I was recently in Fairbanks and Anchorage and tried out an experiment: If I went to the visitor information center and asked about galleries, and then asked the people I met in the galleries what I was missing, what would I see?

Starting with Yukon artists, The Alaska House in Fairbanks and Stephan Fine Arts in Anchorage both carried Nathalie Parenteau reproductions.

In broad strokes, the galleries I saw in Fairbanks both installed their artwork with “room to breathe” and were more reminiscent of commercial galleries in larger urban centres than what we usually see in Whitehorse. They featured one or two solo shows by artists, as well as work by artists they represented. From what I heard, this was normal for the town’s gallery scene.

Anchorage has two very elegant commercial galleries as well as some exciting grassroots arts initiatives. To my surprise, work there was hung tighter, leaning, as we tend to in Whitehorse, more toward the gift shop aesthetic than the gallery.

Fairbanks has a population comparable to Whitehorse, but Anchorage is about 10 times as large. Both have universities with art departments, but Anchorage doesn’t offer an MA course. I wonder if that accounts for some of the difference.

The staff at the Fairbanks Visitor Information Centre seemed very knowledgeable about the art scene and quickly directed me to two galleries near downtown.

Fairbanks has had two major galleries close in the recent past, but there’s still good stuff to see.

The Alaska House Art Gallery on Cushman Street shows paintings and Native arts from Alaska. It boasts a dedicated solo show room as well as work by various Alaskan artists.

The owner, Yolande Fejes, figures the Yukon is close enough, and brought in Nathalie Parenteau’s prints, although she primarily deals in originals. The work is elegantly displayed in the log and stone cabin, built in 1939, which has been a gallery on and off since the 60s.

The gallery was started by Yolande Fejes’ mother, Claire Fejes, who was a painter and writer deeply inspired by Alaska.

In her tradition, they also host poetry readings and music. See more about the gallery at www.thealaskahouse.com.

Just out of downtown, past the railroad tracks, I found the Well Street Art Company. It’s a converted 1950’s warehouse. The gallery has two open showing rooms, reminiscent of what one might find in the Belgo Building in Montréal. It shows Alaskan contemporary art as well as traditional and non-traditional Native Alaskan art.

When I visited, I saw two very exciting shows of paintings. Roberts Fox’s bold lines carve trees, rock, colour and figures out of the canvas, with floating dots and triangles. Somer Halm mixes grids with images of a hare and a fox in acrylic as well as strong abstract oil pastels.

Halm also happens to work at the gallery. She mentions they generally pair a more established artist with an emerging one. The gallery owner, David Mollett, teaches drawing at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. The building includes studio spaces for nine artists. He’s connected to the younger crowd. Their website is www.wellstreetart.com.

David Mollett’s Drawings, Paintings & Prints will be on display until the end of August, along with Barry McWayne’s Cool Views.

I didn’t make it out to the Annex, which is just out of town, but I heard it praised. It seems like a gorgeous gallery space with 14-foot ceilings, and they accept applications for solo shows.

Much like Whitehorse, Fairbanks is easier to explore with a car.

In Anchorage, the galleries I found were clustered downtown.

Artique Ltd. and Stephan Fine Arts were both elegant, well-turned-out galleries. Artique’s paintings included more painterly, gestural work, while Stephan seemed to focus on more tight, precise markmaking.

Artique’s friendly staff walked me through the local gallery scene on my tourist map. They’re at www.artiqueltd.com.

Stephan Fine Arts is located in the upscale Hotel Captain Hook, with additional showing space on a nearby street, which wasn’t open when I swung by.

They were both hung tighter than the galleries I saw in Fairbanks. You can see this on the contact page of Stephan Fine Arts’ website – www.stephanfinearts.com.

Aurora Art Gallery had some interesting work, including what might be seen as “outsider art”, but it was hung even tighter.

Anchorage has an arts co-operative, as well as some interesting “artrepreneurs” in small downtown art galleries.

The Firefly, Anchorage’s artisan co-op gallery and studios, fills a small labyrinth of rooms in an older house near the waterfront.

Textile art joins a wide range of painting techniques including encaustic. It seems like a place where artists are experimenting with their work.

It’s sponsored by the Arctic Rose Gallery across the street, which was unfortunately closed when I happened by.

Shara Dorris owns Octopus Ink (www.octopusinkclothing.com). She shows and sells her eco-friendly hand silk screened T-shirts as well as funky items, made by other artists, like rings and bracelets made from old bike spokes.

One real mover and shaker of the Anchorage arts scene seems to be Katie Sevigny. I met her at Sevigny Art Gallery (www.katiesevignyart.org). The narrow gallery overflows with her prolific, brightly painted effusions, as well as work by other artists who have studios above the building.

Her gallery and studios will soon be moving to a larger location, closer to the Visitor Information Centre, and right next to the Alaska Cake Studio, whose curry caramels are to die for.

Sevigny is also behind the Fiddlehead Gallery, which is right around the corner. This gallery’s more craft oriented, with glass, handmade bags and many lovely things made by Alaskan artists.

It’s interesting to me to see how art is shown in northern places that have a lot in common with us, here in the Yukon. Once I got there, I was surprised that I’d lived in the Yukon seven years without having contact with these arts scenes that are, after all, only half as far away as Edmonton.