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Cold Starry Night: An Artist's Memoir Paperback – September 14, 2007
From the Back Cover
Young Claire Fejes was a promising sculptor and painter in New York City in 1946 when her husband gave in to "gold fever." She held the unconventional view that her career was as important as his. But in those days, a woman followed her husband, so Claire did - to Fairbanks, last stop on the Alaska Railroad, in the heart of the immense northern territory, where Joe Fejes intended to mine for gold. In a refreshingly candid memoir, Claire describes a remote outpost where the young couple joins a hardy breed of Alaskans who transform loneliness into powerful friendships and where the artist overcomes soul-aching cultural isolation. Fairbanks is populated by characters such as the happy Finnish couple who adopt Claire and Joe; the lively Eva McGown, a one-woman social-service agency who wears a potent violet purfume and speaks with a sweet Irish brogue; and Fabian Carey, the trapper who loves the wilderness as much as he does opera, literature, and art. Written from the heart, this memoir of post-war Alaska has become a classic with its nostalgic reflections of a simpler time.
About the Author
The late Claire Fejes is considered to be one of Alaska's finest artists. She made a name for herself by traveling to the Arctic to paint Eskimo whaling camps, and to the Yukon River to paint Indian life. Her work has been exhibited in museums and galleries in Europe, North America, and Asia. She also was a writer and was author of the northern best-seller, 'People of the Noatak.'
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Claire's experiences in Alaska are as diverse and memorable as the person she was. She tells a laugh-out-loud tale of living in Wiseman, a mining town where she went to join her husband, Joe on a gold mining adventure. She hates insects and it is virtually impossible to avoid mosquitoes in the Alaskan summer. On top of that, she gets stung by a bee and has a bad reaction. Joe comes to her rescue. Her husband Joe is as much an Alaska icon as Claire is. He first came to Alaska as an interpreter for the military during WWII. He has been a jazz and classical musician, a gold miner, an electrician and was instrumental in starting the Fairbanks Symphony. These two are what is really meant when we refer to a 'power couple'.
Claire is originally from New York. In this memoir she talks about studying art at the Art Students League as a teen-ager. She also had an avid interest in music. She meets Joe when she is just 20 years old, becomes engaged and together, shortly after their marriage, they travel to Fairbanks Alaska in an old car. In Fairbanks she has two children, Mark and Yolande. Claire discusses the travails of taking care of a family in a log cabin without running water or electricity. At the same time, she makes sure to continue with her own self-development - going to dance classes, giving sculpture lessons, teaching art at the University of Alaska and traveling to the Alaskan wilderness to draw and sculpt Alaska Native People. This became her passion. She was a true feminist before the word was even invented. With the support of her husband Joe, Claire travels to Noatak, Point Hope, and the Brooks Range to do her art. Would you be surprised to know that both of her children are fine artists?
This book is an amazingly good read. I learned so much about Alaska and its pioneers by reading it. It is literate and wise with wonderful characterizations. It stands on its own as a classic and is also a book to be read along with Murie's Two in the Far North. It is also a great companion piece with Rockwell Kent's N by E. Claire and Kent were friends and kept up a correspondence for many years. I also recommend that anyone reading Into the Wild pick up Cold Starry Night. In Cold Starry night the reader gets a true story of a real pioneer who has adventures in the wild and contributes to the history and culture of today's Alaska. I give this book my highest recommendation.