The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Dana Paperman
For The LOG 

ARRC poster artist talks craft, work



A trademark scene contrasting the idyllic natural beauty of Alaska with the dynamic presence of an Alaska Railroad passenger train is Gamrandt's winning entry in the 2013 Alaska Railroad art contest.

For the past 20 plus years, the Seward Senior Center has been a recipient of Alaska Railroad posters, prints and pins, providing this agency with a fundraising opportunity, year after year. For the past few years, I have had the privilege to meet the featured artist in Seward at the local holiday crafts show, hosted at the Alaska Railroad Terminal. This year, I knew ahead of time that the winner of the 2013 art contest, Ray Gamradt, would not be able to attend, so I emailed him from my office and asked if he would be willing to meet me in his home town of Anchorage to sign our posters. He felt honored to be asked and suggested that we meet at Title Wave Books, a new and used book store in Anchorage, where we would find plenty of space to sign and talk.

While Ray meticulously spread out the posters after signing, eliminating the chance of smearing the fresh ink, he was constantly approached by shoppers asking if his posters were for sale, how long he had been an artist. He accepted compliments humbly and with a shy smile. I too was inspired to hear more about his journey to becoming an Alaska Railroad poster winner in 2013.

Who inspired you in your art work growing up?

My father, William Gamradt is an artist in Missoula, Mont., and it was there that I grew up with his example and his instruction. I frequently bring questions to him and have come to greatly value his experience and his knowledge. Plus, I couldn't help but be drawn to the life and story of Charlie Russell, Montana's preeminent historical artist who captured the last decades of the Wild West. It would be hard to grow up in Montana without dreaming of the days before the land was tamed.

I should point out also that I received a lot of encouragement growing up from teachers and friends who urged me toward a career in art. Thinking about it now, these were rational people who knew clearly which occupations offered steady paychecks and which did not. Art being in the latter category, I would love to find some of those early mentors and ask them what brand of nostalgia or fairy tale they were acting under. I'm probably ready to compare notes.

When did you experience an epiphany of changing career direction from civil engineer to artist?

The transition from engineering to art involved a series of gradual, deliberate steps followed by an abrupt leap.

Shelving my lifelong interest in art, I pursued structural engineering as a career due largely to the promising job prospects, a favorable salary and the challenging daily problems. Also, it was a job that I knew could be found in Alaska. To emerge from college and be met with a good job was a true blessing, and one that I did not take for granted. I had a supportive employer, wonderful coworkers and interesting work, but I couldn't help but feel that there was somewhere else I was supposed to be. In my heart I think I treated engineering as a backup plan, what I could do if my best attempts at my passions were to drop me on my head.

Meanwhile I began my more deliberate artistic steps – acts of intellectual piracy in the engineering world. Moonlighting in the evenings and weekends, I would give paintings as gifts. Wedding and birthday gifts led to commissions; charity donations led to contest submissions; juried exhibitions led to shows in galleries. When my friends' dog was diagnosed with cancer I broke into their house to obtain pictures for a portrait... that eventually led to other portraits. Doors were opening, and it seemed that there was the potential that if I were to devote all of my time and energy to art that maybe one day I could make an honest career out of art. Maybe.

It seems that it is difficult enough to survive in art even when wholly committed, and my time and my energy were being divided between that which pays and that which lights my fire. The fall of 2012 found me five years into my backup plan of engineering, and it was becoming all the more clear that my expectations and commitments at the office would continue to increase. Serendipity wasn't proving to be a fulfilling strategy for gaining more hours in a day. My wife Kirsten and I sat down to asses the direction of our life. We realized that we were on course to be comfortable. Comfortable and content, insofar as we could ignore the persistent question of "what if?" What if we go for it? What if we wake up tomorrow and we're 80 years old and we wonder if we could have made it work?

So we leapt.

I tipped my hat to my employer at the end of 2012, and 2013 has marked the beginning of my full-time career in art. Kirsten remarked that I grew an inch taller that first week out! I feel l very blessed to be able to put my energy toward something I am passionate about. And, I have no idea where things will lead, but I'm excited for the adventure to come.

What made you choose charcoal as a medium?

I really appreciate the elegance of black and white, as well as the challenge of using values to elicit drama and depth. Years ago I conducted drawings in pencil, but I ended up gravitating toward charcoal, which is darker and coarser and messier. I think that with all of the precision and the impossibly straight lines associated with engineering, I had recognized that charcoal would be the right dose of chaos.

Were you surprised that you won the ARRC print competition? And why?

I was certainly surprised when I had heard that the ARRC selected me for their 2014 print! In fact, when I opened the email from the Railroad I fully expected it to say something along the lines of "dear sir, thank you for your submission... we received a lot of fabulous entries this year... go ahead and burn your sketch in a garbage fire... here's a coupon for a free coffee." I had to read the email a few times to come to terms with the fact that they had chosen me for the task. The history of the Railroad posters goes back to the early 1980s, and it includes a prestigious list of artists, many with rich talent and full careers worthy of admiration. I feel honored to be included in such a group, if not slightly misplaced.

Seward is the Mural Capital of Alaska, as designated in 2006 by the State of Alaska. Would you consider becoming a future visiting artist, to create a mural to add to our community's collection?

Absolutely! I think a mural in Seward would be a really neat project.

As a recipient of the ARRC prints, we are pleased to display and sell the 2014 ARRC print. Are you excited to know that your work will be in homes across the nation after visitors return from their vacation in Alaska?

I feel very excited that my work will find its way around the country; stunned to think about it, really. You know, Alaska has so much beauty and adventure, and everyone goes home with a unique story. If my print can offer someone a tiny reminder of their story, their Alaska, then I'm prepared to call that a good day.

And it was a good day after meeting such a kind hearted and humble artist. A collection of his work is at or purchase his print directly from the Seward Senior Center.


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