Dale Frances Burlison was born July 2, 1914, on a homestead near Dickinson, North Dakota, east of Bismarck, to Daniel M. and Mary Irene Burlison (née Brockway), both of Irish Protestant stock whose families had immigrated by way of Canada (she never cared much for that “Frances,” and when she was a teenager cut off the last two letters; she used “Franc” as her middle name from then on). On her father’s side, she came from a long line of artists and craftsmen. He was a telephone company engineer with a number of inventions to his credit.
When she was an infant, the family moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, and thence, when she was about six, to Tacoma, Washington, where they remained. In time she had a younger sister, Leone, and brother, eight years younger, Dan. The latter eventually became a noted artist in his own right, as a gold- and silversmith and gem carver.
Dale graduated from Stadium High School in Tacoma in 1932 – shortly before her 18th birthday – and one of her first jobs was at a local radio station, in the days before radio was taken over by music and everything was done live. One of her specialties was the creation of sound effects.
Among her schoolmates at Stadium was Robert Neil DeArmond of Sitka, Alaska. He was three years older, but his schooling had been delayed by the effects of a shooting accident at age 12, which cost him a leg and required a lengthy hospitalization and rehabilitation. Dale and Bob lost touch after high school. He returned to Alaska and then attended the University of Oregon for a year after he graduated in 1930, but attracted attention in Tacoma in 1931 for rowing a 16-foot fisherman’s dory there from Sitka, a voyage which took him most of that summer. After his trip was celebrated in the local press, a friend dared Dale to call him – which she did. He again returned to Alaska, but they corresponded until she traveled to Sitka by steamship in early July of 1935. The visit went well: they married in Sitka on July 29, 1935, Bob’s 24th birthday and only a few weeks after her 21st.
In Sitka, they lived aboard Bob’s 38-foot salmon trolling boat, the Bertie II, until after she became pregnant in late 1937 and they moved ashore the next spring to his parents’ large house. Their son, William Davidson, was born there April 27, 1938. Soon after that, Bob left Sitka with a party of men from there to found a new town, a fishing port, eventually to be called Pelican, on Lisianski Inlet on Chichagof Island, about 70 miles north of Sitka. Dale and young Bill joined him there a year later, in the spring of 1939, and the family lived in a large wall tent for three years until an apartment for them was built in a wing of the fish processing plant and cold storage; that wing also housed the general store and the Post Office, both centers of attraction for visiting fishermen. Bob served as bookkeeper for the fish plant, including a salmon cannery built a couple of years later, storekeeper, Postmaster, radio operator, steamship agent, and a few other duties. A daughter, Jane Paisley, was born to them in Sitka on November 11, 1940.
Bob had long wanted to be a newspaperman, and had worked for a time for a Juneau paper in the 1930s. In 1945, he was offered a job at the Ketchikan Fishing News, then a three-times-weekly paper run by veteran Alaskan newspaperman Sid Charles, and the family moved to Ketchikan in the spring of that year (that paper is now the Ketchikan Daily News).
Dale had always had a creative, artistic bent, and while growing up had made various attempts at drawing and jewelry-making, but had no training, which frustrated her impulses. In Ketchikan, however, she encountered a nascent but robust art culture – which still thrives there – and met an art teacher who was able to impart to her some elements of drawing and composition.
In 1948, the family moved back to Sitka. Dale began what is now known as the White Elephant Shop (a local thrift shop), while Bob and a friend opened a print shop. Dale did pen-and-ink drawings for some of the shop’s publications – her first published art works. It was during that time that Sitka Cook Book was published, which used her illustration for its cover. She was, however, still frustrated by her lack of more formalized training. In 1952, as a consolation for leaving Sitka, Bob enrolled her in a correspondence art course, the Famous Artists School. Through regular assignments, mailed in, critiqued in detail and mailed back, she got a good grounding in drawing, painting and design. Due to her various daily duties, she completed the two-year course in three years.
In the spring of 1953 the family moved to Juneau; Bob was made a special assistant to the-then Territorial Governor, and where both children finished high school. Dale took a couple of short-term jobs but then found a niche in 1954 when she went to work as a clerk at the Juneau Memorial Library, the local public library. She had always been a voracious reader and public library patron. By 1958, she was the head librarian, and when she retired in 1979 she headed a thriving library system with three branches and many employees.
(left): Dale stands behind the woodcut she created for husband Bob DeArmond’s book “The Founding of Juneau.” Photo from 1967. (middle): Dale (left in photo) with friends and fellow Alaskan artists Diana Tillion (middle) and Rie Muñoz, c. 1975. Photo courtesy of the Rie Muñoz Gallery. (right): The DeArmonds in 1977; photo by Yvonne Mozee.
