Story Time with Aunt Phil: sourdough preacher turned painter
One of Alaska’s first university-trained artists was born on July 24, 1881. Eustace Paul Ziegler’s renowned works aptly capture the epic struggle of sourdough days, portraying that historic period when pioneer men and women conquered a rugged wilderness and opened the Last Frontier.
But Ziegler first stepped ashore in the boomtown of Cordova in 1909 to take charge of the town’s Episcopal mission. So, tell us Laurel, how did this minister’s journey go from preaching to painting?
Ziegler began his preaching career after arriving in Cordova to take charge of the St. George Mission. And it didn’t take long for him to fit into his new life. He might have been a cheechako, but he was no tenderfoot. The 22-year-old had spent summers on logging crews in the north woods of his native Michigan.
He found that he had to compete with 26 saloons that graced Cordova’s main street. But it didn’t take long for him to become friends with the townspeople – he was “Zieg” to everyone, and everyone was welcome at the Red Dragon – so named because the mission building was painted a bright red.
Ziegler, who knew by the age of 7 that he loved to paint, had attended Yale School of Fine Arts before coming north. He also knew he loved being outdoors. So Alaska was a perfect fit for his dreams and soon he was painting again.
At first, he decorated the walls of the Red Dragon with scenes containing deep religious feeling. Then as he traveled to villages to preach, he began capturing the natural beauty of the wilderness and the people of the country in oils, watercolor, woodcuts and drypoint.
One oil painting of a mountain scene for sale in Fursman’s drugstore in Cordova changed the direction of Ziegler’s life. The president of the Alaska Steamship Company liked it so much that he asked Ziegler to do a series of murals for the company’s Seattle offices.
Soon new offers were flooding in and by 1924 the Alaska minister had moved to Seattle. His paintings found their way into the White House, governors’ mansions, art museums and collections. He won innumerable prizes, awards and citations.
“If you don’t paint for money, you’ll make money,” Ziegler once said of his success.
He painted well into his golden years, turning out one or two pictures a week. In 1969, however, at the age of 87, the old sourdough came to the end of his trail. He was inducted into Alaska’s Hall of Fame in the early 1970s.
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