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An American-born daughter of Swedish immigrants, Ruth Elin Hall grew up in the Midwest. She married the Reverend Ludvig Evald Ost July 18, 1910, in Ashland, Wis., and the newlyweds arrived in Nome August 1st to work as missionaries for the Swedish Covenant Church.
From Nome, the Osts traveled to Golovin to run the Swedish Covenant Mission and Children’s Home. Three years later, a major storm destroyed most of the mission station and they relocated and helped found the town of Elim. With her husband’s help, Ruth persisted in keeping Elim quarantined from the outside world to prevent the deadly influenza from infecting the people of Elim in 1918.
During her years in Northwest Alaska (Golovin, Unalakleet, White Mountain, Council and Nome), Ruth ably assisted her husband in running and managing missions and children’s homes. She was a gifted musician who taught music, instruments and voice to many of the children in the children’s homes and the villages. She was a Sunday school director, a storekeeper, and a postmistress while raising her own eight children and one adopted daughter. Ruth provided midwifery services and lost only one baby, a remarkable record considering the many times she was the only medical person available.
Ruth served as correspondent and bookkeeper for the mission, and conducted a correspondence school for the Sunday school and Bible school teachers in the entire Alaska district for the Covenant Church. Tay Thomas wrote in Cry in the Wilderness: “Mrs. Ost was a remarkable woman who was credited with much of the success of the Covenant Church Mission in Northwest Alaska.” From an early age, Ruth had crippling arthritis. Upon her death, the executive secretary of the Covenant World Missions wrote, “Her wheelchair was an altar where those who came found salvation, restoration, healing and comfort.”
She and her husband owned and operated several businesses, including a reindeer herd and gold mine. They had a store and river-freighting and transportation service on the Niukluk River.
Ruth helped establish sound educational facilities and good health-care practices in regions of Alaska that had none. Her efforts to get territorial schools opened in rural Alaska communities have had lasting benefits for generations of Alaskans.
“Tennys Owens is not an artist herself, but if you’ve been in Anchorage, Alaska for any length of time you’ve seen her work,” said John Tracy in a tribute to her on KTVA Reality Check when she closed her “love child,” the art gallery Artique Ltd. on December 15, 2016. “She always has loved art, but her real passion is the challenge of marketing it, making a living for her artists, her employees and herself, and learning to move quickly to ride Anchorage’s booms and busts,” according to Kim Fararo in an Anchorage Daily News article.
Owens was born in the small, coastal town of Washington, North Carolina. Since she had always been interested in fashion design, her first choice for college was a college in New York City. However her parents “would hear nothing of the sort,” so like many women of that era, she elected to stay closer to home. She attended St Mary’s College in Raleigh, N.C. and the University of North Carolina graduating with a BS degree in education.
During her third year in college she began dating a local boy who was in his senior year at the Air Force Academy by the name of Tom Owens Jr. On December 19, 1961 they were married in a formal evening wedding in their home town of Washington, N.C. with a memorable reception at the home of the Bowers grandparents. Tom went back to his tour of Duty at Wright Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio while Tennys stayed in North Carolina to finish college and then on to life as an Air Force wife. From Ohio they moved to Durham, N.C. for Tom to enter law school at Duke University (taking a temporary leave of absence from the Air Force) while Tennys took a job as a third grade teacher with the Durham County school system. Thomas Preston Owens, III was born on April 1, 1965 at Duke University hospital.
In 1966, the couple moved back to Wright Patterson AFB. In 1967, they were transferred to Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska with Tom working in the JAG division of the Air Force. Tennys was inspired to put her three years of teaching experience to work again a couple of years later and helped develop and teach in a nursery school on the air force base with young “Tommy” as one of the attendees. In 1969 their second son, Christopher Tayloe Owens was born at Elmendorf.
In 1970, Owens and friend artist, Jean Shadrach, realized the huge void of art galleries in Anchorage. A few small businesses took some art on consignment such as Howard’s Gun Shop and a paint store named The Color Center. However, the absence of a traditional gallery, representing artists on a consignment basis and working for artists as a marketing agent, was woefully absent. Owens and Shadrach set about changing that equation by contacting art professors and artists attending the University of Alaska as well as other artists of note, while leaving the gallery door open for unknown talent. In 1971, Alaska was teeming with new people including new artists. Artique Ltd. Alaska’s first “real” art gallery quickly became the art business center in the oil boom era of the Alaska frontier.
