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Wreck of the Ancon
By John McDermott


December 27, 2011
Tuesday AM

In the summer of 1995 I was living in Ketchikan (I was born and raised in Alaska, and lived most of my life in Ketchikan). For no particular reason, I went to the local library. While there, I happened upon a few 'art' books that caught my eye, and so I took a couple of them home. In one of them I spotted a small image of a painting entitled 'Wreck of the Ancon,' which really got my attention when I realized that it was painted by Albert Bierstadt (one of the most talented and legendary painters of the late 19th century), and that it was also a 'local' scene (Loring Bay, near Ketchikan). Somehow, I got the urge to obtain a copy of that painting. But since I couldn't easily find a way to obtain a copy (no internet access in those days), I decided to paint a copy of it myself, in oil paint (I'd been an artist for many years, and had won the 'First Place' blue ribbon in the Professional Painting division at the then-famous annual Ketchikan Arts & Crafts Guild Art Show).

So, I bought a masonite panel and cut it down to the approximate size of the original canvas, and proceeded to paint a reproduction as well as I could from the small reference photo. I even 'antiqued' it by adding some 'age' effects into the varnish layers, and then put it into a gilded frame. I had rented a small display space at a local artist's gallery, so I decided to display my painting there (though I didn't intend to sell it). When I drove downtown with the painting, I couldn't find parking in front of the gallery, so I drove around and parked in a spot right outside the Ketchikan Historical Museum. For some reason it occurred to me that the Museum administrators might not be aware that the legendary artist Albert Bierstadt had visited locally in the 1880's, and in fact had made a painting of the Ancon as it sank in Loring Bay (he was a passenger on it when it went aground). So, I walked into the museum and showed my painting to the Museum Director...thinking I might stump him by asking if he knew anything about the scene. To my amazement, he looked very surprised, and asked me how I knew that the Museum was going to be having a major exhibit on the topic of Loring Bay. In fact, he said, they had been in negotiations with the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in order to borrow that exact original painting, to be a centerpiece of their exhibit. However, they were unable to get their hands on the extremely valuable original.

He then called in two women that were the curators of the upcoming exhibit, and they nearly fainted when they saw my painting. They assumed that it was the original, and that I was from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. They were literally shaking and turning white, stuttering, etc. After a few minutes I was able to convince them that I had in fact pained it myself. Of course, they were very hopeful that I would donate it to the Museum. I told them I would not donate it, but I might consider selling it. They replied that it was impossible for them to buy it from me, as they were a government agency, and therefor unable to buy such a thing from a living artist, at least not without a full-fledged public bidding process, etc. I left with my painting in-hand.

Some weeks later, the curator called to tell me that they had imposed upon the Mayor and City Council, and had explained their intense desire to obtain my painting as soon as possible. She told me that the Mayor and City Council had taken the time to create and sign a special 'one-time' variance that specifically allowed the Museum to buy my painting right away.

So, we struck up a deal, and the Museum bought my painting. It was displayed for several months as the centerpiece of their major 'Loring Bay' exhibit. It became a part of their archives and permanent collection, and if you inquire at the Historical Museum, it is available for viewing (usually in their archive room).

John McDermott
Nashville, TN

About: "I was born in Alaska, and moved to Ketchikan in 1960.
-5th Place, State Powerlifting Championships (1974).
-Director - Ketchikan Youth Rifle Club (NRA certified).
-Ketchikan Gateway Borough School District: 1983-1994
-Firefighter/EMT, Ketchikan Fire Dept 1988-1992
-Ketchikan Education Association: President, 1994
-First Place (Professional Painting category) Arts & Crafts Guild Art Show
-Facilities Supervisor - University Of Alaska, Ketchikan Campus: 1995-2000"

Received December 25, 2011 - Published December 27, 2011



A Famous Artist Runs Aground In Loring By DAVE KIFFER - On August 28, 1889, the side-wheel steamer Ancon made one of its regular stops in the small village on Loring in Naha Bay on Revillagigedo Island, 20 miles north of what would later become Ketchikan. It was heading back south after a run up the Inside Passage from Port Townsend, Washington to Sitka, Juneau, Fort Wrangell and Chilcat (Klukwan). - More...
SitNews - Feb. 2007

LORING: Once a Serious Rival to Ketchikan By June Allen - There was a time in the earliest days of Ketchikan that it was predicted Loring might become Revillagigedo Island's major city. Loring was settled first and boasted an operating saltery owned by Salmon Packing & Fur Co. in 1883. That was four years before Ketchikan founder Mike Martin trudged ashore on the tideflats of Ketchikan Creek. Loring's post office was established in 1885, Ketchikan's not until 1892. Loring's cannery began packing in 1886, Ketchikan's first successful cannery not until 1900. In fact, during the years just prior to the Alaska Gold Rush of '98, Loring's population count was neck and neck with the little town on Tongass Narrows. Ketchikan had the early advantage, however, of having a potentially superior harbor, Loring did not. - More...
SitNews - Sept. 2002



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