Fred Machetanz was born in Kenton, Ohio in 1908 and first came to Alaska in 1935 to visit an uncle in Unalakleet. Back home in Ohio, he earned an M.A. degree in art from Ohio State University, and then pursued further study at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Art Students League and the American Academy of Art. During World War II he served as a Naval intelligence officer in the Aleutians, and he returned afterward to marry and settle in Alaska.
Machetanz achieved his first professional success as a writer and illustrator of adventure books; later he illustrated several authored by his wife, Sara, and became known for his lithographs of Arctic subjects. For several years they also made lecture tours of the “Lower 48” together, presenting their own films on Alaska.
After a highly successful exhibition in Anchorage in 1962, Machetanz began to devote most of his time to painting. In all of his paintings, Machetanz used a traditional technique of transparent oil glazes applied in layers over an underpainting, usually of white and blue, on masonite.
Since then, he has had numerous one-man exhibitions in Alaska, including two at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art, in 1969 and 1974, and others in Seattle, New York and elsewhere. His paintings and lithographs have entered public and private collections throughout the country and are much in demand, with a waiting list even for color reproductions of his work.
In recent years, Machetanz has received many honors. In 1973, he was awarded an honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts by the University of Alaska. In 1977, he was named “Alaskan of the Year,” and in that same year a book of his paintings, The Alaska Paintings of Fred Machetanz, was published by Peacock Press of Bantam Books in New York.
At the age of 94, on October 6, 2002, Fred Machetanz died. As Tennys Owens, Fred’s friend and representative remarked recently, “It is definitely the passing of an era up here, as Fred was the last living painter who could paint the Romantic period of Alaska’s history from personal experience. He will go down in Alaskan history as a great fine-arts painter and also as a great art historian.”
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