The small 950 square foot gallery, located downtown in the Central Building on G Street, was a huge success. The gallery was warm and inviting and customers were encouraged to make art a part of their life in one way or another. The gallery made efforts to increase public awareness about the creation of different art forms, visited numerous organizations and sponsored artists to throw pots in the gallery windows as well as other art demonstrations to promote public interest. Owens’ motto was that “no one should be intimidated or over whelmed by an art gallery.” She and her partner were also determined to make it possible for artists to live and work in Alaska.
As oil boomed in Alaska, so did the art community and major artists such as the famous Fred Machetanz and Byron Birdsall requested representation that lasted for over 35 years. The gallery continually added very talented regional painters and hosted noted national artists in invitational exhibits including Jamie Wyeth, Dale Chihuly, Yasu Eguchi, Robert Bateman and others. The Owens new motto became “Onward and Upward” for the duration of the gallery.
In 1983, at the invitation of U.S. Senator Ted and Catherine Stevens, Owens and her Artique staff created a major Alaska art exhibit which was displayed in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C. The exhibit celebrated the 25th Anniversary of the U.S. Senate’s Passage of the Alaska Statehood Act. Numerous Alaska artists attended the exhibit.
Artique opened a second gallery in midtown. In 1984, Alaska celebrated the 25th Anniversary of Statehood and Artique Ltd became the sole fundraiser for the Anchorage celebration. Owens developed a marketing plan and solicited the assistance of major art print publisher, Mill Pond Press. Owner Bob Lewin had recently become the designated publisher of art work by Fred Machetanz. Owens and Lewin coordinated the sale of 950 prints entitled “Heritage of Alaska” by Machetanz for benefit of the Anchorage Silver Anniversary Celebration. Each print was hand signed by each of Alaska’s living governors and Fred Machetanz. Owens coordinated the print signing, marketing and distribution. Both galleries handled the “first of its kind” print sale the morning of January 2, 1984. The entire edition of 950 prints was sold out in two hours. Owens, Artique Mill Pond Press and Fred Machetanz declared “Mission Accomplished!”
Owens became sole owner of the gallery in 1985. Shadrach moved on to paint and Owens moved on with the art business.
When the Alaska economy went into a deep recession in1986, Owens saw the wisdom in consolidating the business into the original location downtown once again. 1987 found Anchorage still economically languishing due to the recession and Anchorage Mayor Tony Knowles tapped Owens to be one of the new founding members of an Anchorage economic development board. She agreed and began nourishing a business interest in economic development that would remain with her throughout her career. She served as the first woman chair of the board in 1993 and served on the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation board in excess of 30 years.
In 1990, Tennys received an offer to acquire the Alaska Souvenir and Gift Shop as part of the Duty Free Shoppers contract at the Anchorage International Airport. This presented another learning opportunity and challenge to add to her gallery experience. She readily accepted and worked in the business until 1996. As the economy recovered, so did the art business overall. A corporate and residential art design department was developed within the gallery to better serve local business art needs and that of residences. With a rebounding economy, the gallery moved “onward and upward.”
Owens decided that the time was right to expand her publishing business to give Alaska artists additional opportunities to compete in the new burgeoning print market. A network of wholesale dealers was developed inside and outside of Alaska to represent the artists on a print level. The publishing opportunity also gave Artique the ability to work with nonprofit organizations on fundraising projects. She went about the process of broadening the “business of art” into community service, demonstrating that art does matter.
With gallery publishing capabilities available, Owens implemented her concept of “Prints for a Purpose.” raising money for more than 100 nonprofits and community causes from the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts to the Loussac Library, Alaska’s 50th Anniversary and Anchorage 100th Anniversary. Other special projects surfaced as well, such as “Artful Violins,” working in conjunction with the Anchorage Symphony.
