator.

"Sydney Laurence is probably Alaska's most well-known painter, but it is not that easy for the public to see his work because much of it is still in private collections," Kato said. "When Laurence's work does come on the market, it is often at prices that Alaska museums cannot afford. We are extremely fortunate that Mrs. Handley and the William J. Niemi family decided to return these paintings to Alaska for all to enjoy."

The paintings were first acquired by long-time Anchorage resident Helen Carlquist, who came to Alaska with her Finnish parents in 1910. She was a friend and patron of Laurence, and traded canvas and paint for his finished works. She eventually sold these paintings to her brother, William Niemi. Handley, daughter of William and Bernice Niemi, inherited the artwork and donated it to the Museum.

Along with the seven recently acquired paintings, the exhibit features additional Laurence works from the Museum's permanent collection.

The Museum holds more than 1,000 paintings and other pieces in its fine arts collection.

Since these pieces are fragile and the Museum has limited display space, the art items are in storage most of the time. Each year, the Museum chooses a certain number of fine art objects for exhibition. This selection will be on view through the Fall of 2003.

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