The Van Zyle Style

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Jon and Jona Van Zyle and their husky friends welcome visitors to their home – photo courtesy of Jon Van Zyle

In June, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit with Jon Van Zyle at his home, kennel, and studio while in Alaska for the Iditarod Summer Teacher Camp. In March, I had the honor of meeting Jon as a finalist for the Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™.  I was thrilled to get to know  the official Iditarod artist a little better, who is this year celebrating 40 years of creating Iditarod posters for the race.  Jon and his wife, Jona, are warm and welcoming, and traveling to their home is like a visit to a world-class museum with original native art, mushing memorabilia, and a full library of his beautifully illustrated books.

I remember feeling a little emotional as Jona motioned to me to see a newly finished painting in the artist’s study.  A beautiful canvas was waiting for me showing a musher and his team under the moonlight by great white-capped mountains.  I realized it was to be “my” poster for the 2016 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ year.  It was all becoming real to me in that moment last June, and now that lovely piece of art is the official 40th Iditarod poster.

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The original artwork- ready to be made into the 40th Iditarod poster

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The finished 2016 Iditarod poster

I loved Jon’s simple studio at the heart of his home.  His collectibles and art surround him in his space as he works, and I couldn’t help but think that it all served as great inspiration for him.  I wanted to come back to my classroom and recreate an art space and dedicate it to Jon.  I use art in all my subject areas, including math, and this seemed like a fitting gift for his generosity towards the Iditarod Teacher on the Trail program.

Alas, I moved from my big, beautiful classroom after 18 years this year, and into a teeny, tiny portable building.  I decided to take advice from the inspirational Iditarod veteran and 2015 Red Lantern finisher Cindy Abbott and take 10 feet at a time.  My room is now lovingly called “The Lodge”.  I did not have the space for a “Van Zyle Art Studio” so I decided to have a “Van Zyle Mobile Art Cart” instead!  I purchased an industrial, metal cart on wheels from a local hardware store and set it up with traditional and unique art supplies.  My class reached out to Jon and got to know him a little better with some great questions about his life. From that inspiration, “The Van Zyle M.A.C.” was created for my classroom. We have community supplies available for anyone to use, and it can be wheeled to any location for art projects.  I thought I would share the inspiration with fellow teachers who also have limited space.

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We are looking forward to “Go Out and Get Creative” with some of Jon’s art techniques this year in class.  I am also looking forward to his new books coming out in 2016 that highlight his 40 years as the official Iditarod artist and share insights into his life as an Iditarod musher on the trail himself in 1976 and 1979.

I can’t wait to read about Jon’s life and add this to my Van Zyle library in my classroom.

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Jon’s new book will be released in early 2016 – photo courtesy of Jon Van Zyle

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Jon Van Zyle Q & A with the 2016 Iditarod Class:

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Q: What type of tools do you use to create your art?
NOTE: Jon’s answers appear in the original format he used.
A: ACRYLIC PAINT ( ABOUT 5 OR 6 COLORS ) GESSO TO COAT MY BOARDS …MUSEUM QUALITY MASONITE BOARDS …. BRUSHES …. WATER TO MIX PAINT WITH
Q: What made you decide to become an artist?
 
A: ALL MY LIFE I DREW , MY MOM WAS A VERY GOOD ARTIST , SHE ALSO HAD DOG KENNELS , SO I KNEW FROM AN EARLY AGE , I WOULD BECOME AN ARTIST OR A VET
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Q: What is your least favorite color to use in your art?
A: I ONLY USE 5 OR 6 COLORS , THESE ARE THE SAME COLORS I’VE USED FOR OVER 60 YEARS ,  SO I DON’T HAVE A LEAST FAVORITE COLOR
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Q: What is your favorite color to use in your art?
A: PROBABLY BLUE ..IT’S A COOL COLOR , AS OPPOSED TO WARM , LIKE RED …AND I USE IT AS AN UNDERPAINTING FOR MY GLAZES
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Q: How do you get inspiration for your pictures?
A: I ONLY PAINT WHAT I KNOW AND DO ..ONLY MY OWN EXPERIENCES , SO IT’S EASY TO PAINT MY MEMORIES
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Q: How do the weather and seasons in Alaska affect what you paint?

A: THEY DON’T …I PAINT INDOORS IN MY STUDIO , AND SINCE I ONLY PAINT MY OWN EXPERIENCES , I PAINT ALL THE VARIOUS SEASONS

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Q: What inspired you to paint the pictures about the Iditarod?

