Renowned Alaska painter Herb Bonnet died peacefully the morning of Aug. 14, at the Juneau Pioneer Home. He was 87.
“He was an incredibly loved man and a great friend,” his daughter, Michelle Bonnet Hale, said Monday.
Bonnet leaves behind many loved ones, and his paintings in half the homes of Juneau, she said with a chuckle. She estimated that he painted hundreds of pieces in his lifetime.
“He lived a full life,” she said.
Bonnet was born in January 1930 at St. Ann’s Hospital. He was a lifelong Juneau resident, growing up on Douglas Island and Thane, Hale said. He saw a variety of ships pass by, from Alaska steam ships to U.S. Navy destroyers and cruisers and more; they left such a powerful impression on him that he took up drawing and painting, he wrote in Gastineau Channel Memories Volume One, which can be found at: http://www.juneau.org/library/museum/GCM/index.php.
“I love my ships,” he was quoted as saying in a 2015 Juneau Empire article after fans of his work Frank Balogh and Victoria Godkin hosted an ice cream party at the Pioneer Home to celebrate his prolific career.
Bonnet also became interested in painting aircraft and that motif remained prominent in his work. He said a frequent comment he received is that he puts too many planes in his pieces. He didn’t view it the same.
“I’m known as an aircraft illustrator,” he said in the 2015 article.
Before he turned painting into his career, he worked a variety of jobs such as a carpenter and U.S. Forest Service trail crewman; for a time, even as an illustrator for Boeing and the Auke Bay Research Lab for the Fish and Wildlife Service, he wrote in Gastineau Channel Memories.
“I chucked it all and became a not-full-time artist,” Bonnet wrote. “Being a boat junkie, with camera, paint brush and attractive crew (usually one), I found it a good laid back life. I love painting historic aircraft, marine vessels of all types, and landscapes and seascapes. What of my future? I’ll put one foot in front of the other, inhale and exhale, and lead with my brush.”
Three of Bonnet’s paintings can be viewed at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum, like the 1979 acrylic “Shakey Jake and the Goose.”
“Herb will be remembered for his ability to so accurately give viewers the thrill of travel and transport in the Alaskan wilderness by early plane and boat,” museum executive director Jane Lindsey said. “I have had the pleasure of listening to folks share the story of the time they first flew in a Grumman Goose when they are purchasing a ‘Shakey Jake and the Goose’ print.”
Prints of this piece are sold to benefit the Museum Acquisition Fund and were first made when the Centennial Celebration Committee bought the painting from Bonnet in 1979, Lindsey said.
Memorial services will be planned in the coming weeks and a full obituary will be published at a later date, Hale said.
Clara Miller is the interim managing editor of the Capital City Weekly.