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Artist in Residency, McCarthy, AK

The highlight of my first summer in Alaska was to paint for a week in McCarthy, AK as an artist in Residence. I had the pleasure of meeting, the owner of most of the town of McCarthy and reality TV show star, Neil Darish. I met him in McCarthy in May and we talked about me returning to paint in August. And despite me having the craziest summer with the loss of Lee, my home remodeling project and chasing all over the state of Alaska… I knew I had to go and paint. I knew it was my Alaskan artist beginning.

McCarthy is a seven hour drive from Anchorage. The last two hours are on an unserviced dirt and rock road with large potholes. There is a warning sign not to travel on the road. Despite warnings the bravest travelers venture on. You cannot drive into town without a permit and a key to cross the bridge. People park at Basecamp and then cross a foot bridge, and walk a mile into town. When you get to town you see the McCarthy History Center and then The Potato. The Potato is the spot for breakfast, lunch and dinner, beer wine, and bougie Mac and cheese, burgers, pizza and the ever loved fries. I ate there several times during my stay and watched the Oregon based band, Free Creatures.

Music and the Arts are a driving force in McCarthy. Neil brings excellent Alaskan bands to the Golden Saloon’s outside stage and open mike nights inside the Saloon. The first time I was in McCarthy was to see The Super Saturated Sugar Strings!

McCarthy is a foodie town… I already mentioned The Potato… but wait, there’s more! The Golden Saloon makes the best drinks in town and serves up delicious dining fare. For something very fancy there is the Salmon and the Bear restaurant next door. If you head five miles down the road there is another dining option at the Kennecott Lodge and a food truck. Check out my instagram reel that documents the food I ate during the artist residency: HERE.

Kennecott is the abandoned copper mining operation and is now property of the National Park system: Wrangall St. Elias National Park. From Kennecott–5 mile walk from McCarthy or take a van shuttle–you can tour some of the Copper mine buildings and head down the trail to Root Glacier. Glaciers cover 35% of this national park… Did I mention this is the biggest national park in the USA? In May, my son Scout and I hiked to Root Glacier and got to walk on the glacier. It’s quite the experience. It’s about a four mile hike round trip from Kennecott.

During my artist residency I painted daily outside of the Mountain Arts Gallery–where you can buy my paintings! I participated in a story telling event, watched a fabulous open mike night, ate delicious food, met wonderful people, listened to live music and felt at one with nature.

I stayed at Lancaster’s back packers Hotel. There is also Ma Johnson’s Hotel and if you want the experience of a lifetime… you can stay at the Kate Kennedy House. Kate was the madam and respected business woman who lived in the boom days of the mining town–1900s to 1938. The Kate Kennedy House is a totally refurbished Sears catalog home. The home is the shining gem of all that Neil Darish has done to better McCarthy and preserve the history of this fabulous place. There is a Instagram reel of my tour of the home: HERE. If you would rather camp… you can rent a spot at Basecamp for your RV, car top tent or tent. I camped the first time we went to McCarthy. It’s a bring your own water kind of place and the bathrooms are outhouses. Despite delicious food being only a mile walk away across two footbridges… the camping is roughing it.

Other than the Foodie, Arts and Music scene… McCarthy is a central location to do backpacking, glacier hikes, ice climbing, flight seeing, & rafting trips.

My first summer in Alaska… and I got to paint the beauty that I experienced in Mc Carthy, AK Thank you to Neil Darish for this opportunity. And yes, I was asked to come back next summer and paint again!

McCarthy totally closes up it’s doors come Mid-September… she won’t reopen until May or when the roads are clear enough to open her back up. I couldn’t love this summer Alaskan destination more.

Mccarthy, Alaska, summer in alaska, artist residency in Mccarthy, painter in alaska, alaskan art
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MostLeeOk

My first summer in Alaska was… like every other human story: it was the best of times… it was the worst of times. I am not here to garner sympathy or be a victim. I am here to tell a story. I am no different from anyone else with a heart that hurts and eyes that weeped until there was no salty juices left to muster. I met Lee the first weekend that I moved into my house in Alaska. We met on a dating app called “Bumble.” He said, “My friends are having a house music party, would you like to meet me there?” I said, “Yes.” At the party a lovely duet played : Natalie Cressman & Ian Faquini. It was trombone, guitar and singing in Portuguese. We were all nestled in a home in Palmer, AK and all the kids were upstairs having a blast playing video games, tag and screaming–as kids do. Scout, my 8 year old son, has asked me so many times to go back to that house, play with those kids. Lee sat near me and I could feel him looking at me through out the concert. We talked afterwords. He invited me to his hot tub the next week. I declined. I said, “I know your type and the answer is no.” Lee was an avid fisherman and he was good at catching. It was game on. One of the Iditarod racers was at the party, we met him and his partner and the next day Scout and I watched the dog sled ceremonial race in Anchorage. Our time in Alaska started with some pure magic.

