Berry papers collection emerge from archives

Karen Simmons

Sun Star


Works of a famous Fairbanks artist are on display for the first time. Drawings and paintings by Bill Berry are hanging in the Rasmuson Library and remain on display until March 19. The long archived works resurfaced at the request of the late artist’s family.


The Berry collection will be on display on the main floor of the Rasmuson Library until March 19. – Karen Simmons / Sun Star

Most people know Bill Berry from a mural he did for the Noel Wien Library Berry Room. The work titled, “An Alaskan Fairy Tale,” depicts a parade of storybook characters, a whimsical forest and a castle. It’s an iconic feature to the community, but his son Mark Berry says the painting is not completely representative of the larger body of his dad’s work.

“That was an important part of, kinda, inside Bill whereas the field sketches and all of that are things that was Bill Berry, the illustrator of the world around him,” Mark said.

Bill grew up with “a desire to draw every living thing as it was in the world,” Mark said. And he did just that, studying the wildlife creatures as a naturalist artist in Alaska. In 1967, after the family moved to Fairbanks, Mark says his father began focusing on  a new kind of animal.

“About that time, dad started having an inward look, at the people around,” Mark said. “Something he had never paid any attention to.”

The William D. Berry papers collection has been stored at UAF since the artist’s death over 35 years ago. Mark guesses most of the artwork stored in the archives is representative of the time his father spent working in the wilderness near his longtime home in the Denali National Park area. “So really it’s a bit of a hodgepodge, but it’s mostly field sketches,” he said. “There could easily be 10 thousand individual sketches there.”

Bill’s other son, Paul Berry, says the collection is a source of knowledge fit for biologists and artists alike. “My father’s work is so uniquely Alaskan that it really is a part of our greater community,” he said.

Paul says the Rasmuson is the best venue to present the collection. “Because a university, you know, in a traditional sense is kind of a center for how information is kept,” he said.

Bill’s family and friends wanted to display a selection of what has been preserved as an opportunity to share the newest version of Bill’s handbook, “William D. Berry Drawing Guides.”

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