State fair painter brings legacy of Alaska clowning - Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman: Valley Life

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FACES OF FUN State fair painter brings legacy of Alaska clowning

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Posted: Saturday, September 1, 2012 6:19 pm

PALMER — Face painting. It’s a pretty ubiquitous part of the Alaska State Fair, as common as cotton candy, fried treats and rides that spin really fast.

Mark Williams, or Marky D. Clown as he’s known at parties, has played a large part in adding face-painting to this annual season of fun.

“We’ve been out at the fair here for 21 years,” Williams said.

And even after all of those years, he said, he still finds joy in the work.

“My favorite thing, and I never get tired of it, it’s called the reveal,” he said. “When the face painter turns the mirror around and lets the child see the painting for the first time.”

To hear him describe it, you can tell why he never gets tired of it.

“It’s a genuine, honest reaction and they’re always so happy,” Williams said.

This year the most popular designs are — hands down — the ones with little stick-on rhinestones.

“The most popular designs this year are the jewel princess and the bling mask,” he said.

But fashion in face-painting, like fashion in most things, tends to change with the times.

“Ten years ago we painted nothing on little boys but Ninja Turtles, so it kind of comes and goes,” Williams said.

While the rhinestones are popular, they’re far from the sum and total of Williams and company’s work this year. And they can do just about anything.

“We’ve done everything this year from painting an Alaska Grown symbol on a pregnant belly to a lawnmower on top of a bald head,” Williams said.

A Wasilla resident, Williams said his career in clowning dates back 30 years.

“I was a stage manager, actor and I did improvisational comedy in the ’80s in Anchorage,” he said. “I did about 30 commercials and I tried stand-up and I was just terrible, but I got in front of some kids once and I just killed them.”

Which, he said, was quite a thing. Kids aren’t like adults. They don’t give polite applause or polite laughter.

“Kids are brutal. They won’t laugh unless it’s funny,” Williams said.

His success performing for kids, he said, morphed into a clown persona. He started learning how to tie balloons.

“I’ve been pretty much Alaska’s premier clown for the last 25 years,” he said. “I do parties like ConocoPhilips, BP, Alaska Airlines.”

He and his crew do lots of face painting, too. Williams doesn’t paint faces himself, though. Instead, he runs the show.

“What makes our booth better than the others is we have a booth manager,” Williams said. “I greet people, write it down and set the proper design with the artist that does it the best.”

One of his painters, Marcela “Mama Clown” Murad, he said, is well known in the national face painting and body-art community and helps organize the yearly Face and Body Art International Convention.

“She puts that on in Florida every year,” Williams said. “She goes all over the U.S. She’s like a rolling stone.”

Another of Williams’ painters has a master’s degree in art and 16 years of art school from her native Russia.

All-told, he said, Williams has more than 100 years of experience working in the booth with him.

Quite a bit of that, of course, is his own. Williams said he is reminded of his long career regularly.

“You know you’re getting old when you show up to clown a party and the mom says, ‘you clowned my party!’” he said.

But, he said, at least as far as face-painting goes, those same parents are quite often in the chairs next to their kids — and sometimes more than once.

“I’ve had people come to my booth five times already, the same people,” he said.

Contact reporter Andrew Wellner at andrew.wellner@frontiersman.com or 352-2270.

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