Cover Story – PAINTING THE CHURCHILL PEAKS

Finest Hour 107, Summer 2000

Page 14


Byron Birdsall, one of Alaska’s foremost living painters, has completed his first portrait of Winston Churchill, commissioned for the 17th International Churchill Conference in Anchorage, 13-17 September. Churchill never visited what he once called “the remote and forbidding expanse of Alaska,” but if he had, he might have been hard put to resist setting up his easel in such a “paintaceous” land.

Birdsall shows Churchill standing in the snow, finishing a painting of Mt. McKinley, whose twin peaks were named to honor Sir Winston in 1965. One of the charms of the portrait is that, though it is in water colors, Churchill’s “painting within the painting” is in oils, which Churchill called “beaucoup plus beau que la peinture a l’eau”—”much more beautiful than water colors.”

Byron Birdsall was born in 1937 in Buckeye, Arizona, where his father preached to one of the smallest Free Methodist congregations in the Southwest. He grew up in Los Angeles, then attended Seattle Pacific College and Stanford University, lived in East Africa and Pago Pago, American Samoa, and traveled extensively before settling in Alaska in 1975.

While Birdsall’s work defies pigeon-holing as “regional” art, his career has flourished in Alaska, which he has called home for a quarter of a century despite recurring bouts of wanderlust. His style is hard-edged, crisp, and graphic; his humor puckish; and his subjects as varied as his travels. And he is a master of mountains. Describing Birdsall’s work, American Artist said, “Only a few can look the mountains straight in the eye and preserve their objectivity. Only a few can interpret the forms into lines and colors on…paper, so an image is produced that calls to mind a mountain landscape….”

Birdsall will speak at the Alaska Conference, offering a painter’s appreciation of Churchill the painter. A limitededition print of Birdsall’s portrait, signed by the artist, will be presented to Goldpanner sponsors of the Alaska Conference. Goldpanner details appear in the next column. Information is posted on winstonchurchill.org, and readers may contact conference chairman Jim Muller (middle column, page 2). The original work will be sold in a silent auction at the conference, with a share of proceeds to benefit The Churchill Center.

The 17th International Churchill Conference will be held in Anchorage, Alaska, September 13-17, 2000. Combining Martin Gilbert’s triple presentation on Churchill and Russia, a celebration of her birthday with Lady Soames, and the most spectacular scenery in North America, the conference promises to be one of the most memorable in our history.

A hundred years ago, people flocked to Alaska, seeking gold in her hills and streams. Some of these goldpanners made their fortunes there. If you have attained a certain success in life, you can make a special contribution to the conference by becoming a Goldpanner Conference Sponsor. Only part of the cost of the International Churchill Conferences is defrayed by regular registration fees. The rest comes from the generosity of special donors.

The Goldpanner registration fee of $1750 for a single person, or $2500 for a couple, covers all events during the conference, from the opening Mountaintop Reception to the closing Sourdough Brunch, including the Thursday and Saturday trips. Because these fees are all-inclusive, they are surprisingly affordable. $1,003 of the single sponsorship, or $1,206 of the couple sponsorship, is a tax-deductible contribution to The Churchill Center; receipts will be issued.

Goldpanner Conference Sponsors will be named in the conference program. Goldpanners will also be recognized at a private birthday luncheon with Mary Soames, where they will receive a numbered print of Byron Birdsall’s painting of Winston Churchill. The personally signed print will be a lasting souvenir of your visit to Alaska.

Aside from these perquisites, Goldpanners have the satisfaction of knowing that they are in the select circle of Churchillians who make the conference possible. Our conferences always rely upon members like the Goldpanners who register at high levels, and we are enormously grateful to them.

Even if you are unable to come to Alaska, you are warmly invited to support the conference as a Goldpanner Sponsor, and we will make sure you receive your print of Byron Birdsall’s unique work.

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