It’s never too late to try something new.

That’s why longtime Fairbanks artist Tom Nixon, known for his watercolors, will host his first solo show of oil paintings at the Fairbanks Community Museum inside the Co-Op Plaza, 535 Second Ave. The museum, located on the second floor, is open between 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. The opening reception is 5-8 P.M. Friday. The show focuses on Denali National Park and is aptly named, “Denali National Park: More Than A Mountain.”

Nixon first came to Alaska in 1984 to attend his daughter’s wedding. He never left. He visited Denali National Park for the first time that same summer and described it as “a game changer.”

“I never did see Denali itself,” he wrote in his artist statement. “Covered by clouds. Nevertheless, I was fascinated by the absolute pristine beauty and vastness of it all.”

He stayed in Alaska. For the next 16 years, he painted and taught others the fine art of painting with watercolors. In 2015, he decided to try his hand at oil painting and he joined some introductory oil classes offered at the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival. He dabbled in oils on his own for a few years.

When the University of Alaska Fairbanks offered an oil painting class titled “Paint Like Sydney Laurence,” he enrolled in the five-day class and became enthralled at how Laurence interpreted what he saw in the landscapes of Alaska. Laurence is considered one of America’s most important historic artists.

“Laurence painted Denali from the south side almost exclusively and in doing so, became so adept at that version of the mountain that he was able to make a living as a painter in Alaska,” Nixon wrote.

He discovered that Laurence would do several canvases at a time, with the south view of Denali in different atmospheric conditions and different lighting conditions. Because he was so proficient as a painter, he was able to paint from memory different foregrounds of rivers, ridges, cabins, caches, spruce, birch and people, etc. to complete the paintings.

“By having several paintings progress at one time, he was able to work more efficiently in his studio simply because of things drying enough to work on another part of each,” Nixon wrote

By 2017, Nixon had painted the mountain — Denali — several times in watercolor, but now he turned to a new medium — oil paint. And he signed up for that Sydney Laurence class several more times over a period of years.

When Covid-19 hit and he couldn’t meet students in person, he found he had his studio to himself. He began to focus on oil painting.

“I discovered one thing in painting this body of work,” he wrote. “Denali National Park is more than just the mountain. It is about a lifetime of experiences if you allow it to be so. We visit the park whenever we can and take photos, sketch, paint and just enjoy the beauty of it all.”

What he discovered focusing on Denali is that it means different things to different people. It is rare to see the mountain clearly. Most days it is clouded over or partially obscured by clouds. Wildlife is an important part of Denali. It is also about being able to be alone, he said.

“The biggest discovery I made in painting for this show was that I could paint the park and the mountain for the rest of my life and never ever truly capture what it means to everyone.”

Reach columnist/community editor Kris Capps at Follow her at

Recommended for you