Artist David Mollett mixed the colors of autumn on a cardboard palette this week in the vast landscape of Alaska under the watchful eye of a grizzly bear.

Both stood in the middle of a huge diorama at Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitors Center. Mollett, a well known Alaska artist and owner of Wells Street Art Company in Fairbanks, spent a morning touching up dioramas in the exhibit hall. The grizzly bear is part of that exhibit.

Mollett volunteered to fix some portions of the dioramas, that were starting to show signs of wear and tear.

The murals were completed in 2008 by artist Jan Vriesen, who does not live in Alaska. Mollett volunteered to do the restoration work and Morris Thompson executive director Sara Harriger checked in with the original artist and then worked with Mollett to make that happen.

“David has already removed some ball point pen graffiti from the grasses by the river bank, and a smudge most likely left by a glycol drip from the blue sky behind the smokehouse,” Harriger said.

On Monday, he focused on a sheetrock crack that traversed the autumn tundra. This portion of diorama is the most popular mural in the exhibit hall, she said. It includes a grizzly bear, standing near the hunter’s tent.

“Our hope is that when he’s done the only reminders of these signs of age will be a new plaque on the honor wall of our lobby with the words “Wells Street Art Company” on it,” she added.

A sign reminds visitors not to climb over the railing to enter the exhibit, but sadly, sometimes they do. The result has been damage to the grizzly bear, the terrain and sometimes the painted mural.

Minor repairs didn’t take too long under the brush of an expert. Mollett carefully crafted colors to match the existing landscape. He used some caulk to cover the emerging crack, then painted over it. Touching up color in clouds, rocks and mountains hid worn out areas of the landscape.

“It’s kind of fun,” Mollett said.

It’s important to keep the exhibit in tip-top shape for the many visitors who walk through the exhibit to experience a slice of Alaska, Harriger said.

“We want to build our local reputation” for both visitors and locals, she added.

Three life-sized dioramas depict the seasons. Visitors can walk through a rural fish camp at Nuchalawoyya — the place where the Yukon and Tanana Rivers meet. Summer transforms into Fall, where a grizzly bear digs for ground squirrels just outside of camp. The hunter appears to be gone, probably out looking around. In winter, visitors can peer through the windows and warmth of a public use cabin, to see northern lights dance across the sky. Surprisingly, a moose is looking right back at them.

Interpretive signs describe the scenes for observers and point out animals in their native habitats. Further exhibits share artwork and information about the cultural and economic history of Alaska.

Admission is free.

Reach columnist/community editor Kris Capps at Follow her at

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