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Episode 45: Jon Van Zyle’s Iditarod Legacy

By KTVA Alaska 8:31 AM March 7, 2016


The Iditarod legacy largely comes from the mushers and the dogs. But there are volunteers and others like Jon Van Zyle, who have made their mark.

On this week’s Frontiers, we take time out to appreciate Van Zyle’s legacy, as both a musher and an artist.

When he returned from his first Iditarod in 1976, the experience inspired him to finish 20 paintings about his adventures on the trail.

Since then, Jon can’t seem to stop himself. Although he describes himself humbly as just a storyteller with a paintbrush, he is an extremely prolific artist, creating about 80 paintings a year — all of them about Alaska.

One is always dedicated to the Iditarod –­ his annual Iditarod poster. He finished his 40th this year and also produces a print every year. He’s been the Iditarod’s official artist since 1979.

Aside from his drive and artistry, there’s a reason for that. Jon says details from his paintings — from the way the light from a campfire reflects on a dog’s fur, to how the snow flies up when a musher hits the brake on the sled — are all things he’s observed on the trail, snapshots from his photographic mind.

Photographer Will Mader and I spent an afternoon at Van Zyle’s house near Eagle River, visiting with him and his wife Jona, who is also an artist. They appear to be soul mates, encouraging each other to do pursue their passions in art.

Looking at all the paintings on the wall and the dozens of children’s books Van Zyle has produced, you begin to realize he’s a one-man marketing machine for Alaska.

Many of his originals and prints hang in galleries in Europe and in homes all over the world. He says he hope these paintings will plant a seed of desire — in those who see his work, or the children who enjoy his books­ to come to Alaska someday.

Also on this week’s show we sit down with Dave Goldman, KTVA’s sports director, for his take on the Iditarod.

Dave doesn’t disappoint. It’s a lively conversation with insights into some of the mushers to watch this year, from the front to the back of the pack.

It’s an honor for KTVA to be this year’s official Iditarod station, and Dave will be on the trail for the third year in a row, bringing you the sights and sounds of Alaska’s last great race.

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