Magic of Iditarod Trail inspires musher's artwork

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NOME, Alaska (KTUU) - The thousand-mile trek of the Last Great Race on Earth provides a lifetime of inspiration, not only for fans and future mushers, but also for an Iditarod veteran and painter who helped bring the iconic Alaskan race into homes around the world.

"Everything I do is my memories of things that I've done," said Jon Van Zyle, a two-time Iditarod finisher who grew up around the two things that to this day inspire him most: Dogs and a fellow artist.

"They just happened to be Alaska," he said of the memories. "And that's kind of what I paint. I paint what I know."

Through his artwork, he turns vivid memories into painted masterpieces.

"I very, very seldom use photographs," he said. "My mother taught me how to really see and remember, and that's probably the only lesson I had in art."

His first run in the Iditarod was decades ago, but he still pulls inspiration from those experiences to this day.

"My kennel partner and I flipped a coin to see who'd run the first one," Van Zyle said. "And he ran, and I didn't run until '76.

"I came back from the '76 race, my first race, and approached Iditarod to maybe have it be a little bit more well-known," he said.

That was how Van Zyle, Iditarod veteran and longtime musher, became the official artist of the Iditarod.

"Back then, " Van Zyle said, "40-something years ago, nobody knew about it. Literally nobody. And I had been, you know, somewhat accepted art-wise throughout the U.S., and started the Iditarod posters."

Van Zyle's works of art are for all to see: Personal recollections of the magic he himself experienced on the Iditarod Trail.

"That is what I'm trying to convey," said Van Zyle, expanding on the idea of the magic of the trail. "And if that's accepted, then good. That's what it's all about as far as I'm concerned."

He showed off the painting he had been working on all day.

"I think I'll call it, 'When Friends Meet,'" he said. "Something like that."

If you're interested in seeing what the poster for this year looks like, check out www.jonvanzyle.com. Van Zyle is also hosting a show in Nome in the coming months featuring various paintings created in years past.