Early Memories of Trumbull (20) – Ced Remembers Rusty Huerlin

For some of the time that Ced lived in Alaska, Rusty lived with him and they became very good friends. They kept in touch and Ced and his wife were planning a trip to Alaska to see Rusty. He passed away a few weeks before their trip.

Rusty - Rusty at his painting cabin - 1979 (2)

Rusty Huerlin outside his studio

CED – Rusty Heurlin gave my mother a painting – it was a rather famous one – he was very fond of her. He was younger then my mother and father by a little. We did a lot with him – we went hiking with him. He made quite a name for himself. All his life he lived by sponging. He was so charismatic that he could get away with it. He walked out of school, he took Art lessons, he was a hobo for a while. The only thing that really interested him was painting. He spent all his life painting beautiful pictures. He was a good artist but he didn’t make any money at it. He knew all the artists in Westport – Red Heurlin – they knew Red Heurlin and they loved him. He loved dogs, oh, he loved dogs with a passion. There are a lot of his paintings around Fairbanks, Alaska, at the University of Alaska, in banks, in hospitals. They’re mostly outdoor scenes, some have to do with the early settlers, the Russians. Colcord Heurlin – he always signed C. Heurlin.

One painting did more to make him famous than anything else he did. Rusty made friends, he lived with me for a time in Anchorage. He made pictures. He made a mural, he filled the whole wall with it, for one of the bars in town, a whole Hawaiian scene. He used to drink quite heavily at times. I came home at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning and he’d be painting. We lived with an old Norwegian guy, he slept in the upstairs room, had to climb up a ladder. I worked for the airline there, mostly bush piloting – scheduled passenger service came later – but most of the time I was there, it was all bush pilot’s. Rusty and I would go down to George’s living room, George was a bachelor. Rusty would paint in that living room until three or four in the morning. During the day he’d go out partying up and down the street. They called it the longest bar in Alaska – that was Main Street in Anchorage.

About 1940 – 41, things were getting red-hot. Major Marston was up there in charge of the Alaskan Defense Command. He was based in Anchorage. Rusty made friends with him – he made friends with everyone he talked to. He met the Governor of Alaska (Guering) through Major Marston. Rusty came home one night and he said, “Know what they’re going to do? Major Marston says that the Governor wants to go around the whole perimeter of Alaska and try to develop a reasonable defense system for Alaska. I guess it was Major Marston’s idea. Major Marston said, “None of us know anything about Alaska, the Eskimos, the Indians. We should go around and meet these native people. They know the land and if any problems develop with the days coming, we’d be lost. We wouldn’t know what to do.” He said, “We want to get an Alaska Defense going with native people. “Guering says, “Well, you know what? I don’t know any. I’m the Governor of this territory and I’d like to go around with you and meet these people that I’m supposed to be Governor of.” So Rusty sat and listened to all this talk and he said, “You wouldn’t want to take me along, would you? I’ve had this in the back of my mind for years that I would like to do a series of pictures on the discovery of Alaska”. His whole goal, idea and the love of his life was Alaska. He said, “I’d like to have a chance to go around to all these places, make sketches.” “OK, come on along” they said. That’s where he got this series of 18 pictures, starting with the fellow who came from Russia, sailed to Alaska and took it for the Russians. That was the first painting, he did the gold rush and 16 others. This was after he moved to Fairbanks.

Rusty moved to Fairbanks and got married. He was probably in his 60’s, and he married a girl from the Fairbanks News. At this point, he decided that he would teach Art so he got a job teaching Art at the University. He did that for quite a while. After he got these pictures done, the University said to him, “Why don’t we set up a building for you and fix it with this huge rotating platform and you could put these 18 pictures all the way around the building.” They talked it over and they got the Poet Laureate of Alaska to narrate the story. He did a beautiful job and that’s up there. If you ever get to Alaska, you should see it in Fairbanks. Alaska is different than any other state. This place is out of town about 10 miles or so. It’s a park sort of thing. They have a huge boat there that they have on display, probably like the boats they used up there. This one building is all Rusty’s pictures. They also have a museum and other historic stuff.

Rusty was an amazing person. He did posters during the war with “Uncle Sam needs you” on them. We went to the University of Alaska, we told them what we were after, they took us down to the basement and showed us some of his work.

Tomorrow, my posts will be based on letters written in 1942. Both Lad and Dan are in the military, but close enough to get home for some weekends. Ced is still a bush pilot in Alaska, Dick works at Producto Machine Company and worries about the draft, and Dave is in high school and hating it.

Judy Guion

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