Marvin Mangus, artist and geologist, dies at 84

Admired artist was also a geologist who helped find Prudhoe Bay oil

February 24, 2009 

BOB HALLINEN / DAILY NEWS ARCHIVE 2004 Mangus was among the most highly regarded Alaska artists.

BOB HALLINEN / DAILY NEWS ARCHIVE 2004

Marvin Dale Mangus, one of Alaska's leading artists for more than a half a century and a history-making geologist, died on Friday at Providence Alaska Medical Center. He was 84.

Mangus was widely considered in the front ranks of Alaska painters from the 1950s on. Art historian Kesler Woodward, in "Painting in the North," praised "his energy and openness to new ideas in his own work and that of others."

Artist and former art dealer Jean Shadrach compared him favorably with old Alaska masters like Ted Lambert and Fred Machetanz. "He's (Machetanz's) equal," she told the Daily News in 2004. "And he's never gotten the recognition."

Connoisseurs, however, recognized his talent. He won several local and national awards, was among the first artists to hold a solo show at the then-new Anchorage Museum in the 1960s and was the featured artist for the museum's annual fundraising gala five years ago.

Even Alaskans who care nothing for painting are in his debt for his work as a geologist. In 1947, fresh from earning his masters degree from Penn State University, he joined the U.S. Geological Survey's Navy Oil Unit searching for formations likely to hold oil on the North Slope of Alaska. In 1958 he joined Atlantic Refining Co., endured an unpleasant stint in Guatemala -- "It's hot and sweaty and full of prickly thorns and snakes. Bad snakes," he later recalled.

He returned to Alaska in 1962 as the senior surface geologist in charge of the Arctic Slope. He was part of the Atlantic-Richfield field team credited with finding oil at Prudhoe Bay.

"I took the big iron rod down there and put it in the tundra" making the spot to drill, he said in a 2004 interview, and he was there when the drill touched oil.

He continued to work as a geologist into the 1990s.

His years in the field informed his work on canvas. "When you make a living surveying land and doing things like looking at an outcrop in a river bend for 20 minutes, describing it in minute detail," he told the Daily News in 1990, "things like composition, texture and structure just become basic to you.

Geology paid the bills, but painting was not just a hobby. He took it seriously, studying out of state with several well-known teachers. He was keenly aware of contemporary art trends and employed expressionist and impressionist techniques with his colors and brushwork. His was a bold, even avant-garde style for the Alaska art scene in the decades before and after statehood.

His subjects, on the other hand, were classic Alaskana -- landscapes, cabins, stern-wheelers, pack horses, dog teams, fish camps, images of the vanishing last frontier he arrived just in time to see and record.

"I'm painting an Alaska that isn't here anymore," he told the Daily News in 2004.

By that time arthritis had slowed him down, but he continued to paint at his home in Rogers Park and his work remained in demand. His paintings have been displayed in public and private venues from the Anchorage Museum and Alaska State Museum to the Smithsonian Institution and Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Mangus was born Sept. 13, 1924, in Altoona, Penn. He is survived by his wife of 58 years, Jane, and sons, Alfred and Donald. A memorial service will be at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Anchor Park United Methodist Church.

Find Mike Dunham online at adn.com/contact/mdunham or call 257-4332.

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