Owens did fundraising for Breast Cancer Focus, Inc. over 15 years, by developing and marketing a custom designed print collection published especially for the organization. “It is very important that businesses within the community work with the community as a team. When people work collectively, the results are more powerful and longer lasting,” Owens said.
In a 1993, an article of the Alaska Business Monthly, Owens was asked, “Is Alaska a good place for women entrepreneurs? What kind of advantages does Alaska have for women entrepreneurs? What advice would you give other women interested in starting their own businesses in Alaska?” Her reply spoke to who she was,
“Find your niche. The challenge for women entrepreneurs is to run the business in a manner which is respectable and honest. But I don’t tend to think in terms of men and women but in terms of good or not good business people. . . . learn something about business basics, maintain high standards, be adaptable to change, treat your employees with courtesy and kindness, and strive for a balance between your business and personal life.”
Tennys Owens was able to test and further develop her passion for working with community in 1998 when asked by Anchorage Mayor Rick Mystrom to develop and implement a plan for Anchorage to celebrate the arrival of the new Millennium. This was a daunting request and certainly something she had never done before. After days of somber contemplation, she decided to “strap it on.” She had a talented staff at the gallery to help her out and besides, it was a personal challenge she could hardly refuse.
The next two years were spent developing plans for “The Millennium at the Top” and Anchorage 2000 became a reality. Plans were drafted for a huge celebration on New Year’s Eve 2000 and a winter festival that would hold events until March. Additionally, a large July 4th multicultural celebration was planned for the grand finale. Anchorage 2000 came to be known as the “People’s Millennium Celebration, Working Together to Make a Difference.” Owens wore many hats during those two years, including serving as the event director and chair of a 35 member civic board of directors.
In an Anchorage Assembly Resolution, Owens was recognized and applauded along with event staff and volunteers for their countless hours coordinating the celebration. The Resolution said they had enabled the citizens of Anchorage to celebrate the Millennium through unity amongst people of all ethnic backgrounds and diverse cultures.
In 2005, she was recognized as one of the most esteemed leaders in the state by Alaska Business Monthly due to her with her record of business achievement, demonstrated business excellence, vision and innovation, inspiring leadership and community awareness. The magazine further stated “As a successful female business owner in Alaska, Owens has proven a woman can forge a niche in the business world and achieve.” In the same article, Owens was quoted as saying “By participating and offering a different perspective to a board, it opens the doors for other women to contribute and help make key decisions about Alaska’s future and I want to inspire leadership for women’s issues.”
According to an article written when Owens was selected to become an Alaska Business Hall of Fame Laureate, she felt participating in economic decisions for Alaska’s future served to create a sense of community. She continued to serve on multiple boards and committees. She has been honored by the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce with membership in the Anchorage ATHENA Society and has received the YWCA/BP Women of Achievement award.
Owens also served on the private sector boards of National Bank of Alaska and Wells Fargo for 27 years. See the complete list of her activities and awards at the end of this article.
In 2016 Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz surprised Owens with a proclamation dedicating November 4th as “Artique Day,” at the final closing reception dedicated to artists and the community. Artique Ltd. closed on December 15, 2016.
Using art for the good of the community ultimately became Tennys Owens’ legacy and demonstrated “Art Matters.”