A: I RAN THE RACE IN THE EARLY YEARS ..1976 & 1979 …  CREATED THE ANNUAL IDITAROD POSTERS TO RAISE NEEDED MONEY FOR THE RACE , AND NOW 2016 IS THE 40TH ANNUAL POSTER …AND AS I SAID BEFORE , I PAINT WHAT I KNOW AND EXPERIENCE …… THE ANNUAL IDITAROD POSTER AND PRINT ARE ONLY 2 OF ABOUT 80 ORIGINALS A YEAR I MUST COMPLETE FOR GALLERIES AND PUBLISHERS AROUND THE WORLD … MOST OF MY PAINTINGS DO NOT INVOLVE IDITAROD , BUT ALWAYS INVOLVE ALASKA

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Q: What was your first painting of and was it a dog?

A: I CAN NOT REMEMBER BACK THAT FAR ( I AM NEARLY 75 , AND IT WAS A LONG TIME AGO ) … BUT IT COULD HAVE BEEN

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Q: How many books have you illustrated in all?

A: I’VE ILLUSTRATED CLOSE TO 50 …..  FROM CHILDREN’S BOOKS TO ADULT BOOKS .. I AM WORKING ON 2 MORE BOOKS RIGHT NOW , THEY WILL BE OUT AROUND CHRISTMAS TIME .. OR IDITAROD TIME

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Q: How many years did you mush?

A: I HAVE BEEN MUSHING FOR ABOUT 50 YEARS , AND WE STILL HAVE SLED DOGS , BUT AS WE ARE OLDER NOW WE DO NOT  TRAVEL WITH THEM YEARLY …. AS WE HAVE DONE FOR MANY , MANY YEARS … BOTH BEFORE MY IDITAROD RACES AND AFTER THEM

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Q: Who was your most favorite dog of all time?
A: I HAVE HAD MANY HUNDREDS OF DOGS , ( SIBERIAN HUSKIES ) .. I HAVE MEMORIES OF EACH ONE ..AND HAVE HAD MANY , MANY WHO WERE FAVORITES …PROBABLY 6 STAND OUT MORE THAN OTHERS …   PIKAKI , BOBO , SHANDA, BELLE , SMOKEY , BASHFUL …  MOST WERE VERY GOOD LEADERS , ALL WENT TO NOME AT LEAST ONCE …ALL WERE ON MY DOG TEAMS FOR IDITARODS , SWEEPSTAKES , MANY OTHER LONG RACES , AND THOUSANDS OF MILES OF TRAVELING TOGETHER WHEN NOT ON RACES ….. OF ALL OF THESE IT WOULD BE HARD FOR ME TO PICK A FAVORITE .  PIKAKI WAS MY BEST OVERALL LEADER OF ALL TIME , .. BOBO , MY BEST FRIEND FOR I5 YEARS …  SHANDA , AN EXCELLENT LEADER , AS WAS BELLE ,.. SMOKEY A SUPER TEAM DOG , OCCASIONAL LEADER … AND BASHFUL , ONE OF THE HARDEST WORKING DOGS EVER
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Q: How many dogs do you have in your kennel now?
A: WE ONLY HAVE 8 NOW ,,, ALL OF THEM ARE OLDER EXCEPT 2 …MOST ARE OLDER NOW , 15 OR 16 YEARS OLD  … WE ALWAYS HAD ABOUT 20 TO 25 DOGS IN OUR DOG LOT AT ANY ONE TIME ,THROUGH OUT THE YEARS , BUT WE ARE GETTING OLDER AND DECIDED TO CUT DOWN ON DOGS ..THEY ARE A LOT OF WORK , AND WE ARE PUSHING 75 , AND HAVE NEVER HAD HANDLERS , AS MANY MUSHERS DO .
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Summer Camp teachers wander the Van Zyle kennel

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Lucky teachers can sign up now for the Winter Conference, and join us as we travel to visit Jon and Jona this March, the week of the race.
Jon and Jona’s “ViZion Kennel” houses their beautiful Siberian huskies.  They love the attention and made our summer camp tour so memorable.
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Stay tuned for “Circuit City” in next week’s Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ lesson plans.  My class will “light up” our own city of Nome, Alaska using batteries, circuitry, and lights.  We will use our knowledge of simple and parallel circuits to create our own Iditarod trail, and showcase mushers on the trail at night using our science and art skills.

Join us!

The Iditarod Winter Teacher Conference is March 1st – 4th!

Are you interested in taking on the challenge of being the next Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™?  The deadline for applications is December 1st!  Click here for the application.

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