Eustace Ziegler

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More than any other painter, Eustace Paul Ziegler captured the spirit of the early twentieth century Alaskan frontier. Arriving in Cordova, Alaska in January of 1909 to run the Red Dragon, an Episcopal mission in the mining boomtown, Ziegler quickly became known for his portraits of the people on the northern frontier -- Native Alaskans, priests, miners, trappers, fishermen, and others. In contrast to the largely symbolic figures that appear in the other Alaskan artists of the era, Ziegler’s people are individuals, whether they are miners or young Native women, engaged in work or posed for portraits. We seldom are given their names, but they are rarely stereotypes, and each portrait gives us a glimpse into the character of the individual and the quality of life in Alaska in the fascinating era.


Born in Detroit in 1881, Eustace Paul Ziegler was one of four sons of an Episcopal minister, all of whom would eventually be ordained to the same ministry. Eustace, however, was attracted to art from an early age. He studied at the Detroit Museum of Art before coming to Alaska, received more formal training for a year at Yale University beginning in the fall of 1920 and left Cordova and his ministry to turn to painting full-time in 1924. Receiving a commission to produce a series of large-scale murals for the Alaska Steamship Company offices in Seattle that year, the artist and his family moved permanently to Seattle.
Ziegler would be a well-known and influential figure in Seattle art scene until his death in 1969. He was a founding member and first president of the Puget Sound Group of Northwest Painters and a frequent exhibitor and prize winner in Seattleā€™s annual Northwest Artists Exhibition. As William Cumming notes in his Sketchbook : A Memoir of the 1930s and the Northwest School (1984, University of Washington Press), The unquestioned master of local pictorialism, Eustace Ziegler, dominated his field much more thoroughly than Mark Tobey was ever to dominate the insurgent avant-garde.


Cumming goes on to affirm, Zieg was a key figure in bringing to the Northwest a real sense of sophistication in use of paint, being rather a parallel to Tobey in that they both introduced us to high standards of craft, one as traditionalist, one as iconoclast. But “Zieg”, as he was called by all who knew him, returned to Alaska nearly every summer to paint, and the majority of his work throughout his career, even that done in his studio in Seattle, focused on life on the northern frontier.
The first resident Alaskan painter to emphasize painterly means and pictorial description in more or less equal proportions, Ziegler is much beloved by Alaskans and others for his emphasis on the people even more than the landscape, of the North. His work includes major commissions for institutions ranging from the Washington State Press Club and Seattle Post Intelligencer to the Miami Clinic in Dayton, Ohio, the Baranof Hotel in Juneau, Alaska, and St. James Cathedral in Seattle. His paintings are avidly collected throughout the United States by individuals and institutions and are held by every major museum in Alaska, the Seattle Art Museum, Henry Gallery of Art, Frye Museum of Art, and other corporate and museum collections throughout America.

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