150 years ago today, Alaska was formally transferred from Russia to the United States. The purchase of the $7.2 million was widely derided until gold was discovered 30 years later. Alaska became even more valuable during World War II as a military outpost. One hundred years after its purchase, North America’s largest oil field was discovered in Prudhoe Bay. Today, Alaska is celebrated not only for its rich natural resources, but also its rugged beauty and unique culture.
Charles Bull painted many striking scenes of the Pacific Northwest, including Alaska. Despite his grand depictions of animals in nature, Bull got most of his inspiration from sketching animals at the Bronx Zoo.
The gold rush in Alaska and the Yukon territory brought many people to the area seeking their fortunes. It also piqued the interest of Americans in the the lower 48. When Charles Bull painted this cover, Alaksa was not yet even a territory; that wouldn’t happen until 1912. But Americans were likely fascinated by the region’s large animals, chilly climate, and Inuit and Yupik culture.
Artist Frank Schoonover was part of of the Brandywine School, and studied under Howard Pyle. He painted more than 2,000 illustrations in his lifetime. This included eight covers for the Saturday Evening Post’s sister publication, Country Gentleman. Several of his covers depicted vividly colored scenes of Native Americans going about their daily lives. This cover was the first one that Schoonover painted for Country Gentleman.
Even back in 1939, cruise ships were invading the isolated and pristine shores of Alaska. Artist Charles Hargens painted ten covers for the Post and Country Gentleman, a fraction of the more than 3,000 magazine covers he illustration. Hargens was known as a stickler for accuracy in his paintings.
This cover by John Clymer illustrates the strategic importance of Alaska during World War II. Clymer painted this picture before he joined the Marines. He recalled, “I was thirty-six years old at the time, and going through boot camp with a bunch of kids nearly killed me. ¹” This was his first Post cover, but he would go on to paint 79 more.
One overheated July day when artist John Clymer was motoring in Alaska he paused at this spot at Portage Glacier. People came and boated around beside the small bergs. Next day, when John returned to sketch, a change of wind had blown Mother Nature’s chopped ice over against the glacier, and the sketching spot was as hot as Tophet. The artist says no, he did not go over and take a ride on the glacier.
Alaska, along with Hawaii, were the “new” states in 1960. Cover artist Constantin Alajalov shows the citizens of each state waiting in line to vote in the 1960 presidential election (Nixon v. Kennedy—Kennedy won). Alajalov earned his voting rights the hard way. He was born in Rostov, Russia, and arrived in New York in 1923.
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