Time and trees put kibosh on man's plans for old boat

mdunham@adn.comJuly 13, 2013 

Artist Jocelyn Paine put her recent painting "The Chacón: Finding the Right Course" on display at the BlueHolloman Gallery last week. The pastel shows the stern of a wooden ship surrounded by trees, moss on its deck, golden leaves dangling above it. But this is not a picture of a surreal dream. The Chacón, the actual boat, exists much as she's depicted it, off the Glenn Highway near the South Birchwood exit.

"For years I've been seeing this mysterious boat whenever I've been driving on the Old Glenn," Paine said. She took some photos and started the painting this spring. In the course of doing the piece, she researched and found that it belonged to long-time Chugiak resident Thillman Wallace.

She arranged to give a print of the finished painting to Wallace, who filled her in on the history of the 82-foot-long, 100-ton vessel.

The Chacón was built in Puget Sound in 1912 -- a metal plaque on the boat attests to the date -- and saw long service in Alaska, finally winding up derelict on the beach in Homer.

Wallace fell in love with the boat when he saw it. He bought it for $5,000. He then faced the enormous and expensive challenge of refloating it, towing it to Anchorage and getting it to his place in Chugiak.

Little went right. Tons of gravel fill and two cranes were needed to pull it out of the water in Anchorage. A flatbed transporting it along the Glenn experienced multiple flat tires from the weight of the ship. Paine described the process as "a long, slow slog with a caravan of helpers."

Wallace intended to fix the ship up and sail around the world. But that was in 1984; now he's 81. Not much has happened to it since the day it arrived in Chugiak almost 30 years ago -- except that trees have grown up around it to such an extent that most passers-by aren't even aware of the high-and-dry ship a stone's throw from the road.

"It's like he used up all his energy and dreams to get it there," Paine said. "You sort of imagine that you're going to live forever, but time gets away from you.

"As an artist, I have dreams. Every creative person does. The feeling of the dream lost is important to me. I feel an emotional connection."

Paine described the Chacón (a common Spanish surname, though its connection to the ship is unknown) as "A fairy tale boat, a Sleeping Beauty boat with birds nesting in the trees all around it."

The "Finding the Right Course" title is intentionally ironic, she said. "In a way, the boat never did wind up finding the right course. It came from the woods and now it's going back to the woods -- becoming compost again."

Paine has priced the painting at $1,250. (Prints are $270.) It is currently on display at Blue.Holloman gallery, 3555 Arctic Blvd.


Reach Mike Dunham at mdunham@adn.com or 257-4332.

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