At the same time, she kept up her art work. In Juneau as in Ketchikan, she found welcome in a lively local art community and became friends with such local artists as Rie Muñoz, Jenny Werner, and Gen Harmon. Her work in those years, including quite a number of portraits, was in oil and pastel as well as pencil and pen. In 1959, she took the first of two classes from a visiting woodcut artist and teacher, Danny Pierce, and finally found the medium she had been searching for. By 1961, her focus shifted exclusively to woodcut printing and started producing and selling her first prints. Over the next two decades she produced over 400 woodcut prints, many with Native Alaskan themes and motifs. The legends of the local Tlingit Indians had always fascinated her, and dozens of her early prints were illustrations of the stories of Raven, the creator and trickster of Tlingit myth.
Bob DeArmond and a long-time friend, the late Bob Henning, in 1958 had purchased The Alaska Sportsman magazine from its founder and publisher, Emory Tobin, of Ketchikan, and formed the Alaska Northwest Publishing Company to publish it and, later, other magazines and a good many books, including several by Dale. For years, her prints were sold through the Sportsman and a sister publication, the quarterly Alaska Journal, which specialized in history, culture and art. The Sportsman was eventually renamed Alaska Magazine, and in the early 1980s it and the other magazines were sold.
In 1969, DeArmond was appointed to the State Arts Council. By the time she turned 65 and retired from her librarian’s post in 1979, the physical work of carving and hand-printing woodcuts was taking a toll on Dale’s arms, hands, and shoulders, and she began looking for an alternative printmaking medium that wouldn’t cost so much effort. She tried etching, but didn’t like working with the powerful acids necessary to the process. She also made a number of stone lithographs and quite a few silk-screen (serigraph) prints around that time, but both involved equipment and materials that would not have fit into her modest workspace in the basement of the DeArmond house on Calhoun Avenue in Juneau. Silk-screens particularly involved the use of strong, toxic materials and solvents that she didn’t much like working with.
Then her attention was caught by wood engraving, an old technique at one time used a great deal in commercial printing, but also for art work. She took a short course in wood engraving in Indiana after she left the library, and had found her second medium. Realizing she needed a large project in order to master the craft, she proposed to poet and friend Sheila Nickerson to collaborate and create a bestiary of Alaskan birds and animals. Over the course of two years, Dale created the (55) fifty-five engravings necessary for the eventual two-volume Feast of the Animals – An Alaska Bestiary.
During the next two decades she turned out hundreds of engravings, many of them in black and white with colored penciling. Wood engraving is done in very hard end-grain wood, boxwood or maple, with tools very similar to those used for engraving silver, gold, and copper. They require a steady hand more than physical strength. Also, since the blocks are type-high for use in letterpress, they can be printed in various types of hand and power presses, or in an etching press, which is what she used. She particularly enjoyed creating illustrations that incorporated the mythology and folklore of Alaska and of Alaskan Natives.
In 1991, Dale and Bob sold the house in Juneau where they had lived for almost 40 years. They moved back to Sitka and into the Alaska Pioneers’ Home, a long-time state-run institution for aged Alaskans. There, she was able to set up her printing studio in an airy and well-lighted area of the residents’ art and craft space, where she had much better quarters than the cramped and dark basement of their Juneau house.
During the 1990s, she taught classes in wood engraving through Sheldon Jackson College in Sitka and the University of Alaska Southeast Sitka campus. Some of her students from those days, notably Rebecca Poulson and Nancy Behnken, are still producing art in Sitka.
This was not her first teaching experience; during the late 1960s and into the 1970s she and other Alaskan artists traveled to remote villages in northern and western Alaska to teach linoleum-block printing, watercolor painting, and other art forms to local people in a state-sponsored program. Among those who joined her on these teaching expeditions in rural villages such as Gambell and Nondalton were the late Rie Muñoz, Yvonne Mozee, and Diana Tillion. During the 1970s, Dale and Rie traveled several times to London and Paris to make stone lithographs.
Dale’s artistic career came to an abrupt end in the summer of 1999, shortly past her 85th birthday. In the midst of an assignment to complete four wood engravings as illustrations for a children’s magazine, she suddenly, from one moment to the next, lost her short- and medium-term memory. This was devastating to her as an artist and otherwise, as she could no longer do the reading that had always been a vital part of her life. This sudden onset of dementia never lifted. She gradually withdrew more and more into herself, and was pretty much lost to the world by the time she died quietly at the Pioneers’ Home, early in the morning of November 28, 2006. Less than three weeks later, her daughter Jane died in Sitka at the age of 66. Bob survived Dale by four years, and died at the Home on November 26, 2010. Bob and Dale’s remains were cremated and their comingled ashes were, per their wishes, scattered across the waters of Sitka Sound on August 13, 2011, by son William; he died on June 28, 2017.
Biography of Mrs. Dale DeArmond provided with acknowledgement and special thanks to William DeArmond of Juneau, Alaska.
