Above: DeArmond stands in front of a collection of her woodcuts, all made prior to 1968, which include:
Rockfish; Redpolls; Wild Goose in the Goose Grass; Heron; Owl; The Little Junco; Snow Geese; Sandpiper; Resting Birds; Spring; Man with a Bird on His Head; Halibut; Cat; Sailor, Take Warning; Warbler; Seagull on the Chimney Pot; and Church of St. Nicholas, Juneau.
The other titles pictured are unknown.
DeArmond, in her 1932 Senior yearbook at Stadium High School from Tacoma, Washington.
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.
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.
Left: this was originally included with some of her limited-edition wood engraving prints. Dated January 4, 1991.
Biography of Mrs. Dale DeArmond provided with acknowledgement and special thanks to William DeArmond of Juneau, Alaska.
Right, middle: The DeArmonds in 1977. Right: DeArmond (left in photo) with friends and fellow Alaskan artists Diana Tillion (middle) and Rie Muñoz, circa 1975. Photo courtesy of the Rie Muñoz Gallery.
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. She completed the four-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.
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.
DeArmond stands behind the woodcut she created for husband Bob DeArmond's book "The Founding of Juneau." Photo from 1967.
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.
Click here to read an interview with DeArmond from the September, 2000 issue of Alaska Magazine.