After my Uncle Dan passed away, I realized that if I was going to record the memories of his siblings, I’d better get busy. Aunt Biss was the first. She joined my late husband Don and me on a cruise on the Erie Canal and I spent three days recording her stories. I was able to interview my father (Lad) and Uncle Ced on two occasions each and Uncle Dick and Uncle Dave, once each. This is the fourth installment of Uncle Ced’s memories.
The final installment of the Random Memories of Cedric Duryee Guion is all about a very close family friend who became a rather famous painter of Alaskan Life. Colcord (Rusty) Heurlin was brought into the family fold by Fred Stanley, another artist who had married Anne Peabody, sister of Grandpa’s wife Arla and the Aunt Anne that Bissie lived with in St Petersburg. Rusty’s name has come up over and over throughout the random memories of the children and in grandpa’s letters. I believe it was Rusty who originally wanted to go to Alaska and convinced Dan and Ced that they ought to go there also and make their fortune. They all planned to go to Alaska in mid-1940, but unfortunately, when Dan and Ced were ready to go, Rusty didn’t have the money. I know that Uncle Ced was in Alaska for about six and a half years and he lived with Rusty for some of that time.
The Island belonged to the Heurlin’s and they let us use it. We used it long before we bought it. Through Rusty, we met his family. His mother and father came over from Sweden, his father spoke with a strong accent. He was a Custom’s Agent in Boston. They were a nice couple, they lived in Wakefield, Massachusetts in a nice house.
Rusty Heurlin gave my mother a painting – it was a rather famous one – he was very fond of her. He was younger than my mother and father by a little. We did a lot with him – we’d go 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 come home at three or four o’clock in the morning and he’d be painting. We lived with an old Norwegian guy, he slept in the upstairs bedroom, you 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. 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 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 Alaskan defense going with native people.’ Governor Gruening 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 those places, and 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 sixties, 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 ta building for you and fix it with the 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. 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. My wife and I planned a trip to Alaska to visit Rusty and I called him a few weeks before we left. He said,”I hope I’ll see you when you get here.” He passed away a week later. We went to the University of Alaska, we told them what we were looking for and they took us down to the basement and showed us some of his work.
Tomorrow, I’ll start posting a few letters written during 1940, the first year that Dan and Ced are in Alaska.