Spring is here, and as winter’s white blanket melts away, an ugly truth appears. Today we have a series of letters to the editor that were published during the pipeline days about things that “spring” forth.
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner April 30, 1974
We arrived in Alaska last November. I was delighted and captivated by the beauty of the area and I took continual pleasure in the tall spruce trees, the graceful birch and the heavy blanket of snow that seemed to change and become more beautiful daily.
As it became evident that pipeline construction was to proceed, I heard comments and speculation about the adverse effects of the large numbers of transient workers that were to arrive. Also, the problems of preserving the natural resources were discussed and I listened and shared the concern. As a newcomer, I felt saddened at the thought of the beauty of this vast country being altered or destroyed in any way.
Now the snow is melting rapidly and I am shocked and astonished at the incredible mass of garbage, junk, discarded equipment, old automobiles and parts, cartons, animal waste, etc., that is being revealed daily.
Instead of bewailing the anticipated damage that may be done, I think Alaska should literally “clean up its own yard” plus its roadways, and vacant lots. Otherwise, I think the citizens of the state, and all of her natural beauty, could be buried under an avalanche of its own garbage, deposit by none other than its own residents.
It would appear, from the looks of this area, that they have taken a giant step in this direction already.
Signed: Virginia Cummings – 10 Mile Badger Road.
The following week there was another point of view published:
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner May 9, 1974
Value in Junk
I am writing this in answer to a letter from Ms. Virginia Cummings that appeared last week int eh News-Miner. In her letter Ms. Cummings scolded Fairbanksans for their sloppiness and their junkyard mentality.
In all due respect, I would like to argue the point. I think that the first mistake she made was assuming that the old cars cluttering people’s yards were junk. Maybe Ms. Cummings should have the wisdom to realize that what she sees as junk might be somebody else’s treasure. For example, let me tell you about some of the old wrecked and abandoned cars in my yard.
The 1939 Ford pickup truck and the 1941 Hudson belonged to my father who died in 1948. He was a good man and he spent a good part of his life driving around in those automobiles. So did I. I learned how to drive in the pickup, and I had my first wreck in it when I backed it into our house.
The 1949 Kaiser was my first car. I also had my first real date in it with a girl named Mary something or the other. We drove down to Nenana in June 1950. I lost track of Mary, but I still have the car.
The green 1954 Chevy with the windshield busted out was the car my wife Kathy owned when I first met her. We wrecked it hitting a moose in August 1956 just after I came back from Korea. In 1965 Kathy took our two kids. What do I have” All I have is this yard full of old cars—old memories.
So there, Ms. Virginia Cummings. You come up here and clean up Fairbanks and make it like a park. Well, maybe you ought to realize that some of us are keeping all this junk for good reasons. Maybe it’s all we have from our past.
Sincerely, Ronald Crowe – College, Alaska
Fourteen months later Mr. Crowe wrote another letter to the News-Miner about the proliferation of junk in the Fairbanks North Star Borough:
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, September 29, 1975
Despite housing, population, and inflation problems, Fairbanks continues to be a dynamic center of artistic activity. And most practicing artists here generally receive some public or private applause for their efforts.
Yet, there are some artists whose work goes virtually unnoticed. Despite producing some really stupendous and original works, these devotees go unsung and unrewarded. I am speaking of that large body of sculptors who create works of art from such cast-off materials as old cars, appliances, and so on. The artists working in this genre typically live in the studios, surrounded by their work—sometimes literally inundated by their work. Some of them also have long-term projects outside their places of business. In each case, the art says something definitive and penetrating about the artist.
You can spot these artists by their jumbled masses of dead automobiles, deceased washing machines, broken toilet bowls, ad infinitum. Your first impression might be that it all seems like so much unsightly junk. But closer examination will show how the artist has worked a great variety of variously shaped and colored objects into a uniform and cohesive pattern. Notice how one object, such as a punctured porcelain chamber pot or a pile of ratted clothes, will lead your eye to a half-burnt-mattress, a broken electric range, or the remains of a 1935 refrigerator.
What is amazing and gratifying about these artists is their large numbers. You can find examples of their work in every quarter of the city and borough. However, they do seem to definitely prefer some parts of the borough to others. The North Pole area beginning with Badger Road is a veritable artists’ colony. In fact, there is one artist on Badger Road, who for the sheer size of his sculpture and the range of materials used, towers above the other artists like Leonardo da Vinci towers above Andy Warhol.
This does not take away from the accomplishments of the others, however. There are many competent artists in this field throughout the borough.
The most sensitive and aesthetic of these artists prefer to work on the river banks. They love to arrange rusting automobiles and other discards on the banks of the Chena and Tanana rivers in patterns designed to capture and delight the eye of whoever passes. The most ambitious and grandiose example of river bank art be found up the Chena River a few miles above Ft. Wainwright.
Here some machine-age Michelangelo with only a bulldozer and a few hundred old cars has taken an ordinary riverbank adorned with grass, trees, and dirt and transformed it into a monument to the American driver with countless automobile hulks smashed and tangled together in a massive collage that covers the river bank for fifty yards or more. I’m told this stunning work was sponsored by the Fairbanks North Star borough. If true, the borough deserves our admiration for its appreciation of beauty and its generous support of the arts.
There are also two other categories of unsung artist here who deserve special mention. The first of these, the mobile artist, creates his works with an array of beer, wine, whiskey and soft drink bottles and cans. Working from moving cars, these splendid fellows persistently and effectively decorate the sides of our roads to keep them from being dominated by common grasses or flowers.
The second of these categories might be called the organic school of art. A distant cousin of the watercolor artist. The organic artist makes his own coloring material and uses it to create living art in our sloughs and rivers.
Although a couple of these artists have received some recent notice, the school as a whole does not get near the attention it deserves. When it does get attention, the practitioners seem to be extremely modest and each tends to deprecate his own contributions.
So what can we do to give these neglected artists the attention they so deserve? I propose that the borough create a medal to be awarded each month to an outstanding artist in the area. The medal could be called the “Special Love of Beauty,” or SLOB award. It would be nice if the local newspapers could give these award ceremonies full coverage, with a front page picture of the artist and his work.
Until this happens, however, there’s no reason why the public at large should not give these artists some of the attention and encouragement they have earned. So the next time you see one at work, be sure to stop and compliment him. If he’s not at home or at his place of business, write him a note. Or at least honk your horn as you pass and shout something nice.
Ronald Crowe – College, Alaska
Note: Today we have more junk than ever before, and these letters could have just as easily come from today’s pages. In those days Ronald Crowe submitted several sarcastically polarizing letters to the News-Miner on many subjects and readers either loved him or hated him. Incidentally, Mr. Crowe eventually did find love again, because he was listed in the published marriage licenses a couple of years later. This trash talking History Nugget has been proudly brought to you by Men’s Igloo No. 4 and Women’s Igloo No. 8 of the Pioneers of Alaska, who would like to remind you that History Nuggets are posted to our website every Monday at pioneersofalaskafairbanks.org.