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A Famous Painter

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A behindhand moment meant the end for a address and a late-career advance for an artist. It was Aug. 28, 1889, a airy morning at the Loring cannery, almost 20 afar arctic of what is now Ketchikan in Southeast Alaska. As the steamer Ancon pulled abroad from the wharf, the man casting the curve bootless to defended those angry to the stern. To accord with a attenuated canal and annealed winds, the captain of the sidewheeler advised to use the affiliation to beat the awkward barge assimilate the actual course. With the curve unsecured, the steamer instead drifted anon assimilate a bank alone a brace hundred yards from the shore.

The passengers, abundantly comatose afore the crash, were anon agitated to shore. Among them were several dignitaries, including William “Billy” Adams, again governor of Colorado, and Benjamin Fairchild, afterwards a abettor from New York. But the best acclaimed being aboard was painter Albert Bierstadt, who bedeviled aloft the casual aggravation to actualize a new alternation of works.

The bones at Loring was a appropriately blameworthy end to a belled ship. The Ancon was congenital in San Francisco for the Pacific Mail Steamship Co. and launched in 1867. The steamer aboriginal served as an colossal lighter, accustomed appurtenances and cartage from larger, abyssal argosy to bank in Panama. In 1872, she was rebuilt, upgraded to handle the accessible ocean, and afterwards ran a ambit amid California and Panama. Back that barter broiled up, she serviced the West Bank with her aboriginal appointment to Alaska about 1882. In 1887, she was assuredly assigned to the Alaska route.

Before the gold rushes of the 1890s and aboriginal 1900s fostered a added able-bodied barter north, the Ancon was one of the few ships that maintained a aerial affiliation amid Alaska and the blow of the nation. As such, her burden was consistently diverse. On the accepted side, she about agitated tourists, mail, and cannery supplies. On the added acid side, she was frequently loaded with Chinese laborers and liquor.

The access of Chinese activity into the United States was fabricated actionable by the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, allotment of a groundswell of anti-immigrant sentiments. Yet, abounding new Chinese immigrants accustomed and ancient Alaska aboard the Ancon. In October 1888, the Ancon headed south with about twenty Chinese laborers ahead affianced at Sitka. Back they chock-full at Port Townsend, Washington, a community abettor bedfast the Ancon and banned to let the laborers disembark. The abettor argued that aback the Ancon had anesthetized through Canadian waters—despite not endlessly at any Canadian port—the Chinese men aboard were finer new immigrants to America. A adjudicator anon countermanded the agent’s adjustment and accustomed those Chinese aboard to leave the ship.

Legally speaking, Alaska was dry for the absoluteness of the Ancon’s existence. Given basal enforcement, the absoluteness in the towns and canneries was far different. In aboriginal 1887, community admiral bedeviled $2,000 account of gin (roughly $60,000 in 2022 dollars) apprenticed for Alaska on the Ancon. The bottles were labeled as analeptic water. The Daily Astorian bi-weekly reported, “The custom abode authorities are thoroughly advanced alive as to these advisers who alcohol mineral baptize in Alaska.”

Despite the best efforts of bootleggers, liquor food in Alaska towns frequently ran out amid steamer stops. As a result, such visits were generally accompanied by uncontrolled, inebriated parties. One cannery administrator declared that afterwards the Ancon visited, “for twenty-four hours there is artlessly the brace to pay with bashed fisherman and crazed bodies of both sexes. All the administrator can do is to baddest one or two reliable administration and be on the active until the furnishings of the whisky has anesthetized away.”

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Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902) acceptable knew little to annihilation about the Ancon’s advantageous sidelines. In the closing bisected of the 19th century, the Prussian-born painter was one of the best acclaimed American artists. His constant acceptability is based aloft his romantic, all-embracing landscapes, aglow lighting, abounding output, and access on a beginning absorption movement. His assignment aggressive the conception of Yellowstone National Park, and his 1888 painting “The Last of the Buffalo” prompted the aboriginal official calculation of America’s rapidly abbreviating plains bison.

Yet by the time of his Loring adventure, his accessible address had beneath in favor of newer artists and approaches. As so generally happens, what was already massively accepted can become mocked by afterwards generations. In the 1880s, an accretion cardinal of critics decried Bierstadt as anachronous and hackneyed. As the analytical abutment declined, so did Bierstadt’s income. He was frequently alone for exhibitions.

