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Woodward receives 2012 Distinguished Artist Award

Posted: June 5, 2012 - 4:11pm  |  Updated: June 6, 2012 - 11:01pm
A birch painting by Kesler Woodward is shown with explanatory text about the birch tree by UAF scientist Kimberley Maher in "Boreal Birch: Art and Science in the Northern Forest" at the Alaska State Museum in January.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
A birch painting by Kesler Woodward is shown with explanatory text about the birch tree by UAF scientist Kimberley Maher in "Boreal Birch: Art and Science in the Northern Forest" at the Alaska State Museum in January.

Alaska painter Kes Woodward was awarded the 2012 Distinguished Artist Award from Rasmuson Foundation on Tuesday. The $25,000 award is given to only one artist per year in recognition of the artist’s stature, creative accomplishments and level of excellence in his or her medium.

Rasmuson Foundation president and CEO Diane Kaplan said the award also recognizes Woodward’s generosity and expertise as a teacher, writer and art historian.

“This award not only recognizes his beautiful paintings and drawings, but his contributions to Alaska’s arts through his teaching, books and all the ways he has given back to developing other artists,” Kaplan stated in a release.

Juneau-Douglas City Museum Director Jane Lindsey said Woodward has been hugely influential on Alaskan art and artists.

“His presence in Alaska since 1977 has raised the bar on how we study and engage in painting and drawing in the state,” she said, adding, “He is an amazing, wonderful man.”

Alaska State Museum Chief Curator Bob Banghart also praised the breadth of Woodward’s involvement in Alaska art, particularly his commitment to channeling his extensive experience into mentoring both individuals and institutions.

“He’s definitely left an indelible mark on the art world,” he said.

Woodward’s most recent local show was “Boreal Birch: Art and Science in the Northern Forest” at the Alaska State Museum, a four-way collaborative exhibit that also involved multimedia artist Margo Klass, photographer Barry McWayne, and UAF scientist Kimberley Maher. The exhibit showcased one of Woodward’s favorite subjects, the birch tree, which he has been drawn to for more than 30 years. In an Empire interview about that show, Woodward said the birch tree appeals to him in part for the way it allows him to blend realistic and abstract styles, and for the wide range of color and individuality in each tree.

Woodward is also known for his landscapes, mountains, rivers and tundra paintings. A mini-documentary about the artist was recently completed by local filmmaker Pat Race, of Lucid Reverie; it can be viewed on YouTube: www.youtube.com/watch?v=ClgUGZMJqmU&feature=youtu.be.

Originally from South Carolina, Woodward moved to Alaska in 1977, working as the Alaska State Museum’s curator of visual arts and artistic director at the Visual Arts Center of Alaska before moving to Fairbanks in 1981. In Fairbanks he began teaching at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, eventually serving as chairman of the art department and as chairman of the Division of Arts and Communications, while continuing to be an active artist. After 20 years at UAF, he retired from teaching in 2000 to devote himself to painting full-time.

Woodward has work in many collections in Alaska and beyond, including the Alaska State Museum, the Anchorage Museum, and the Morris Museum of Art, as well as galleries around the country. He is one of the foremost experts on Alaskan art, and has produced eight books on the subject, including “Painting in the North,” the first comprehensive survey of Alaskan fine art, as well as books on Paul Ziegler, Sydney Laurence and Fred Machetanz. In 2005, he teamed up with Alaska State Writer Laureate Peggy Shumaker to publish “Blaze,” which combined selections of his birch tree paintings with Shumaker’s poems.

In addition to Woodward’s Distinguished Artist Award, Rasmuson Foundation awarded 26 $5,000 project grants, worth up to $5,000, and 10 artist fellowships, worth up to $12,000. These artists were chosen from a total of 305 applicants, whose applications were judged by an national panel of artists and arts leaders. (For information on these recipients, and the four local artists who received awards, see related story on C1).

As of this award cycle, the ninth, the program has awarded 267 grants, totaling $1.9 million, to Alaska artists. The foundation’s stated purpose in giving out the awards is to “allow artists to seek a variety of creative opportunities, including providing them with the time necessary to focus on creative work.”

The Rasmuson Foundation was created in May 1955 by Jenny Rasmuson to honor her late husband, E.A. Rasmuson.

For more information, visit www.rasmuson.org. For more on Woodward, visit www.keslerwoodward.com.

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