The offer that changed Devita Stipek Writer’s life came as a surprise.
In 2001, the Juneau artist received a Saturday phone call from a man who wanted to meet her to purchase a painting and extend an invitation for Stipek Writer to paint murals for two Carnival Cruise Lines ships in need of artwork.
Joe Farcus, then head architect for Carnival Cruise Lines, saw multiple examples of Stipek Writer’s work while walking in downtown Juneau. He purchased paintings of Auke Bay and Twin Lakes.
“It took me a few days to say, ‘Yes,’” Stipek Writer told the Capital City Weekly while showing a collection of minuettes that became large works.“I’d never done a large mural before.”
Farcus did not respond to emails or phone calls asking for comment.
She had long been painting in Juneau, and the offer came as a complete surprise. Prior to painting for the cruise line, Stipek Writer’s work was mostly displayed in solo portforlio exhibits around Juneau.
Stipek Writer has since had paintings appear in the Alaska State Museum for the “Living Alaska: A Decade of Collecting Contemporary Art for Alaska Museums” ehibit and can be seen in the Mendenall Glacier Visitor Center.
Ross Writer, Stipek Writer’s husband, played a major part in talking his wife into accepting the invitation, and he recalled the incredulous whirlwind of the unlikely situation.
“She came home with this story that a world-famous architect had seen her paintings,” Writer said.
He encouraged his wife to accept the offer despite her concerns about inexperience and upfront costs — especially after Writer Googled Carnival Cruise chairman Micky Arison and read about his financial dealings.
“I said, ‘Get out the credit card,’” Ross Writer said.
More than two paintings
The initial offer blossomed into a nearly decade-long partnership and nine major commissions, which Stipek Writer found agreeable.
“I found out that I love painting large,” Stipek Writer said.
Her artwork appears on eight different cruise ships that pass through Alaska as well as the Caribbean, Bahamas, Bermuda and Hawaii. It graces stair landings, cabins, staterooms and more.
“It was a real Cinderella story for us,” Writer said. “A million people see her paintings every year.”
Stipek Writer said the size of her audience is humbling, and she has heard some positive responses to the work over the years.
“I’ve head back from a few travelers on one of the ships,” Stipek Writer said. “I think it’s resulted in a couple of sales over the years but not much.”
There are some other perks, however, once one of the ships is in town.
“I get to take a tour,” Stipek Writer said. “I take a group of friends on a tour every summer, whether it’s the Miracle or the Legend.”
This summer, Rick Kauzlarich joined her for the tour, and Kauzlarich gushed about what he saw.
“I’d never seen the murals before, so I didn’t know what to expect,” Kauzlarich said. My first impression was the size. They’re quite large. Then, the colors and the way Devita was able to recreate brush strokes and the style of her oil paintings. The murals are on landings. Each of the landings was like opening a jewel box. I was just blown away.”
Putting the work in artwork
Anyone who has seen Stipek Writer’s work at the Juneau Artists Gallery or elsewhere would recognize her murals.
They emulate her oil paintings’ colorful style and depict similar scenes. Impressions of familiar mountain peaks and purple streaks of wildflowers abound.
That’s because Stipek Writer approached the murals the way she would work on her smaller-scale projects.
“I didn’t know anything else to do but paint like I always did,” Stipek Writer said.
The murals even began as regular-sized oil paintings before expanding to cruise-ship-sized dimensions.
Blowing up the paintings was a multi-step process all of which was done in Juneau.
It included taking a photo of a sketch, projecting, outlining brush strokes and copying the original paintings on aluminum prepared for paint.
In order to copy the strokes on a large scale, Stipek Writer used a giant paintbrush.
When Stipek Writer worked on a mural, it dominated her time.
“Often, I was working seven days a week to keep up with the schedule,” Stipek Writer said.
That’s because the precisely timed schedule of a cruise ship didn’t leave a lot of wiggle room, and when Stipek Writer first started on murals, she was still gauging the difference between working with oil paints and acrylics.
“Oil paint isn’t fire retardant and wouldn’t dry fast enough,” Stipek Writer said. “Acrylics don’t dry the same. It doesn’t move the same.”
Despite the learning curve and the rush, Stipek Writer said she’s overall pleased with the results.
“There are some that you like more than others, but I was surprised that I could do it,” she said.
And Stipek Writer said she’ll always remember the first time she saw one of her finished murals on board the Legend. It showed the view of Juneau from Gold Street.
“It was breathtaking.”
• Contact CCW reporter Ben Hohenstatt at 523-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.