Rhonda Shelford Jansen, who is best known for her Alaska Native artwork, was November’s featured artist at Sisters Restaurant in Everett. Pictured is the painting “Morning Mist.”

Rhonda Shelford Jansen, who is best known for her Alaska Native artwork, was November’s featured artist at Sisters Restaurant in Everett. Pictured is the painting “Morning Mist.”

An Everett landmark closes with art from the Last Frontier

Rhonda Shelford Jansen’s Alaska Native-inspired paintings graced the walls during The Sisters Restaurant’s final days.

EVERETT — Artist Rhonda Shelford Jansen’s November exhibit at The Sisters Restaurant was cut short — and not just because indoor service has been banned at eateries throughout the state.

Sisters, a popular family-owned restaurant on Grand Avenue, is yet another casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic. After 37 years, the restaurant has shut its doors.

Owner Martha Quall said she hopes that the Everett counter-service restaurant can reopen next year — but her business can’t wait for that to happen.

“My mom wants to keep our options open for potentially opening up again after the new year,” said Gretchen Quall, one of the sister chefs the restaurant is named after, “but for now (we’re closing), for sure until the end of the year.”

Jansen, of Mukilteo, was November’s featured artist at Sisters. A painter and photographer, Jansen is best known for her Alaska Native artwork.

She specializes in oils, acrylic and watercolor, as well as abstract and nature photography. Jansen’s Aleut heritage, her family’s lineage in the Alaskan commercial fishing industry, and her love for Alaskan history are the foundations for her artwork.

Jansen, who is of Alaska Native descent, is listed in the U.S. Department of Interior’s Indian Arts and Crafts Board Directory as a Native artist.

Jansen, 63, was encouraged by her Aleut grandmother to sketch and paint. A self-taught artist, Lydia Resoff Shelford (1912-1999) taught Jansen what she knew. Then she had R.W. “Toby” Tyler, a revered Alaskan watercolorist, take over her granddaughter’s lessons. She was 6 and 7 years old.

“We used to get into arguments when I was a little teeny kid,” said Jansen, who grew up in Alaska. “I wanted to paint people and he wanted me to paint landscapes.”

After her family moved to the lower 48, Jansen signed up for art classes whenever she could, including at Edmonds College and the University of Washington, where she was studying business.

“I wanted to major in art in college, but my dad told me I should major in business because art is not a real job.”

Even so, she never stopped loving art.

She volunteered as an art docent to teach youth in the Mukilteo School District. She illustrated the book “Alaska Sea Escapes” (1998) about disasters in Alaska’s fishing industry. She established an Etsy shop to sell her paintings and photographs online.

Jansen travels to Alaska up to five times a year to find inspiration for her artwork. Her art is showing at Stephan Fine Arts, a gallery inside Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage, the Alutiiq Museum in Kodiak and the Museum of the Aleutians in Unalaska.

Jansen was a stay-at-home mom who painted only in her free time until about 2010. Not too long after, she launched her career as an artist.

“When my youngest son went off to college, I looked at myself in the mirror and asked ‘What should I do now?’” Jansen said. “I thought, ‘I think I’m going to start painting more.’ ”

Her grandmother had a hard time when visiting family in the lower 48 — long before Rhonda was born. She was marginalized and segregated in California, not unlike the Jim Crow laws in the South. She never complained about it, but Jansen knew her grandmother was in pain.

“A couple of years before she died, I worked with her to be proud of her heritage,” Jansen said. “It’s easy to feel ashamed instead of proud. When you see pain in someone you love, your heart goes out to them. That’s really been the catalyst. I paint Native art because of my grandma. She’s been my motivation.”

Not only was Jansen’s grandmother an expert in oil and watercolors, she was the first postmistress of Homer, Alaska. The Homer Post Office was housed in a cabin built in 1897, which is now the famous Salty Dawg Saloon. The Alaskan landmark has been featured on the Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch.”

Jansen has been around the fishing industry her whole life — while living in Homer, Kodiak and Dutch Harbor in Alaska, as well as the in Pacific Northwest. She comes from a long line of Alaskan fishermen. Her grandfather and father both fished, and her husband and son continue the tradition.

Her family even lived on the Kalakala for a year when it served as a floating cannery in Alaska. She was 12 and 13 years old. The Seattle icon was the largest and fastest ferry in Washington state’s fleet. The Kalakala worked on the Seattle-Bremerton ferry run and operated midnight cruises between Port Angeles and Victoria, B.C., from 1935 to 1967.

It’s no surprise that most of Jansen’s artwork is comprised of nautical scenes — Alaskan commercial fishing boats, Aleutian canoes and kayaks, and the Japanese glass fishing floats she’d pick up off Alaska beaches growing up.

“I love the ocean,” she said. “It’s probably my favorite thing ever. If you look at my paintings, most them have water in them.”

Since COVID-19 hit, she’s been working on establishing shows closer to home. In addition to Everett’s Sisters Restaurant, she’s also exhibited her work at the Parklane Gallery in Kirkland and at Red Cup Cafe in Mukilteo.

She’s also been painting Christmas gifts for her family. Right now, she’s working on a portrait of her son Jacob “Cub” Jansen’s crab boat — The Nordic Fox. A room right off the master bedroom in her Mukilteo home serves as her studio.

“It looks out over the Sound, so it’s an extremely inspirational place to paint,” she said, adding that she has filled notebooks with Native history and heritage so that her work is historically accurate. “I have literally my own room.”

Jansen picked up her 15 paintings from Sisters on Nov. 18.

Quall opened Sisters in 1983 in the Everett Public Market. Her daughters, Gretchen Quall and Kathy Pedigo, are the cooks. The restaurant is known for the housemade soups, salads, sandwiches and pies it serves, and for the for-sale art collections by local artists on its walls.

“We’ve been doing it for a really long time, and we’re all getting a little bit tired,” Gretchen Quall said. “Maybe if we just have this month off, maybe it will give us enough of a break that we’ll be ready to do more. But right now, the pandemic hit us at the same time we’re getting pretty burned out.”

Quall said the pandemic has hurt The Sisters Restaurant’s bottom line. Before COVID-19 hit, they were making a profit. Now they don’t. Except for Nov. 17 — the restaurant’s last day — when customers kept Gretchen and Kathy busy in the kitchen.

“All the kind words have been really great,” Gretchen Quall said on a phone call with The Daily Herald in between filling orders. “We really appreciate the support of our customers over all these years and what a great staff we have. It’s been a really great experience.”

If you missed Rhonda Shelford Jansen’s November exhibit at The Sisters Restaurant, you can still see her work on the Serving Masterpieces: Art at The Sisters Restaurant Facebook page. Find more of Jansen’s artwork at www.rsjartist.com and www.rhondashelfordjansenart.com.

Sara Bruestle: 425-339-3046; sbruestle@heraldnet.com; @sarabruestle.

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