Lee became my friend.

Lee knew about “all things Alaskan.” He told us where to go to sled, where to fish, where to hear the best music, majestic and magical places to camp.

One day Lee, Scout and I went to the Anchorage Museum. I’ll never forget how he stopped and looked at an exhibit about Cartography. This one piece had the state of Alaska and every pedophile priest labeled in the area where he had done his damage.

I don’t like to think about Lee and the love affair that developed and ended prematurely.

I don’t like to think about it at all because it still hurts.

What I can say about Lee is that he taught me how to fish for salmon. He gave me advice on smoking said fish. He advised me. He mentored my son. He loved without regrets, without criticism, he accepted my body and loved it as it was, he opened my mind to the concept of freedom and to letting go of past hurts. I am different from having known him. He was exactly what I needed when I needed it.

After his passing… I just couldn’t. Yet, I did. I didn’t want to keep moving forward, keep living. I filled my life with everything difficult and time consuming like becoming a set netter fisher on Kasilof Beach…. like remodeling the first floor of my house. I threw myself into work. Above and beyond my art work… I was pulling in nets, putting up a ceiling, stacking wood. I had several friends who talked me down from my darkest heights. Thank you. But, I kept moving–to survive.

The tragedy is… when you’ve waited your whole life for someone to see you, to love you… “as is”–and he dies.

I started making art with the name “Mostleeok.” Around the state I started using a spray paint tag, “hilee.”

September is National Suicide Awareness Month. I am launching my MostLeeOk product line. I don’t want to forget Lee. He didn’t commit suicide. But, I felt like I could. So the self care wearable art… is more for me and my well being. I want him to know that his friendship meant the world to me…. that I still think about him a lot. So if you need some self care, self love, a hug… please consider buying a shirt or tote bag or minky blanket to remind yourself that you can do this and that you can keep going. You can find the items in my Shop section under “MostLeeOk.”

Lee said he wanted to move somewhere where the butter melted on the counter. I hope he’s in a place where the music is good–according to him that wouldn’t be anything popular or on the radio–and the beer is craft. I hope he is catching all the fish. Thank you for your time that you gave to me. All I wanted was your time.

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North to Alaska

I went to summer camp for 3 weeks in Wasilla, AK when I was fourteen years old. I fell in love with everything “wilderness Alaska”–from Moose, Elk, Caribou meat on the BBQ to mountain hiking/camping, glaciers and white water rafting. It took me 34 years to get back here.

I sold everything in Florida and moved to Houston, AK. I am starting a new life, new career here in Alaska. February 2, 2022 I left FL. February 2, 2021 I had my ladder accident and head injury. I would like to think 2-2 means something special to me. My accident and head & body injury changed me permanently. I am not sure if it jumbled my brain or it just made everything clear. After the accident I left a church that I had belonged to for 40 years. The Covid years showed me the true colors of the people in that church and I decided to no longer attend places that literally made me sick to my stomach. It’s exhausting to be treated poorly at a place where you would expect to be treated with kindness and acceptance. The same was true for my hometown of St. Petersburg, FL. I paved the way for the mural scene that started on the 600 block of Central Avenue. I was persistent with the Manager and Owner of the property. Despite being a forerunner–I was shunned from the Shine Mural Festival. This is because the first Shine mural festival was all men… all white men. And I spoke up and was permanently blacklisted. But, because I was vocal they added two women… one of which was African American… so they were able to check boxes for inclusivity. If I had to do it all over again… I would still do it the same. I feel like I kept hitting glass ceilings in St. Petersburg, FL. So a major move seemed like opportunity and not a threat.

In August I did my first Artist Residency in McCarthy, Alaska. McCarthy is a very amazing place–a defunct mining town transformed into a bustling summer hub for EVERYTHING “outdoor adventure.” You can see fabulous bands in McCarthy like Oregon based, “Free Creatures” to AK’s very own, “Super Saturated Sugar Strings.” It’s a foodie town and of course if hiking, climbing a glacier and white water rafting is your thing… McCarthy brings! It’s a 7 hour drive from Anchorage–but every view is mouth-dropping-luscious. While in McCarthy I painted landscapes of the area. This is a big change for my usual whimsical characters. I hope that my style can be unique but also capture the beauty of the Alaskan landscape.

This summer in Alaska I immersed myself into the land and it’s offerings: I salmon fished both commercially and personally, I collected and made fireweed jelly, wild berry pies and jellies. I smoked salmon that I caught. I learned to use a chainsaw and a wood splitter. I made friends, I lost a friend, I painted.

I am not exactly sure where my road is headed–I do know that I am planted in Alaska and I hope she waters me.

I am sitting near a ledge overlooking a canyon and mountains.  At the bottom of the canyon is a winding river.  This location is right outside of Denali, AK.