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 Rie Munoz  (1921 - )

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Lived/Active: Alaska/California      Known for: figure-genre, lithographs, mural

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BIOGRAPHY for Rie Munoz
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Birth
1921 (California)
 
Lived/Active
Alaska/California

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figure-genre, lithographs, mural

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Alaska regionalist painter Rie Mounier Munoz was the child of Dutch parents who immigrated to California, where she was born and raised. She is known for her colorful scenes of everyday life in Alaska.

Rie (from Marie) Munoz (moo nyos), studied art at Washington and Lee University in Virginia. In 1950, she traveled up the Inside Passage by steamship, fell in love with Juneau, and gave herself until the boat left the next day to find a job and a place to live. Since then Juneau has been home to Munoz. She began painting small vignettes of Alaska soon after arriving in Juneau, and also studied art at the University of Alaska-Juneau.

Munoz painted in oils in what she describes as a "painstakingly realistic" style, which she found stiff and "somewhat boring." Her breakthrough came a few years later when an artist friend introduced her to a versatile, water-soluble paint called casein. The immediacy of this inexpensive medium prompted an entirely new style. Rie's paintings became colorful and carefree, mirroring her own optimistic attitude toward life. With her newfound technique she set about recording everyday scenes of Alaskans at work and at play.

Of the many jobs she has heldjournalist, teacher, museum curator, artist, mother, Munoz recalls one of her most memorable was as a teacher on King Island in 1951, where she taught 25 Eskimo children. The island was a 13-hour umiak (a walrus skin boat) voyage from Nome, an experience she remembers vividly. After teaching in the Inupiat Eskimo village on the island with her husband during one school year, she felt a special affinity for Alaska's Native peoples and deliberately set about recording their traditional lifestyles that she knew to be changing very fast.

For the next twenty years, Rie practiced her art as a "Sunday painter," in and around prospecting with her husband, raising a son, and working as a freelance commercial artist, illustrator, cartoonist, and curator of exhibits for the Alaska State Museum. During her years in Alaska, Munoz has lived in a variety of small Alaskan communities, including prospecting and mining camps.

Her paintings reflect an interest in the day-to-day activities of village life such as fishing, berry picking, children at play, as well as her love of folklore and legends. Munoz says that what has appealed to her most were "images you might not think an artist would want to paint," such as people butchering crab, skinning a seal, or doing their laundry in a hand-cranked washing machine.

In 1972, with her hand-cut stencil and serigraph prints selling well in four locations in Alaska, she felt confident enough to leave her job at the Alaska State Museum and devote herself full time to her art. Freed from the constraints of an office job, she began to produce close to a hundred paintings a year, in addition to stone lithograph and serigraph prints.

From her earliest days as an artist, Rie had firm beliefs about selling her work. First, she insisted the edition size should be kept modest. When she decided in 1973 to reproduce Eskimo Story Teller as an offset lithography print and found the minimum print run to be 500, she destroyed 200 of the prints. She did the same with King Island, her second reproduction. Reluctantly, to meet market demand, she increased the edition size of the reproductions to 500 and then 750. The editions stayed at that level for almost ten years before climbing to 950 and 1250.

Munoz also believed her art should remain accessible to the people who provide the subject matter for her paintings, -the cannery workers and fishermen and residents of rural Alaska. Her first stencil prints sold for $9 and $12 when they were issued in 1969 and 1970. With few exceptions, new releases were still priced at $50 or less ten years later.

Her work has been exhibited many solo watercolor exhibits in Alaska, Oregon and Washington State, including the Charles and Emma Frye Art Museum, Alaska State Museum in Juneau, Anchorage Historical and Fine Arts Museum, Tongass Historical Museum in Ketchikan, and Yukon Regional Library in Whitehorse; Yukon Territory, and included in exhibits at the Smithsonian Institute and Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C.

Munozs paintings have graced the covers of countless publications, from cookbooks to mail order catalogs, and been published in magazines, newspapers, posters, calendars, and two previous collections of her work: Rie Munoz, Alaskan Artist (Alaska Northwest Publishing Company, 1984) and Rie Munoz, Artist in Alaska (Rie Munoz Ltd., 1987). Galleries throughout the U.S. and Canada, as well as in Norway, Japan, England, and Holland carry her reproductions and original prints.

Although Rie usually paints Alaskan subjects, collectors of her work live across the nation. Many collect thematically, such as focusing on images of Russian churches, for example, or all the bird prints, or the self-portraits.

Now in her seventies, Rie completes fifty to sixty paintings a year and selects ten to fifteen of themthe "ones I like best"for reproduction into offset lithography prints. She travels from her Juneau home on frequent sketching trips and to seclude herself in one of her cabins to paint. She works hard, considering four hours of painting a day the minimum for maintaining her craft.


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