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Browne fought frozen paints to create Mt. McKinley landscapes during historic climb


“George Browne: Art Of Altitude” on view Feb. 3 through May 1 at the Anchorage Museum

Mt. McKinley has been painted innumerable times, but nobody tackled the sceneryquite like George Browne (1918-1958). Undaunted by blindness in one eye, the outdoors enthusiast not only conquered the tallest mountain in North America, he created 23 oil paintings during the climb.

These paintings will be on view in the “George Browne: Art of Altitude” exhibition Feb. 3 through May 1 at the Anchorage Museum.

In 1947 Browne reached the 20,320-foot summit as part of a Bradford Washburn-led scientific expedition. It was the fulfillment of a family goal that stretched back to his father Belmore’s unsuccessful attempts some 35 years earlier.

Most artists in the younger Browne’s place would have chosen to sketch in pencil, waiting to paint until they returned to solid ground. Not Browne. In addition to his climbing gear and food, he carried canvases, brushes, paint and an easel. As the group ascended the mountain, he painted during periods of good weather.

He carried the painted canvases in a plywood box designed so the wet paintingswouldn’t smear in transit. Some of Browne’s Mt. McKinley paintings have patches missing; others remain unfinished because snowstorms obscured his view. Mother Nature thwarted him completely at 11,000 feet, when temperatures reached 20-below zero and his paint froze.

Browne died in a hunting accident in 1958 before he could touch up his Mt. McKinley paintings. They were never exhibited during his lifetime.

George Browne (1918-1958) was the son of artist and outdoorsman Belmore Browne, who was part of the first expedition that attempted to climb Mt. McKinley in 1906. Belmore Browne encouraged his son’s love of the wilderness and taught him how to paint, even though George’s vision was limited because of a childhood injury to his left eye. George suffered from dyslexia and, with his parents’ permission, quit school at age 13 to devote himself to drawing and painting. After serving in World War II, George lived in the Canadian Rockies and Connecticut and worked as a full-time wildlife andlandscape painter. He produced more than 200 oil paintings between 1948 and1958, selling them all during his lifetime. He was on his way to becoming a top wildlife artist when he was killed in a shooting accident at age 39. Source: “George and Belmore Browne: Artists of the North American Wilderness” by John T. Ordeman and Michael M. Schreiber. 

The Anchorage Museum is the largest museum in Alaska and one of the top 10 mostvisited attractions in the state. The museum’s mission is to share and connect Alaska with the world through art, history and science. Learn more at www.anchoragemuseum.org.

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