In honor of Susan Butcher day in Alaska, the first Saturday of March, I wanted to share my painting "The Pioneer" featuring Susan and her infamous musher dog Granite. "The day coincides with the traditional start of the Iditarod each year. Observing the special day, the bill noted, provides opportunity for people to “remember the life of Susan Butcher, an inspiration to Alaskans and to millions around the world.” (Wikipedia)
As a fellow Alaskan, having grown up in one of the most remote places on the planet, totally living off the grid with my four siblings and parents, and 30+ dogs, I can relate to the challenges and lifestyle of Susan and wanted her to be one of the first paintings in my "Women Warriors" series from my EMPOWERED collection. My sister Tara, who still lives in this same remote part of Alaska, has an Alaskan blog called "Alaska for Real" and writes columns for Capital City Weekly. Her most recent blog post, and column, were all about my childhood and my new "Women Warriors" series of art and of course Susan Butcher.
As part of the EMPOWERED Collection my "Women Warriors" series will feature strong women from history, whether the past or present, and also female characters that epitomize strength, grace and inspiration. Women who don't take no for an answer and offer society inspirational goals and a "can do" attitude, not letting anything hold them back. They are "warriors" who have fought the battle of feminism/misogyny and forged an easier path for all of us to continue to make headway towards equality. Whether that was their goal or not, they are still a part of our history towards gender equality and I want to celebrate their spirit through my art. The symbols you see throughout the painting have meanings of strength, power, true love, embracing life and so much more that epitomize these inspiring women and how they empower others.
Susan Butcher fits perfectly as a Woman Warrior, her indomitable spirit and "can do anything" attitude is an inspiration to many women. "...Butcher won the [Iditarod race] in 1986, and then proceeded to win again in 1987, 1988, and 1990. She held the Iditarod speed record from 1986 until 1992, breaking her own records in 1987 and 1990. Her other speed records included the Norton Sound 250, Kobuk 220, Kuskokwim 300, and the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon. She retired from competition in 1995. Her accomplishments gained her substantial media attention in the late 1980s and earned her many awards, including the "National Women's Sports Foundation Amateur Athlete of The Year Award" and the "Tanqueray Athlete of the Year." She also won the "U.S. Victor Award" for "Female Athlete of the Year" two years in a row. In 2007 Susan was inducted into the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame as one of the five charter members in the inaugural class." (Source: Wikipedia)
I was fortunate enough to have met Susan while attending Kayhi (Ketchikan High School) in Alaska in the 80's; she gave an after school greet and meet and I wasn't about to miss out! I remember thinking how amazing she was to dominate such a hard core sport that is considered the toughest race on earth, whether it's a man or a woman at the helm. I left her speech that day feeling inspired and empowered as a woman, something that is so important for young women to feel...to know that we can do and be anything we want, that gender shouldn't be a qualifier for any sport that men and women can equally do well. This was one of the first times I felt empowered to be a woman, and it has stuck with me to this day.
What I love about Susan is that she is also from Alaska and dominated a male sport, and really in such a way that it wasn’t even about her being a woman, she just loved mushing and wanted to race. She didn’t come across as someone who had something to prove, that she was better than any of the men, just that she WAS the best, and she had a passion for what she did. So many of the women warriors I’m painting are similar in this way.
What makes Susan really stand out, is that she never labeled herself as a feminist, but still inspired and empowered many women just by being herself, including me, to go after our dreams and fight for what we want...no matter what. Susan just loved what she did and was going to do it regardless, and continued to do it year after year, and win. You can tell just by looking at some of her pictures that she loved what she did and loved her life, always smiling and free-spirited, while being strong and independent, she was a total bad-ass without even trying!! As with all of my women warriors, Susan Butcher was unapologetic for being who she was. That’s what makes her and so many of these women strong and inspirational. They know who they are and aren’t afraid to stand up for themselves and do whatever it is they have a passion for. She always encouraged other women to be independent and strong, and I'm living proof that her strength and passion for what she did has inspired me to go after my dreams.
I named this painting "The Pioneer" because Susan truly was a pioneer in the sport of Iditarod racing for women, and men. She inspired the women who came after her to not let anything get in the way of excelling at a sport that has always traditionally been male dominated, and she set many speed records for other racers to strive for. She was also very influential in the training and treatment of dogs in the sport, evidenced by her love and kindness shown towards her infamous lead sled dog Granite, who was sick and injured on numerous times and she nursed him back to health and encouraged him to continue to be the most amazing sled dog race in history.