Saturday, May 8, 2010

Rachael Juzeler takes us inside the historic home that inspires her art

Rachael Juzeler, multimedia artist and Quality Assurance Analyst for the Alaskan Brewing Co., knew she wanted to buy her home before she'd set foot inside.

"The realtor hadn't shown up yet so I walked underneath the house and I saw the post and beams were all original, old-growth timber and that's when I knew I had to have it."

According to articles from 2003 in the Douglas Island News, Willette Janes, who has since passed away, determined the house was built as early as 1910, making the historic home a landmark, 100 years old this year. Sitting on the upper corner of St. Ann's Avenue on the Treadwell side, it was one of only three houses that survived the Douglas Island fire of 1926, during which St. Ann's Hospital, schools, businesses, private homes, and Tlingit Alley on Sandy Beach all perished.

The location of the home has been a source of inspiration for Juzeler's art, which covers a wide range of media and often incorporates unusual materials. Rusty nails, for example, are featured in many of her art pieces.

"I've always been drawn to the color of rust - my whole life," said Juzeler. "I really like decaying organic patterns."

Her Sandy Beach location bordered by the Treadwell mining ruins has lots of decaying and rusting things from gold mining days.

"Pots on the beach, rusty gates, old tricycles - they all inspire me."

Preserving history

Juzeler bought the house in 2001. In the 91 years prior to her purchase, there were only three families associated with it. It was owned by the Brown family from Scotland as early as 1914; David Brown started the annual Robbie Burns Day. Brown was married to Agnes and they had three children, Etta, David Sinclair and David Alfred.

As early as 1920, Etta Brown married the head linotype technician for the Empire Printing Company, Arthur Bringdale.

To Juzeler's delight she found some Empire newspapers from 1923 under her kitchen floor when she tore up carpeting.

"There was obviously a kitchen fire that left a hole in the floor, and they used newspapers as insulation along with a tin and some plywood for a quick fix."

Brown worked for the Treadwell Gold Mining Company, the biggest in the world at that time. In 1917 three of the four Treadwell mines, tunneled to depths as low as 500 ft. below sea level, flooded and then caved, causing a splash that shot over 200 feet in the air. Brown went to work for the Alaska Juneau Gold Mining Company (AJ) after that and eventually moved.

In 1925 the Alaska Douglas Gold Mining Company sold the house to one of their managers, Englishman Frank Pearce and his wife Margaret, for $1. Pearce also worked for the Treadwell mine and then moved to the AJ mine. The couple had two daughters, Margaret and Mary Ellen. Margaret lived there until she died around 1990, and her husband Donald Murray lived there until about 2000.

The hills in Treadwell were nicknamed for the majority of nationalities that lived on them. Juzeler's house sits on "Belgian Hill." The Treadwell post office used to be directly across the street.

Juzeler has discovered many exciting clues that help paint a picture of the home's history.

On her woodworking room wall she found the signature of the man who built the home.

"I knew what it was right away - the calligraphy, the lead pencil, the placement," said Juzeler. She framed the signature in the builder's honor.

Wallpaper left over from a two-room addition and remodel done by the Pearce's in 1926 was left on the wall for nostalgic reasons, Juzeler said.

"it was similar to my grandmother's, in her home in eastern Washington."

Burning and building

Juzeler creates art all over her house but her primary tool is her fire-pit. "I burn big pallets in my front yard fire-pit, collect the burnt nails in a bucket, soak them in water until they're rusty, and extract them with a giant magnet."

"I'm always building things," she said.

She also uses a kiln, cooks wax on the stove, and works with felt on the floor. Last year she had a solo show at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum that features large-scale textile projects, felted vessels and resin-covered shadow-box style three dimensional works that incorporated metal objects such as bullet casings. This year she was featured at the Plant People with a new series of work that incorporated paper, wax, wood and wing nuts.

"I usually try and contain the work to one room, but before a show, I take up all the rooms."

This is fine with Tiffany Rutherford, who rents a room from Juzeler. "It's exciting because the house is full of energy, and Rachael is being creative all over the place. Every time you come home a new piece of art is done and you can sit and listen to her brainstorm about her new projects."

This is the first time Rutherford has lived in a 100-year-old home and she loves it. "It's quirky - the wood creaks. There are little hidey holes like under the stairs. It would be a great place for little kids to play hide and seek."

Sometimes Rutherford feels like she's not alone. "Every once in a while a presence is felt - the room will get really cold - sometimes when I'm home alone at night something is moving around and it isn't the sleeping cat and dog."

Rust-colored beer

When she's not at home creating rusty art, Juzeler is assuring the quality of rust colored beer based on a Gold-Rush era Douglas City Brewing Co. recipe. That beer, brewed up by Marcy and Geoff Larson in the 1980s, has turned into the flagship beer of the Alaskan Brewing Co., Alaskan Amber. Juzeler also comes up with her own flavors, such as the original rough draft, Ginger Shandy.

Juzeler's realtor said there was rumored to be a still in the basement that had to be dismantled before the Murray family could get a loan.

Juzeler plans on restoring the home as close to the original shape as she can. She's currently rebuilding the front porch so it looks like the original structure and color.

"That's why I painted it red with green trim, but I'm taking a little liberty with the tone of the color," she said. She is also in the process of placing it on the national historic register.

Her wood floors are original and the worn patterns on the floor also tell a tale of life in the house: Gold miners picking up mail from the post office across the street and heading back to Belgian hill to have a beer.

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