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Wisconsin to the Matanuska Valley, Alaska Territory - Image Gallery Es | Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Wisconsin to the Matanuska Valley, Alaska Territory - Image Gallery Essay

Wisconsin to the Matanuska Valley, Alaska Territory - Image Gallery Es | Wisconsin Historical Society
Arville Schaleben taking a photograph of three children sitting on a log with a camera on a tripod in the Alaska Colony. Caption on back of print reads: "Arv. Schalaben at Matanuska Valley in Alaska — 1935."

Arville Schaleben Photographing Three Children

Arville Schaleben taking a photograph of three children sitting on a log with a camera on a tripod in the Alaska Colony. Caption on back of print reads: "Arv. Schalaben at Matanuska Valley in Alaska — 1935." View the original source document: WHI 142366

EnlargeArville Schaleben, of The Milwaukee Journal, writes a story in the tent he shared with others in the summer of 1935, in the Matanuska valley of Alaska.

Arville Schaleben

Arville Schaleben, of The Milwaukee Journal, writes a story in the tent he shared with others in the summer of 1935, in the Matanuska valley of Alaska. View the original source document: WHI 142383

 In the summer of 1935 the Milwaukee Journal assigned reporter Arville Schaleben to chronicle the beginnings of the Matanuska Valley Colony. The New Deal resettlement project moved 202 families from the upper Midwest to southcentral Alaska. The relief project sought to alleviate rural poverty in one region and populate a fertile valley in America’s vast northern territory.

Working and sleeping in a government-issued tent, Schaleben was the only journalist embedded in the farming community. He submitted nearly 150 stories to the Milwaukee Journal, many published on the front page of the major daily newspaper. 

EnlargeCaption with negative reads: "'Surprise.' Children yell for fifth birthday of Evelyn Foster, from Stephenson, Mich. Evelyn at extreme left."

Children Yelling "Surprise"

View the original source document: WHI 143064

Although the Milwaukee Journal had a national reputation for innovative photojournalism (see the examples of J. Robert Taylor and Frank J.Scherschel), the 28 year-old Schaleben was responsible for writing articles and making photographic images. His photographs enhanced stories about timeless pioneer topics: setting up housekeeping, organizing worship services, finding creative ways to earn a living—coupled with many images of "the colony kids," many of whom relished living in a temporary tent village with 1100 other children. 

EnlargeConners Family

Conners Family

View the original source document: WHI 143073

The Milwaukee Journal utilized an image of the Conners family, originally from South Range, in Douglas County, as newspaper printers experimented with the RGB color printing process in the newspaper—another aspect of the newspaper's leadership in photojournalism during the mid-20th century.

Images of the journalist at work in Alaska suggest that he utilized a Zeiss Ikon Trona camera, often on a tripod (see image at top of article). Schaleben's extensive collection of professional papers and photographs can be accessed in the Society's Archives Reading Room.

A study of Schaleben’s coverage of the Matanuska Colony is available in Matt Blessing’s article, "Alaska, Ho! Arville Schaleben and the Matanuska Valley Colony" (Wisconsin Magazine of History, Winter 2019.)

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