Community Involvement: Mayor’s Advisory Council on the Anchorage Centennial Celebration January 2013-December 2015; Co-Planner and State Coordinator for Anchorage Statewide Celebration of Alaska’s 50 Years of Statehood 2008-2009; Anchorage Downtown Partnership President 2006-2008; Anchorage Civic and Convention Center YES, Executive Committee to Promote Convention Center, Co-Chairman January 2005-April 2005, Member 2004-April 2005; Mayor Mark Begich’s Economic Development Council Member 2004-2007; University of Alaska College of Business and Public Policy Business Policy Advisory Council Member 2003-2007; American Heart Association Fund Drive Co-Chairman 2003; Mystrom for Anchorage Mayoral Campaign Co-Chairman 2003; Anchorage Civic & Convention Center YES, Executive Committee to Promote Convention Center, Secretary 2001-2002;
Anchorage Economic Development Corporation Founding Board Member, Chair of the Board (first woman) 1992, Executive Committee 1987-1999, Ex-Officio 1999-Present; Breast Cancer Focus, Inc. Founder of “Lend a Hand” Program 1999-2015; Anchorage 2000 (millennium event celebrations & community projects) Millennium Celebration Plan author and event planner, Chairman, Board of Directors 1998-2000; Anchorage Fine Arts Commission Member 1997-2001; Anchorage Museum Foundation Board Member 1997-Present; Alaska Command Civilian Advisory Board, Elmendorf AFB Member October 1994-2013; National Security Forum, Montgomery, Alabama, The Alaska Representative, May 1994; Anchorage Rotary Downtown Member 1988-1996; Anchorage Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors 1988; Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau Board of Directors 1984-1991, Chairman, Annual Banquet Committee 1991, Chairman, Operations Personnel Committee 1988, Chairman, Community Membership Relations Committee 1987, Special Task Force Member 1986, Chairman, Elections Committee 1985-1986; Alaska Statehood 25th Anniversary Celebration Chairman, Fund Raising Project; Performing Arts for Peace Board of Directors 1985-1987; and Iditarod Fund Raiser Project Chairman 1985.
For Profit Boards: Wells Fargo Bank Statewide Advisory Board 2001-Present; National Bank of Alaska Board of Directors 1991-2001
Awards: Heart of Anchorage, George M. Sullivan leadership award, April 28,2017; Mayor’s Proclamation, Nov 4, 2016, Artique Ltd. Day; VISIT ANCHORAGE Special Community Award for Service 2016; ADN Best of Alaska-Best Art Gallery (Artique) every year since 2007; Anchorage Convention & Victors Bureau Seymour Award 2009; Community Organization Anchorage Statehood Celebration; Alaska Business Hall of Fame Laureate 2005; Mayor’s Public Service Award 2001; Municipality of Anchorage Mayor’s Distinguished Leadership Award 2000; Municipality of Anchorage Gold Pan Millennium Achievement Award 2000; Anchorage Chamber of Commerce ATHENA membership 2000; YWCA/BP Women of Achievement Award 1994; Anchorage Economic Development Corporation Outstanding Leadership Award as Chairman of the Board 1992; and several sponsorship awards for the Artique including: Alaska Run for Women 1994 & 1996; Breast Cancer Focus, Inc. 1998; KAKM Celebrity Art Auction 1982-1983.
Sources: KTVA, Dec. 15, 2016, Reality Check with John Tracy: Mayor’s Proclamation, Nov 4, 2016, Artique Ltd. Day; Alaska Dispatch News, November-December 2016, Letter to people of Anchorage, After 45 years, Artique Ltd. Is now closed, Tennys Owens and your Artique family; Alaska Life Publishing, 2016, Alaska Home, The Art of Buying Art, Sarah Gonzales; Tennys Owens made Anchorage her canvas; Alaska Dispatch News, 61 North Magazine, Sep 2014, Culture Affairs, Gallery Guide; http://www.alaska.org/advice/native-arts-and-crafts; Anchorage Daily News, Tennys Owens, Jan 2, 2007, Downtown plan full of exciting changes; Alaska Journal of Commerce, Sep 17, 2005, Alaska art grows up and into a viable market; Alaska Business Monthly, Michelle Martin, Jan 2005, Tennys Owens: Alaska Business Hall of Fame Laureate, JA: Artique Ltd; Municipality of Anchorage, Assembly Resolution AR 2000-25 (S), Jan 25, 2000, A Resolution of the Anchorage Municipal Assembly recognizing and applauding the Anchorage 2000 organizers, board members and staff for their efforts and commitment in making the “Night of Light” New Year’s Eve millennium celebration a success; Anchorage Daily News, Jan 2, 2000, Bomb Scare Led to Magical Moment; Anchorage Daily News, November 8, 1999, Millennium drum is taking shape, New Year’s Eve Party to have big beat, Sheila Toomey; Alaska Business Monthly, Jeannie Woodring, Aug 1, 1993, Alaska: a mecca or myth for business women; Anchorage Daily News, Kim Farraro, Feb 22, 1993, Doing Business Mastering the Art of the Deal, and Vice Versa.