Collectors of Alaskan art and memorabilia are always delighted to come across the 1940s and ’50s-era menus printed by the Alaska Steamship Company which feature Alaskan sled dog portraits by Josephine Crumrine. Her soft pastel renditions of huskies - most of them widely-known in their day - are popular across many fields of collecting.
The beautiful husky named “Jack” is described on the back of the menu he graces: “This beautiful malemute raced for two years in the annual Dog Derby as a member of the team driven by Mary Joyce. Jack, owned by Grover Bayless of Fairbanks, enjoyed sitting for his portrait and looked forward in happy anticipation (see picture) to his reward of raw beef.”
Another of Mary Joyce’s dogs was a favorite named “Wolf.” Mary Joyce was an Alaskan adventurer of the highest caliber; when Alaska was still just a territory she owned and operated the remote Taku Lodge near Juneau, flew her own bush plane, and became the first woman radio operator in the territory. But Mary’s biggest claim to fame was her 1936 trip by dogteam from her home at Taku Lodge to Fairbanks, 1,000 miles away.
Mary kept a journal of her trip which was published in 2007 with the title, Mary Joyce, Taku to Fairbanks, 1,000 Miles by Dogteam. Mary’s leader, “Wolf,” was featured on a menu for the Alaska Steamship Line series in 1954, with no mention of her epic journey. The caption reads: “A peerless leader of the famous team raced by Mary Joyce in the annual Alaska Dog Derby, Wolf has also made a trip to the States. He spent a season at Sun Valley, Idaho, hauling winter sports enthusiasts on a real Alaskan dog sledge.”
Nina Crumrine, Josephine’s mother, was born in Indiana and trained at the Art Institute of Chicago. She lived in Seattle, where she gave birth to her daughter in 1917. In 1923, when Josephine was six, her parents divorced and mother and daughter moved to Alaska to live with Nina's uncle, H.V. McGee, in Ketchikan.
They later took a sternwheeler down the Yukon River, traveling from Whitehorse to Marshall, a village on the lower Yukon River. From there they followed the coast of the Bering Sea to Nome, and traveled north to Point Barrow, stopping at villages to spend time while Nina painted pastel portraits of the Native Alaskans. Her artwork, like her daughter’s later work, would remain valuable to collectors down through the years.
Josephine received her first art training from her mother, and Nina later sent her to study at the California School of Fine Arts and the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. When Josephine returned to Alaska she and Nina became avid travelers, visiting every region of Alaska as well as South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia.
Eventually Nina acquired land in Haines, Alaska, and when Josephine married, she and her husband, Robert Liddell, built a house on her mother's property.
Josephine was quite talented with pastels and became well known for her animal portraits. In the 1940s, the Alaska Steamship Company began commissioning her portraits of historically significant sled dogs for the covers of their cruise ship dining room menus, and sets of the menus became popular tourist souvenirs.
A short biographical sketch on the back of each menu introduced the artist: “Josephine Crumrine is a young Alaska artist who lives in the Territory and specializes in painting dogs and animals. The most recent of Miss Crumrine’s many exhibits was at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. In the dog portraits featured in this current series of menus Miss Crumrine has captured the spirit of the Old Alaska when thechief mode of transportation was the husky-drawn sled. Her medium was pastels, here reproduced by four-color lithography.”
The menu cover which features “Mageik” (pronounced “Magic”) includes this caption on the back: “Father Hubbard’s famous sled dog looks like a reincarnation of Buck, Jack London’s hero of The Call of the Wild. Like Buck, Mageik is no stranger to California, where he spends some winters with ‘the glacier priest,’ and is the constant companion of the noted geologist.”
Other sled dogs on the Alaska Steamship Company menus include the striking “Blizzard:” “This blue-eyed Siberian husky is owned by Slim Williams, who, with Jack Logan, blazed the trail for the proposed International Highway from Fairbanks to Seattle. Blizzard was the third hero of the motorcycle expedition and shared the acclaim when it arrived in triumph in Seattle.”
And “Smokey,” whose caption explained his role as a military sled dog: “A favorite among the forty army dogs formerly stationed at Chilkoot Barracks, Smokey was later sent to Ladd Field. He made the long journey to Fairbanks in January, 1941, and is an outstanding specimen of the true Alaska husky.”
Quite a number of adventurer Mary Joyce’s dogs were painted for the menus, one of which was named “Rye”: “Given to the Army at Chilkoot Barracks by Mary Joyce, Rye formerly lived at Taku Lodge with his famous mistress. He is one of the forty dogs who made the long trek from Chilkoot Barracks to Fairbanks in January, 1941, and is now stationed at Ladd Field.”
And then there was the gangly young pup “Cheechako,” “Owned by Lieutenant Colonel Francis E. Maslin, Cheechako was the mascot ofElmendorf Field and Fort Richardson, at Anchorage. Miss Crumrine has captured the mischievious spirit which inspired the puppy to pilfer other tents and carry various belongings to his master’s headquarters. He died in 1940 and was mourned by the whole post.”
Josephine Crumrine’s body of work also includes portraits of Alaska Natives done in pastel and landscapes in oils, and many of her much sought after paintings are in museums and private collections. During her lifetime, she passionately advocated for the humane treatment of animals. She passed away at her home Anchorage in 2005 at the age of 88. Strangely, there are almost no photographs of this great Alaskan artist. ~•~