Editorial: Artist lives on in hearts of Alaskans

  • Thursday, April 16, 2015 4:48pm
  • Opinion

Rie Muñoz is, was and will always be a part of the Juneau community, of the Southeast Panhandle and, for that matter, all of Alaska.

She painted and sketched us. She talked, walked and frolicked with us.

We were in her art throughout her life, and she was in our life through her art.

We became each other.

From the day she stepped off the steamship Princess Louise, not even halfway through her planned Seattle to Skagway sailing, Rie became Alaska.

In less than an hour she had secured a job and a place to stay.

Two days later, Rie met the steamship again and removed her luggage.

“To me, it was the biggest moment of my life,” Rie once said. “Of course, I have had many big moments since, but at that time I was never so sure of myself.”

And from day one we were all sure of Rie.

That first job at the Daily Alaska Empire introduced her to the citizens of Juneau and she fell in love with each and every one of us.

She was touched by Alaska, and as she moved about it, Alaska was touched by her.

During her 65 years in Alaska, she visited every community on the road system and all but two of those off it (Anaktuvuk Pass and Kake), sketching as she went. Communities represented in her art include Juneau and Tenakee, Ketchikan and Elfin Cove, Noatak and Kotzebue, King Island and Unalaska.

Look in any living room or hallway, and if there is not Rie Muñoz art making your mouth drop in wonder and merriment, then that particular place is in wanton disregard of all things beautiful.

Yet, Rie herself would tell you that some of her best work is hanging in friends’ bathrooms. To her, that was still among the highest of compliments.

“Any wall is a showcase,” Rie said. “At least they are hanging somewhere.”

If a work in progress wasn’t perfect when finished, it was just turned over and a better rendering was completed on the other side.

“A number of my paintings have other no-good paintings on the other side,” she said. “A lot of people probably have some of my disasters hanging on their walls.”

But what was a disaster to Rie is a masterpiece to the rest of us.

Another thing about Rie is she would always tell you what was on her mind.

Take, for instance, one particular visit with Rie at her son’s house that involved Russian scientists who had recreated the bust of Vitus Bering, using all types of scientific facts that only crime drama purists and highly educated college professors could fully understand.

That bust paled in attention to Rie’s wit, candor and charm.

Somehow, Russian scientists were laughing along with Rie’s tales.

She could laugh at herself, too.

When her hands began to tremble and her detail work began to fade, her wit still prevailed.

“At last I can become an abstract painter,” Rie said. “I will keep my ears though, thank you very much.”

Rie said her two favorite pieces she had done are “The Embrace,” in which an Eskimo mother hugs her little daughter, and “Peaceable Alaska,” where a group of animals are gathered around a boy in a wooded setting.

“I think they are all OK,” Muñoz said of her work. “When someone likes them, they become better. When someone says they have one or two of my paintings, I say ‘Good for you, that is what keeps me going.’”

And that is what keeps us going — having a Rie Muñoz on our walls and in our hearts.

— Morris News Service-Alaska

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