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Eustace Paul Ziegler: a Michigan artist at home in Alaska.


According to family legend, Eustace Ziegler showed an eye for art at the age of seven. Born and reared in , he s hours practicing his drawing. He later studied painting at the D Institute of Arts. His father, an Episcopal priest, indulged his so but added a caveat: "Just be sure you can earn a living at it." Ziegler did that and more in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.

Born on July 24, 1881, Eustace Paul was one of four sons of Reverend Paul Ziegler and his wife Mary Frances. L3 Two years after the boy's birth, his father became rector in Mariners' Church of Detroit. For years, he supervised a church school that all of his sons attended.

Fortuitously, the church was developing into a social service center. With its organ gallery closed off, the church created a reading room offering carefully chosen literature. Men with time on their hands used the reading room free of charge. Joining them, Eustace Ziegler worked on his drawing and, in time, took over the room as his private studio.


After completing high school, Ziegler earned a measure of financial independence from his family by toiling as a seasonal worker in the logging camps of the Lower and Upper Peninsulas. He managed the strenuous work well, despite his relatively small stature--estimated at no more than 5 feet 3 or 4 inches tall. These labors provided a kind of incidental schooling for the life he would encounter on the Alaskan frontier.

His winter studies at the Detroit Museum of Art (later the Detroit Institute of Arts) proved to be an effective professionalizing opportunity. Among his distinguished instructors were painters Francis Petrus Paulus, Ida Marie Perrault, and Joseph Gies.

With their encouragement, Ziegler tested his talent on several daunting projects. One example is an oil on canvas dated 1903, which he labeled "Untitled--A Fashionable Young Woman." (Many years later, it was chosen for inclusion in a 1998 exhibit of Ziegler's works at the Morris Museum of Art in Augusta, Georgia.)


By 1907, Ziegler developed some north-country travel ideas. In a monograph on the artist, Kesler Woodward writes that the native Detroiter began to make plans for a canoe trip through the wilds of Northern Ontario to James Bay. When that plan was inexplicably shelved, he "stumbled onto the book 'Lords of the North,' by Agnes Laut, and upon reading it was fired with a desire to visit Alaska."

Coincidence intervened in the person of Peter Trimble Rowe, bishop of the Episcopal diocese of Alaska and a friend of Reverend Ziegler. In communications with the reverend, he expressed his urgent need for someone to expand the "footprint" of the church throughout his vast episcopate.

Alaska was in ferment. The Klondike gold rush of 1896 had inspired thousands to hasten to the territory in search of yellow wealth. Other strikes kept the "gold fever" alive. Boomtowns sprang up to accommodate the new arrivals.

Learning of the bishop's needs during his 1908 logging-camp stint, young Ziegler wrote to him at once. Woodward frames the ponderables of the prelate's situation in a few words: "The son of an old clerical colleague, writing from a crude lumber camp in the Great Lakes region, would probably have seemed like a good bet even if [the bishop] had not been informed by...friends among the lumbermen of the North Woods that this young man was a 'regular feller.'"

The bishop's answer was positive. Evidence appearing later suggests that Ziegler also had a compelling reason for leaving the logging camp prematurely: He had just been involved in a "losing fist fight" with his French-Canadian foreman.




On December 30, 1908, Ziegler wrote from the family home at 178 Henry Street in Detroit to inform Episcopal church authorities that he was about to leave for Alaska. An overnight train ride delivered him to Chicago. Four days of Pullman travel brought him to Seattle. And from there he boarded the S.S. Yucatan bound for Cordova, Alaska.

Once settled, Ziegler began an association with Alaska that was to thrive for more than half a century. As a lay missionary, he assumed supervision of the Red Dragon: an Episcopal mission that more realistically served as a clubhouse.

Edward Newton, an Episcopal priest, had launched the Red Dragon about two years before Ziegler's arrival. His widely accepted rationale for creating a homey gathering place rather than a formal churchlike mission was that a clubhouse was appropriate in boomtown Cordova.

Ziegler needed no familiarization with the Red Dragon system. Friendly, respectful toward everyone, and informal, he became the source of the relaxed atmosphere that the mission required. As Katherine Wilson writes in the American Magazine of Art, he "became known and idolized the length of the Copper River Valley. He was everyman's friend, admired, respected, sworn at, and fraternized with for his ... courage, his lightning wit, his loyalty, humanity and good fellowship."


Under his ministry, the Red Dragon flourished. Open to all (and liquor-free), the clubhouse offered such attractions as boxing matches, billiards, dances, smoking, and elbow room in which to read.

However, the Sabbath at the mission brought purposeful turmoil. Colliers magazine described the scene in an article published in June 1911. "When Sunday morning comes," read the illustrated piece, "the billiard table is moved into one corner, the reading table into another, the boxing gloves put away, the altar is dropped by sling and tackle from its resting-place in the rafters, and in a few minutes the club has become a church."