Quotes by DeArmond:
How Dale selected her subjects: “I don’t. They select me. Art is a nonverbal thing. You can find all sorts of reasons and rationalizations, but I don’t know why or how art happens. It just does.” – Alaska Journal; Autumn, 1976
Woodcut prints have been around for a very long time. They are simple to do. They are very strong and the wood itself has its own message so that you can hardly fail to produce something interesting when you make even the simplest woodcut print. They take patience. And they are not the least spontaneous. If you want spontaneity try another medium but if woodcuts are your medium you will get a great deal of satisfaction from learning to make woodcut prints. There is a singular pleasure in cutting the wood and an unfailing excitement in pulling that first print. It never looks the way you think it will. It never looks quite as good as the print you had in your head before you started but I think that is one of the reasons I go on making prints. Maybe one day I can sneak up on it and a print will look as good as the one in my head. – Dale DeArmond: A First Book Collection of Her Prints, 1979
In 1960, Dale attended a demonstration in the art of the woodcut given by artist and printmaker Danny Pierce, who was Carnegie Visiting Professor of Art at the University of Alaska and came to Juneau during the annual All-Alaska Arts and Crafts Show. DeArmond recalled “reading about how a woodcut is done can make it seem so complicated, but Danny Pierce’s demonstration made everything seem so simple. I bought my first X-acto knives the next day and some local yellow cedar and went right to work. The joyful thing about woodcuts is that even your first efforts look good.” – American Artist; April, 1982
“I was a painter and illustrator in 1960 when I did my first woodcut and I have been having a love affair with wood ever since.” – date unknown
When Juneau author-illustrator Dale DeArmond sits down to write a book or do a wood engraving she doesn’t think about her audience or how well her work will sell: “you can’t… at least, I don’t think you can. I know you can’t produce art that amounts to anything with the idea of what will please the market. And I don’t think you can write for the market either, not works of imagination.” – Sitka Sentinel, September 14, 1990
“I’m an illustrator by instinct and choice and I’ve always been interested by myths and folk tales… my adult life has been spent in Alaska and the myths and folk tales of the Alaska Native people provide me with a rich fund of subjects… Anthropologists collected stories of the Aleuts who inhabit the beautiful, stormy, treeless Aleutian Islands. The Athabascan Indians who lived in forested Interior passed the long cold winter nights telling and retelling involved tales of how things came to be, and the Eskimos fashioned stories about the land and the sea and about the animals and people and the spirits who inhabit and inform them. I enjoy retelling these tales to make stories for children and sometimes adults, but mostly I write to have things to illustrate.” – Self biography, January 4, 1991
“I’m an illustrator. And I prefer to illustrate myths and legends. Mostly myths and legends of the Native Alaskan people, and other things that relate to Alaska because I’ve been up here so long, that’s all I know about…
It would be mighty slim eating if I had to depend on my art for a living. I never have made enough money so that I… possibly, I could… by working very hard, have scrambled by at a very minimal rate, if I had to earn my living that way. But I didn’t. I worked in support of my art. I think the arts are like that. You do it because you want to. Mainly, and most of the arts, that’s true, unless you’re one of the few who makes a great deal of money, like a Michener or… (But for every one of those), there are a lot of us having a lot of fun.” – KTOO’s Rain Country, Episode #802, 1992
Dale described ravens as entertaining, intelligent and mischievous. She’s said she doesn’t particularly identify with them, but she does respect them. “Rather admirable,” she said of the feathered tricksters, “their approach to life. I like it.” – Sitka Sentinel, September 24, 1993
How does Dale feel about being famous? “Well,” she said, “it’s easy to be famous in Alaska!” – Alaska Magazine; September, 2000
- Alaska State Museum; Juneau, Alaska
- Anchorage Museum; Anchorage, Alaska
- Bemidji State University, Klevin Collection; Bemidji, Minnesota
- City of Homer, Municipal Art Collection; Homer, Alaska
