Wolf Song of Alaska News

Hunting a Niche in Alaska

Melody and Sandy Jamieson

Melody Jamieson interview by Judy Ferguson / Life / Anchorage Daily News / March 5, 2006

When, as a student at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, I met Sandy Jamieson, a young artist, he had just arrived from Great Falls, Mont. His father, a pilot stationed at Watson Lake during World War II, had filled him with stories of parachuting dogs and medics in the far north. During high school in Montana, Sandy and his friends Frank Entsminger and Marty Rinio had worked, saving for their great adventure to Alaska.

In June 1962, Sandy, Frank and Marty had their car packed, ready to drive the Alcan highway. On arrival in Fairbanks, Sandy landed a job mapping for the Water and Power branch of the U.S. Geological Survey. Armed with portable boats and fathometers, they inventoried lakes in the Wrangell Mountains for possible power sites.

The next fall, Sandy enrolled at UAF, where he began working at the Institute of Arctic Biology as a field assistant. After we married in 1966, we lived in the cabin of Dr. William O. Pruitt, who was away working. Pruitt is renowned today for his watchdog role regarding Project Chariot at Cape Thompson.

Due to working and carrying double majors and a double minor in art and German, Sandy was in school a long time.

After my graduation, I substitute-taught and Sandy illustrated publications for the university. In 1967, a UAF teaching position offered Sandy a studio. Soon he had his first show at Claire Fejes' Alaska House.

Needing more income, Sandy began helping a friend build a log house, and soon they had orders to build more.


While in school, Sandy had met Lynn Castle. Later, Lynn bought the Wood River Lodge near the Alaska Range, a packhorse guiding operation, from Bill Waugaman. Needing help, Lynn asked Sandy to team with him, working as an assistant guide. In the fall of 1968, Sandy took a pack string of horses into the mountains for three months. Meantime, I had begun working at the Alaska Department of Public Welfare in child protection, adoption and foster care. Sandy guided for Lynn spring and fall, learning in between to fly. Due to his skill in German, he connected immediately with German hunting clients. Throughout the hunting seasons, I have hosted clients and raised our daughter, Abigail, born in 1972, and son, Ben, born in 1977, as well as acting when needed as an informal flight plan.

By 1975, Sandy had his pilot's and guide's licenses and had bought a 150-horsepower Piper Pacer on floats. Working with Lynn, Sandy guided between the Aniak River and the Tikchik River near Bristol Bay. In 1975, I helped host Spain's minister of finance for President Franco, Eduardo Gadol. Sandy loaded us in the boat of Inupiat guide Johnny Ivanoff, and we all began scouting for brown bear between Unalakleet and St. Michael.

Suddenly, Gadol shot at a 10-foot brown bear, who began charging us, not stopping until 30 yards away from us. Dismissing the near-catastrophe, Gadol turned to his son, saying, "If we catch the plane in Unalakleet tonight, we can be in Nice in two days." Disgusted, Sandy left Castle's guiding service, and for the next four years he concentrated on building log homes.

However, Sandy's former German clients wanted to continue to hunt with him. Sandy called Bernd Gaedeke at Iniakuk Lake in the Brooks Range and asked if he might take the hunters. Fully booked, Bernd said, "Not alone, but if you help out, OK." Soon Sandy was guiding again.

Just before President Carter signed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act on Dec. 2, 1980, Sandy began guiding on the Sheenjek and Coleen rivers, later obtaining a permit to hunt in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Today, booked with referred hunters only, we do not advertise.


In the 1980s, Sandy, as a contractor and a consultant, began reconstructing historic buildings. Beginning by restoring the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce log cabin, followed by St. James Episcopal Church in Tanana, Rika's Roadhouse, the President Harding train car at Alaskaland and Black Rapids Roadhouse, Sandy and his team have made historic contributions.
During the same period, Sandy also interviewed Gwich'in Athabascan elders on the Upper Yukon River, sketching their way of life, with their help, in his books "Shandaa," "In My Lifetime" and "K'aiiroondak: Behind the Willows."

In 1989, Sandy exhibited his illustrations at the House of Wood along with his oil painting "The Board of Game." Pictured at a conference table were bored animals involved in politicking, with a partial portrait of Gov. Sheffield hanging on the wall. After it sold immediately, Sandy made prints. Gallery owner Donna Wood presented the first one to Gov. Sheffield.

In Anchorage, at Stephan Fine Arts Gallery, prints of "The Board of Game" sold well. When Sandy returned with a good painting of a Sheenjek bear to the gallery, the manager, Dawn Kelly, remarked, "Look, I have bears, eagles and whales, but there's nothing here like 'The Board of Game.' Bring me more like it!"

Sandy didn't follow her advice until, in the fall of 1995 on a Coleen River gravel bar, he ripped a landing gear leg out of his plane, causing much damage.

At the same time, a friend called Sandy asking for a commission piece like "The Board of Game," only with wolves. With airplanes on his mind, Sandy painted wolves armed with a shotgun in a Super Cub -- "Predator Control." With the commission, he then fixed the airplane. The patron fronted Sandy money for prints.

March 1996, Sandy flew to Anchorage to pick up the prints. As he ate breakfast, he overheard talk regarding a big photo on the front of USA Today of an Alaska state biologist shooting a wolf in a trap photographed by a wolf activist financed by Friends of Animals.

At the printer's, Sandy picked up two fresh prints of "Predator Control" and, before flying home, left one on the front desk at the Anchorage Daily News. The following morning, the newspaper ran the print with the caption "... available at Aurora Fine Arts." At the gallery, people were lined up waiting at the door. In six months, the 500-print run had sold out. Sandy had realized his genre.

In the years since "Predator Control," Sandy has become well-known for his humorous Alaskan wildlife and aviation paintings and prints, including tee shirts and note cards. His art is distributed throughout Alaska and the Lower 48.

Sandy and I have a wonderful time together in this business of "art that has hair on it!" When someone looks at his paintings and laughs out loud, that response is our reward!
Judy Ferguson is a publisher as well as a freelance columnist for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. She is the author of Alaska histories "Parallel Destinies" and "Blue Hills" and the children's books "Alaska's Secret Door" and "Alaska's Little Chief." Her Web site is www.alaska-highway.org/delta/outpost.

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