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Fresno artist relived memories of rainy Europe in her oil paintings

Eric McCormick of Fresno looks over a painting by the late famed Fresno artist Alice Stukenbroeker at a home in Fresno on Tuesday, April 4, 2017.
Eric McCormick of Fresno looks over a painting by the late famed Fresno artist Alice Stukenbroeker at a home in Fresno on Tuesday, April 4, 2017. ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

Q: I have some paintings by Alice Stukenbroeker and recently saw some other work by her at a friend’s home. What can you tell me about her?

Eric McCormick, Fresno

A: Famed Fresno oil painter Alice Stukenbroeker’s love for original artwork inspired her to become an artist. “I like only original paintings, but these can be expensive,” Stukenbroeker told The Bee in 1960. “My husband, who has much confidence in me, said, ‘Why don’t you paint one yourself?’ I had never painted or drawn in my life  But I went to night school and, later, to college to learn. If I do a thing, I like to do it as well as I can.”

Stukenbroeker began painting in about 1953 and within a few years her work began selling well, according to The Bee. By the 1960s she had won several awards at art shows and had many gallery shows, including in Carmel and New York City and at the M.H. de Young Museum in San Francisco. In 1965 she opened her studio for a tour that included the Fresno studios of two other famous local artists, Clement Renzi and Darwin Musselman.

Stukenbroeker was born Alice Rosvik in Bergen, Norway, where her father was an architect. She was educated in Austria, Hungary and the former Czechoslovakia. Many of her paintings feature European-style buildings in rainy weather.

“I guess that is what I miss about Europe, the days when it was raining and beautiful and cool and wonderful,” she told The Bee in 1972. “We get so little rain in the Valley, so now and then when I feel very hot, somehow rain gets into my paintings.”

She also painted sunny meadow scenes, inspired by her love of nature. “I paint what I love. If somebody likes it well enough to buy it, well, that’s nice. If they don’t like it, that’s all right, too,” she said.

We get so little rain in the Valley, so now and then when I feel very hot, somehow rain gets into my paintings.

Artist Alice Stukenbroeker

Her approach to life was echoed in the way she painted. “I like to do things quickly, even painting,” she said in 1960. “I prepare the surface in a special way so it won’t absorb the paint and I can work almost as rapidly as a watercolor. I do an oil in a few hours and I never go back over it. If I do, it loses its spontaneity; it is spoiled.”

Stukenbroeker painted on fiberboard coated with a mixture of white lead and copal varnish, according to the story. She applied several layers, allowing each layer to dry for one week.

“This is very important,” she said. “If the paint soaks in as you work, the painting will be dead looking. Also, you cannot pull a brush quickly over a thirsty surface.”

Stukenbroeker was in medical school in Hungary when World War II broke out and the students were assigned to work in hospitals, The Bee reported. She spoke six languages, and after the war she worked as an interpreter for the United Nations Relief. She came to America in about 1950 and was studying to be a doctor at the University of Southern California when she met and married classmate Garland Stukenbroeker. She died in 1994 at age 75.

Q: What can you tell me about the Carriage House Restaurant? I remember going there with my dad when I was a kid in the early 1960s. If I remember correctly, it was located on Olive between Blackstone and Abby.

John Miller, Fresno

A: A restaurant that passed through several owners over the years was located at 1210 N. Blackstone Ave. at Olive Avenue at least as early as the 1930s. A 1937 Fresno Bee story said the restaurant, the Marigold Inn, was changing hands.

In 1952 the restaurant was known as Wilkie’s. It was Nida’s from 1956 to 1961, when it became Oliver’s Carriage House and was owned by Pete L. Oliver and his son, Donald H. Oliver, who refurbished the kitchen and remodeled the restaurant.

Oliver’s Carriage House was open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. serving breakfast, lunch and dinner and featuring smorgasbord service. Pies, cakes and pastries were made in the bakery for dessert and carry-out.

Fresno’s Carriage House smorgasbord served 4,000 chickens, 1,000 heads of lettuce weekly

In 1965 the owners added a second-story banquet facility, seating 250, and roof-top garden dining.

The Olivers sold the restaurant the following year to local restaurateur Charles Chitchjian for $175,000. He renamed it the Carriage House Smorgy. Chitchjian also owned the Ranch Kitchen on Blackstone Avenue, Mars Drive-In at Palm and Belmont avenues and the Crest Catering Service.

In 1969 Chitchjian opened a second Carriage House Smorgasbord in the former Bank of America building in Fig Garden Village. The restaurant had seating for 230 and featured two buffet lines and an open kitchen.

In 1970 Fresno Bee columnist Woody Laughnan wrote about the challenges of running smorgasbord restaurants.

Chitchjian was “an expert on the subject by virtue of feeding a couple thousand people a day” at the two Carriage House locations, Laughnan wrote. Smorgasbords had become “as American as the hamburger and hotdogs.”

The two Carriage House locations served up to 4,000 chickens a week, as well as beef and fish main dishes. The buffet tables also held 16 various salad dishes requiring more than 1,000 heads of lettuce a week and four hot vegetable dishes.

To run a successful smorgasbord restaurant “the food must look good, taste good and be priced right,” said Chitchjian, who credited the Carriage House success to chef Richard Woo.

“He is one of the best chefs in the business,” Chitchjian told Laughnan. “He cares about food and he has a feeling for it. The way he serves it on the smorgasbord tables is an art in itself.”

In 1971 Chitchjian sold the Blackstone Avenue restaurant, which became the Swiss Bavarian House. The building was torn down in 1976 to make way for a savings and loan office.

By 1973 Richard Woo was the owner of the Carriage House in Fig Garden Village. It closed in about 1977.

More about: After the answer to a question about the American Freedom Train was published on March 12, Tracy Parker of Fresno wrote to share her childhood memories of touring the train.

“I was 5 years old in 1975 when the American Bicentennial Freedom Train made its stop here in Fresno and I remember going to see it,” Parker wrote. “What I remember the most is the moving walkway (I was 5 and that walkway was neat!) and seeing the dress and ruby red slippers that Dorothy wore in ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ 

Ask Me publishes on the second and fourth Sundays of each month. Paula Lloyd is a freelance writer. Send questions to askpaulalloyd@yahoo.com or by mail to Paula Lloyd, c/o The Fresno Bee Newsroom, 1626 E St., Fresno CA 93786. Please include your name, city of residence and a phone number.

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