Alaska artist Byron Birdsall died early Sunday morning. Friends said his death was from natural causes. He was 78 years old.


In recent years Birdsall spent winters on Whidbey Island in Washington state, which is where he passed away, but friends say Alaska is where he considered home.


For more than 30 years, Artique Gallery in downtown Anchorage represented the artist and art workers came to know him well.


“He was like family to many of us,” said art consultant Linnea Ratcliff. “And not just to people who work here, but to a lot of the community.”


Many of Birdsall’s watercolors reflect Anchorage in a different era. The so-called history buff painted scenes from the city’s past, as well as the present. The Fourth Avenue Theater was a favorite theme. But there were also many other works including pen and ink drawings that look like photographs, Japanese prints and even religious icons, some of them painted on wood.


“There wasn’t a thing that the man couldn’t paint and the man loved to paint, he painted every day,” Ratcliff said.


Birdsall traveled extensively and a lot of his work reflects the places he visited.


Municipal Ombudsman Darrel Hess considered Birdsall a personal friend whom he’d known for over 20 years.


“He was quite a remarkable man,” Hess said. “The one word I’d use for Byron would be ‘gentleman.’”


Hess said his friend was also generous, frequently giving his work to friends and family and donating it for charitable events. Back at the gallery, Ratcliff said Birdsall’s work is still selling, but what they have will be the last.


“You have to think, there won’t be any more, there won’t be any more paintings by Byron,” Ratcliff mused.


For a man who was such an Alaskan icon, his talent will be sorely missed.


KTVA 11’s Lauren Maxwell can be reached via email or on Twitter.


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