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 Claire Fejes  (1920 - 1998)

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Lived/Active: Alaska      Known for: domestic genre-figure-Inuit, sculptor

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Claire Fejes
An example of work by Claire Fejes
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Painter and sculptor Claire Fejes is a regionalist artist of Alaska, and is one of Fairbanks's most popular painters. She is especially noteworthy as one of the rare female voices reflecting the woman's side of Arctic society.

Born in New York, Fejes grew up in Greenwich Village and received her early art training at the Art Students League and the Newark Museum. Her sculpture instructors Jose de Creeft, Aaron Goodleman, and Saul Baizarman had significant influence on her style.

Her early works were carvings in wood and stone, but after settling in Fairbanks she abandoned sculpture and began drawing and painting the Native people of the community. From this developed a desire to visit outlying Eskimo villages and observe their way of life. Fejes first visited a remote village in 1958 when she traveled to the whaling camp of Sheshalik, in the Kotzebue area of Alaska. This extended stay became a pivotal event in her career.

A retrospective of her work was held in 1991 at the University of Alaska Museum, also traveling to museums along the West Coast, and in the catalogue for the show Mary Goodwin wrote of this influence:

"Fejes made an important transition, discovering a forceful simplicity, an economy of line and form. There is less of the interest in modeling and detail that characterized her earlier 'Self-Portrait'. With the Sheshalik paintings, the artist truly came into her own style, bringing to painting her sculptor's love of form. The space between figures is as substantial as the figures themselves. Fejes feels that she was forced into a new awareness of space, " forced by the shock of being in a perfect place, -no trees; just people, sky, water, and earth".

By 1960 Fejes had mounted solo shows at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle and at the Roko Gallery in New York. She was a friend and correspondent of Rockwell Kent, and with his encouragement approached Knopf Publishing with her first book, People of the Noatak, which was published in 1966. It is based on five extended visits she made to northwest Alaska villages, and in the book, Fejes' writing and illustrations often recount and celebrate the role of women in that society.

About Fejes' focus on women, Goodwin also wrote in the catalogue of the 1991 retrospective show:

She offers an alternate vision. From the perspective of the cramped quarters of a sod hut where three generations coexist, she marvels at the generosity of spirit that embraces her as a guest. Days are spent primarily with women a cast of characters from infancy to oldest age, variously committed to the 'old ways' or the new. Fejes offers detailed sketches of a society where Coca-Cola and soured whale meat are both coveted treats, where family diets depend on the success of seasonal hunting, and where mothers must cope when food is scarce or not at all. Fejes leads the reader along a path of awareness, describing behavior that is inexplicable to a cultural outsider. Hers is one of the rare female voices reflecting the woman's side of Arctic society.

When she was in her fifties, Fejes again undertook an extended voyage in search of Native Alaskan life in the villages, which inspired another book, Villagers (1981), as well as numerous paintings and drawings from the period.

During the 1970s her paintings were shown in solo exhibitions at Alaska museums, the Washington State Capital Museum in Olympia, Larcada Gallery in New York, and internationally as far as Tel Aviv. She was one of only two living artists included in the 1975 Amherst College exhibition, 'American Painters of the Arctic'.

Fejes spends part of each winter in New York and California, and during the summer works at her studio in downtown Fairbanks. Her long-standing support for the Native Alaskans and their struggle to maintain the positive aspects of their traditional lifestyle is a frequent theme in her work of the past decade. Her work is modernist but relatively conservative and representational, idiosyncratic rather than stylish, -a personal exploration of her own vision. Fejes' painting has yielded little to artistic fashion or public taste. Her art does not depict glowing renditions of Alaska's landscape or wildlife, but instead pictures the everyday lives of Native women at work, or whales being butchered, as in 'Whaling Consultation' (1976, oil on canvas). Nonetheless many museums have acquired her work, and she has been recognized on both coasts and abroad.

"Painting in the North", by Kesler Woodward.
The following information is provided by Sam Fejes, son of the artist:

Archer M. Huntington Museum, Texas
Anchorage Art Museum, Alaska
Cincinnati Art Museum, Ohio
Frye Art Museum, Seattle, Washington
Alaska State Museum, Juneau, Alaska
University of Alaska Museum, Fairbanks
Explorer's Club, New York City
Governor's Mansion, Juneau, Alaska
Ben Zion Collection, New York City
Tanana Valley Clinic, Fairbanks, Alaska
Wien Memorial Library, Fairbanks, Alaska
Sheldon Jackson Library, Sitka, Alaska
Laurence Blodell Estates, Massachusetts
Anchorage Center, Alaska
Nagoya Museum, Japan
Christian Chapel, Nagoya, Japan
Nippon Chemical Sales, Tokyo, Japan
Marilyn Horne Private Collection
James Michener Collection
And private collections all over the world

Whos Who of American Women
World Who's Who of Women
American Artists of Renown
Contemporary Authors Award
Gold Medal from the Institute of Human Potential, 1981
Honorary Dr. of Humanities Degree from the University of Alaska, 1982
The Explorer's Club, 1986

Frye Art Museum, 1959 and 1973
Roko Gallery, New York, 1959 and 1973
Womens City Club Gallery, New York, 1963
Alaska House, Alaska, 1967, 1969, 1973
Charles Bowers Museum, Santa Barbara, California, 1968
Norfolk Museum, Virginia, 1969
Anchorage Museum, 1969 and 1978
Sitka Hall, Alaska, 1970
Juneau State Museum, Alaska, 1971
Washington State Museum, Olympia, Washington, 1972
University of Alaska Museum, Fairbanks, Alaska 1973
Larcada Gallery, New York, 1974
Yad Le Banim, Tel Aviv, Israel, 1976
Bear Gallery, Fairbanks, Alaska, 1978
Collectors Gallery, Anchorage, Alaska, 1981, 1989
Artique Gallery, Anchorage, Alaska, 1986

A.C.A. Gallery, New York City, 1945
Seattle Art Museum, Northwest Show, 1957 and 1958
Drawings U.S.A., St. Paul, Minnesota, 1970
Coe Kerr Gallery, New York, AMERICAN PAINTERS OF THE ARTIC, 1975
Mead Art Gallery, Amherst Colleges, Massachusetts, 1975
Smithsonian Exhibit, Contemporary Art from Alaska, 1978
Cork Gallery, Lincoln Center, New York, 1981
N.I.K.A Tokyo Metropolitan Museum, Tokyo, 1982 ? 1988
Gallery, Sante Fe, New Mexico 1990
Cincinnati Museum of Art Great American Artist Exhibit-1995-97

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Claire Fejes is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Notable Alaska

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