- Associated Press - Monday, May 25, 2015

NORTH POLE, Alaska (AP) - About 25 years ago, a judge ordered artist Dan Bates to paint a mural as the penalty for a youthful indiscretion.

The painting of a tractor is still featured on the side of the North Pole Grange, which was built in 1964 to promote agriculture in the Interior.

The grange has since become an artists’ hub, and Bates is among dozens of artists who have featured their work at the grange’s Third Friday art events.

“I’m a well-known starving artist,” joked Bates, who paints and carves, as he set up for a show at the grange last week.

The monthly art exhibitions have become a focus for the facility and a bit of a support system for the grange and for local artists. The building is located off a gravel road near the railroad tracks that lead to Flint Hills Resources.

The grange takes a commission on art sold at the art events, and the small income helps pay the bills.

“This is the project that has been keeping this grange in this building open,” said John Poirrier, president of the grange.

Last year, the North Pole Grange won an art advocacy award from the Fairbanks Arts Association and the Interior Alaska mayors.

“You can ask any artist around town, this is the best place to show your work,” Poirrier said.

It all started almost 10 years ago with a watercolor class at Ben Franklin Crafts, according to Poirrier.

When the class was over, the watercolor painters wanted to continue meeting. “This was the place where we met,” he said.

Painter Vladimir Zhikhartsev attended one of the Watercolor Wednesdays, as they were called, to teach some new techniques. He suggested to Poirrier that the grange would make a good art gallery.

“I said, ‘No. Stupid idea. You need white walls,’” Poirrier said.

The walls at the grange are log. Zhikhartsev suggested hanging lights. Poirrier decided to give it a try, and the art show was timed to coincide with a First Friday, a monthly artists exhibition held in Fairbanks.

“We served hot hors d’oeuvres,” Poirrier said. “We put on a killer First Friday show.”

The success of the show inspired more First Friday art shows at the grange. Poirrier said organizers eventually decided to switch to third Fridays after about a year.

“We got so busy with our shows, we couldn’t go to First Fridays in Fairbanks,” Poirrier said.

The grange is one of two historic buildings in North Pole. The other historic building is the KJNP radio studios.

Poirrier said art is sold at the grange also to raise money for charity. In 2011, $1,000 was raised at the North Pole Grange to help the American Red Cross response in Japan after an earthquake and tsunami.

Art show organizers are experimenting with offering live music at the Third Friday events. Poirrier said he is also encouraging other organizations and businesses in North Pole to have special offerings on the third Friday of the month. He hopes to make North Pole a third Friday destination.

“We have our ups and downs, but we are going strong,” Poirrier said.

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Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, https://www.newsminer.com

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