Even had he been so inclined, Ziegler could not have stayed put in Cordova. Driven by both fascination and duty, he visited near and distant sites throughout his scattered diocese. Traveling by pack train, dogsled, snowshoe, and boat, he called at hardscrabble encampments, lonely shacks, mine works, and insular communities to keep in touch with those in his spiritual domain.

At the same time, he practiced his art; working with different media, he also began painting religious scenes, outdoor action impressions, landscapes, and portraits. A favored number of the works with religious themes went on the walls of the Red Dragon as artistic enrichment.


On February 28, 1911, Ziegler married Mary Neville Boyle, a Delaware woman who had arrived in Alaska in 1906. The union opened many avenues for development and charitable outreach. Mary, for her part, began to work among the Native-Alaskan women and children who formed an important constituency in the still-expanding population. Eustace continued to labor in the vineyards in which miners, railroad workers, prospectors, hunters, and other males toiled.


Possibly fulfilling an ambition traceable to his father and brothers--all clerics--Ziegler decided to study toward ordination himself. In 1914, he, his wife, and young daughter Elizabeth made their way to Middletown, Connecticut so he could report for classes at the Berkeley Divinity School. He spent the next two winters at those studies, returning to Cordova for the summers.

Bishop Rowe ordained Ziegler in Juneau, Alaska on September 17, 1916. Over the next few years, as Woodward writes, the reverend increasingly found it difficult to "balance his growing excitement about his artwork with his commitment to the church." Trying his hand at architecture, Ziegler designed a church for Cordova. The consecration of the new house of worship, St. George's, took place in 1919.

In the mid-1920s, Ziegler applied for and received permission to take a year's furlough. With his family, now including Mary and two daughters, he first vacationed in Michigan, then went on a lecture tour. Having earned some funds, he enrolled in the Yale University School of Fine Arts.


A two-year interval during which Ziegler tried his diverse talents as editor of the Alaskan Churchman marked a last hurrah for the cleric's mission assignment in Cordova. In 1924, while Ziegler was on a dogsled trip into the interior, his wife received a telegram that changed the family's life. As Woodward encapsulates the event, "E.T. Stannard of the Alaska Steamship Company was offering Ziegler a commission to execute a number of large paintings for the company offices in Seattle."

Ziegler carried out the commission, then returned briefly to Cordova. On July 25, 1924, he tendered his resignation from the priesthood and terminated his mission to Alaska. He and his family moved to Seattle, and the artist began another steamship company commission. This time, he was painting Alaska-themed murals on the company's ships.

Living and working in Seattle, Ziegler soon became a distinguished figure on the city's art scene. Establishing a studio and school in 1925, he offered a professional program for interested students. He taught there for more than 40 years.


A regular entrant in the annual Northwest Artists' Exhibition, he won prizes in 1926, 1927, 1929, 1931, 1932, and 1934. He also served as a founder and first president of the Puget Sound Group of Northwest Painters. As his reputation spread, he received more commissions. Important contracts came from such institutions as the Washington State Press Club, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper, and St. James Cathedral in Seattle. Out-of-town assignments came, too: among others, from the Miami Clinic in Dayton, Ohio and the Baranof Hotel in Juneau, Alaska.

Returning to Alaska most summers, Ziegler continued to produce works that were steeped in the life, people, and scenic wonders of the North. In 1936, with Theodore "Ted" Lambert, a friend and outstanding student, he traveled down the Chena, Tanana, and Yukon rivers. Portaging their homemade boat, the pair refloated it in the Kuskokwim River and continued on to Bethel. They worked as they traveled, painting people and scenes.



Over the years, tributes to Ziegler's mastery of craft and his apparently uninterrupted solvency appeared in the press. Journalists proclaimed, for example, that he was an artist "Who Eats Regularly" and "Digs Gold With a Paintbrush." He gave evidence, in short, that he was "making a living" at his art, as his father had hoped he would. As another index to his growing reputation, the Salmagundi Club of New York elected him to membership in 1951. The club ranked among the nation's oldest art associations.


A retrospective exhibition of Ziegler's work opened at Seattle's Frye Art Museum on January 25, 1969. Two days later, the artist died in a Seattle hospital. The legacy of completed works that he left was monumental. By his own estimate, Eustace Paul Ziegler produced 50 to 100 pieces a year for more than 50 years.

What provided the foundation for Ziegler's remarkable body of work? Woodward suggests that his "view of Alaska was romantic, but grounded in the reality of the life he saw and lived." Woodward adds: "As the preeminent chronicler of Native Alaskans... [Ziegler's] clear, sympathetic but unsentimental view ... is one of his most important contributions to Alaskan art."

The Washington State Arts Commission viewed the artist's legacy more broadly. A year before Ziegler's death, the commission singled him out for its first-ever award for contributions to the field of Northwest art.

William Keefe is the author of more than 20 books, including "The Five Sisters: 299 Things Every Great Lakes Buff Should Know" and "Voices from the Sweetwater Seas: A Great Lakes Anthology."
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Author:Keefe, William
Publication:Michigan History Magazine
Article Type:Biography
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2011
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