The Clausen Museum in Petersburg has a new art exhibit open until late June. Museum staff are asking residents and visitors to interact with a set of paintings in a unique way.
The storage room of the Clausen Museum in Petersburg is full of discarded stories, and curator Anne Lee is mobilizing people in the area to help her unravel one.
Recently, she was digging through the museum’s storage closet, looking for some paintings described in the museum’s computer. They were all listed under the same artist.
“And there had been one that was up on top of this cabinet that we put out a few months ago,” Lee said. “But the other ones it kept saying were in the painting case.”
But the painting case was empty. At least, Lee thought it was.
“Finally, this little breathing hole here I see there’s canvas back here, I didn’t realize it was two-sided. And back here were all these huge landscape paintings by F.M. Harrow,” Lee said.
Most of the paintings are about 10 feet wide and just a couple of feet tall. They depict landscapes reflective of Southeast Alaska – mountains on the horizon, streams and skinny trees filling up the foreground. A couple of the paintings are torn in places, with holes as big as your fist. But that too is part of their story.
“It’s just age. They were oil paints on cotton sheets, so not as strong as canvas,” Lee said.
Cotton sheets, oil paints, scenery, and a signature for F.M. Harrow. That was all Lee had to go on in trying to figure out who and where these paintings came from.
“I called the state museum, I’ve called the museums in Sitka. Nobody has ever heard of him,” she said.
Him, or her – it is not yet clear. Lee also scoured the internet for leads, and eventually, she found another painting by F.M. Harrow.
“It’s in Metlacatla at the community center there,” she said. “It is of early Metlakatla and they have a date. It was painted in 1930.”
In 2016, KRBD in Ketchikan published an article called “A Tale of Two Metlakatlas”. The article is about the history of the community, not F.M. Harrow, but it includes a photo of a woman pointing at the painting. It was an exciting find, but Lee still doesn’t know where that painting came from.
She said, “that’s kind of why we’re having this exhibit, the Mystery of F.M. Harrow, is hoping to gather some more information.”
So far, reaching out to the community has yielded a few clues. Someone pointed out a book by the cowboy poet James Whilt that had been illustrated by F.M. Harrow. Another contributor said census information suggests the artist was a house painter in Oregon. Lee still has a long way to go to fill in the gaps of the story.