His alertness appropriate all-encompassing travel, decidedly in the American West, area he begin his admired subjects. In the abatement of 1889, he was traveling through western Canada, acquisitive for afflatus and to ingratiate himself with the owners of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Unfortunately, backwoods fires about Banff prevented him from his planned studies. He anguish up on the bank at Victoria, British Columbia, and, still bent to work, absitively to see Alaska for the aboriginal time.

The Ancon larboard Port Townsend, Washington, on Aug. 12, chock-full at Victoria, area it best up Bierstadt, and connected arctic with stops at Wrangell, Juneau, Douglas, Killisnoo, Sitka, Glacier Bay and Chilkat. Backward on Aug. 27, it pulled into Naha Bay at Loring. As the cartage slept, the aggregation loaded 13,000 to 14,000 cases of afresh canned salmon.

The Ancon addled the bank about 3 a.m. The captain waited until dawn, about 6:30, afore auction the passengers. The steamer was advertisement by then, and some cartage were affected to avenue their cabins by the windows. By 9 a.m., the falling course had apparent the address on the rocks, and the ache anon bankrupt her apart. To top it off, it was additionally raining.

No one died or was actively injured. The cartage and their baggage were apace deposited on the bank of the tiny settlement. One of them declared Loring as consisting of alone “about two dozen cabins, with the cannery and wharf.” Despite the bones and weather, the cartage were reportedly in aerial spirits, beholden for their assurance and agilely blaze a breakfast able by the bygone Ancon crew.

For best of bristles days, anybody was awash into those few dwellings. On Sept. 1, the steamer George W. Elder arrived, which deposited them at Port Townsend three canicule later. Loring association eventually dismantled best of the Ancon, with abundant of its copse repurposed for shelters and the wharf. Even the burden was salvaged.

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Bierstadt spent those canicule in Loring feverishly alive on the beach. He wrote to his wife, “It was a attenuated escape. The steamer brought us aback afterwards 5 canicule active in USA huts and apricot canneries. I was active all the time and accept 60 studies in blush and two books abounding of assets of Alaska.” Best importantly, he assured her, “I am accomplishing acceptable things, and it will pay.”

The gem of this assignment was a painting of the bones itself. Produced that year, “Wreck of the ‘Ancon’ in Loring Bay, Alaska” depicts the steamer advertisement in Naha Bay. Bierstadt’s works are about authentic by their absorption to detail, accurate agreement and luminosity. Here, however, the arena presents a aerial accent and lacks any beginning elements added than the water. The baby bulk of arresting acreage is ill-defined. The skies are gray and overcast. Instead, the painting captures the affection in the deathwatch of drama, of the blue accord afterwards a loss. Nancy Anderson and Linda Ferber, in their 1990 book Albert Bierstadt: Art & Enterprise, declared, “‘The Last of the Buffalo’ and ‘Wreck of the Ancon in Loring Bay, Alaska’ mark the aerial point of Bierstadt’s backward career.”

While his Alaska studies were an aesthetic achievement, they bootless to abate his career. The rejections continued, as back board beneath to abode his works at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. In 1895, he declared bankruptcy, and back he died in 1902, he was abundantly forgotten. In 1947, the “Wreck of the ‘Ancon,’” which bootless to advertise during the artist’s lifetime, was donated to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, area it still resides.

Bierstadt and his works languished in about obscurity until active by a alternation of retrospectives in the 1960s. Artisan aside, the “Wreck of the ‘Ancon’” is a different almanac for a specific time in Alaska history.

Key sources:

Anderson, Nancy K., and Linda S. Ferber. Albert Bierstadt: Art & Enterprise. New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1990.

Baigell, Matthew. Albert Bierstadt. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 1981.

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“Chinese Landed.” [Kansas] Emporia Weekly Republican, October 25, 1888, 1.

“Deck and Dock.” San Francisco Examiner, March 24, 1887, 7.

Hendricks, Gordon. Albert Bierstadt: Painter of the American West. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Incorporated, 1974.

Hutchinson, Elizabeth. “A ‘Narrow Escape’: Albert Bierstadt’s Bones of the ‘Ancon.’” American Art 27, no. 1 (2013): 50-69.

Kiffer, Dave. “A Acclaimed Artisan Runs Aground in Loring.” Sit News, February 13, 2007,

[Untitled commodity on the Ancon]. [Oregon] Daily Astorian, May 3, 1887, 3.

“The Women of Alaska.” San Francisco Examiner, December 21, 1888, 1-2.

“Wreck of the Ancon.” Vancouver Daily Word, September 4, 1889, 1.

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