- Juneau Public Libraries; Juneau, Alaska
- Juneau-Douglas City Museum; Juneau, Alaska
- Luther College Fine Arts Collection; Decorah, Iowa
- New York Public Library, Rare Book Div.; New York, NY
- Noel Wein Public Library; Fairbanks, Alaska
- Providence Seward Mountain Haven; Seward, Alaska
- Sitka History Museum; Sitka, Alaska
- Sitka Pioneer Home; Sitka, Alaska
- Sitka Public Library; Sitka, Alaska
- Tongass Historical Museum; Ketchikan, Alaska
- University of Alaska Fairbanks; Fairbanks, Alaska
- Spencer Museum of Art, Univ. of Kansas; Lawrence, KS
- University of Kentucky Libraries: Margaret Lantis papers; Lexington, KY
- University of Penn., Arthur Ross Gallery; Philadelphia, PA
- Washington State University, Special Collections; Seattle, WA
- 1962 Alaska Art Gallery; Woodcut prints; Fairbanks, Alaska
- 1964 One-person Exhibit; Woodcut prints; Kohler Gallery; Seattle, Washington
- 1965 Alaska Art Gallery; Woodcut prints; Fairbanks, Alaska
- 1965 Six Alaskan Artists; Kohler Gallery; Seattle, Washington
- 1965 Northwest Printmakers Exhibit, woodcut print; Henry Gallery; Seattle, Washington
- 1966 Alaska Art Gallery; Woodcut prints; Fairbanks, Alaska
- 1967 Alaska Art Gallery; Woodcut prints; Fairbanks, Alaska
- 1967 Centennial Art Exhibit; Artist Selection. Juneau, Alaska
- 1967 Woodcut “Wild Goose in the Goose Grass” exhibited at Centennial Art Exhibit, Fairbanks, Alaska
- 1967 Cheney Cowles Museum (now NW Museum Arts + Culture) Woodblock Print Exhibition; Spokane, WA
- 1969 Exhibit of original woodcuts; Alaska Division of State Libraries and Museums
- 1969 Woodcut print showing; home of Mr. and Mrs. Silverstein; Stratford, Connecticut
- 1969 Woodcut exhibition; Prudential Savings and Loan, Century City Shopping Center; Los Angeles, CA
- 1970 Woodcut collection exhibition; Alaska House; Fairbanks, Alaska
- 1970 “Raven” Woodcut print exhibition; Washburn Gallery, Boston Museum of Science; Boston, MA
- 1971 Woodcut collection exhibition; Alaska House; Fairbanks, Alaska
- 1971 Woodcut print display and demonstration; Petersburg Arts and Crafts Guild; Petersburg, Alaska
- 1971 Dale DeArmond: Woodblock Prints; Frye Art Museum
- 1972 Complete “Raven” woodcut exhibition; C.M. Russell Gallery, Jan. 11-30; Great Falls, Minnesota
- 1972 Exhibition of 31 woodcut prints; Fairbanks Northstar Borough Library, April 16-22; Fairbanks, Alaska
- 1974 Artwork exhibition, part of store opening; the Gallery; Fairbanks, Alaska
- 1975 Four Alaskan Artists: Dale DeArmond, Rie Muñoz, John Pitcher, Jean Shadrach; Fyre Art Museum
- 1976 Exhibition; Alaska Printmakers, Alaskaland Bear Gallery; Fairbanks, Alaska
- 1978 Smithsonian Institution; Contemporary Art from Alaska exhibit; Washington, D.C.
- 1978 Four Alaskan Artists, Introduction of Alaska art to Bay Area residents; San Francisco, California
- 1978 100 woodcut print exhibition; Boston Museum of Science, May – August 1978; Boston, Massachusetts
- 1980 “Miner’s Drilling Contest” Woodcut print selection, Juneau Centennial Art Exhibition; Juneau, Alaska
- 1981 30 “Raven” woodcut (gift of Robert O. Kinsey) exhibit; Anchorage Historical Fine Arts Museum
- 1986 Works of Dale DeArmond: Luther College’s Preus Library – October, 1986
- 1991 Exhibition of prints, posters and books – Impressions Gallery, Sitka, Alaska
- 1991 Nondalton Legends Exhibit – Sheldon Jackson Museum, Sitka, Alaska – May 18-June 30, 1991
- 2008 Woodcut and wood engraving print exhibit; Sitka Historical Park Visitor’s Center; Sitka, Alaska
- 2008 Dale DeArmond: Nondalton Legends, Alaska State Museum
- 2008 Spring Gallery Walk; Woodcut and Engraving Exhibition; Fishermen’s Eye Gallery; Sitka, Alaska
- 2009 Recent Acquisitions ’06-08′, Juneau-Douglas City Museum
- 2011 “Raven” series exhibit; Acquisition of 30 woodcut prints and 11 carved blocks; Sitka Historical Society
- 2013 “Hat Series” exhibition of 14 hand-colored wood engravings; Juneau-Douglas City Museum
- 2013 Dale DeArmond: Nondalton Legends, January 11-March 17, 2013; Valdez Museum
- 2014 Special exhibit; Works included wood engraving prints paired w/original blocks; Rie Muñoz Gallery
- 2015 “Chickadee” Wood Engraving, part of Paul Hardy’s Kaleidoscope Animalia Exhibition; Glenbow Museum
- 2018 Dale DeArmond Art Show – Woodcut print retrospective – Sitka, Alaska
- 2019 Citizen Salon: “The Quintessential Puffin” – Arthur Ross Gallery; Phila, Univ. of Penn.
- 2019 Dale DeArmond and Rebecca Poulson: Engraving showcase. Spring Art Walk, April 2019; Sitka, Alaska