PALMER — Mat-Su College recently unveiled a statue donated by Robert Gottstein during a rededication ceremony. The statue is titled “Where the Matanuska River Flows” and stands outside Snodgrass Hall, commemorating the colonial spirit that formed the Mat-Su Valley.

“We have now an artifact that not only has come back to the Valley but is also a story of the Valley,” Dr. Talis Colberg, director of the Mat-Su College, said.

The statue was originally commissioned by Robert Gottstein, of LABAR, a Carr-Gottstein company. His father was Barney Gottstein, a pioneering Alaska businessman who helped shape the Valley and surrounding state with his post-colony grocery stores and eventual merger with Larry Carr’s first Carrs grocery stores.

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In 1999, Safeway acquired the Carrs grocery stores. The Carr-Gottstein partnership is still intact today and manages retail, warehouse and office space in Anchorage and the Valley. The Gottstein name is all over both communities.

During the ceremony, Gottstein said that his father loved art and collected local works. They commissioned artists Jacques and Mary Regat to sculpt the statue. The statue’s original home was in the Gottstein’s Pioneer Square in Palmer.

“What we have here is not just a footprint and a piece of art, it’s kind of a redelivered lost treasure,” Colberg said.

Gottstein offered to donate the statue to the campus and the school gladly accepted it.

“There can be no better resting spot for this art. Public art I believe has to have general appeal and stand the test of time. This has general appeal and has already stood the test of time,” Gottstein said.

Jacques and Mary both attended the ceremony on Wednesday and spoke about their process and how they came up with the theme. Mary said that she hopes this is the statue’s permeant new home. She said they chose title because they wanted to visualize the “bond between the land and its people.”

“We are so happy it’s here. We are so delighted. It couldn’t be in a better spot,” Mary said.

The statue depicts John Bugge, one of the first settlers in the Valley. Bugge arrived before the 1935 colonists and he had one of the first recorded homesteads.

Mary said that Bugge brought the Valley’s first team of horses and helped his neighbors plow their fields. She said that he also brought the first brushing machine and ran the first blacksmithing shop in the area.

Bugge’s likeness is at the front of the statue and he’s surrounded by several images like a herd of horses, and flowing water. Jacques explained that the watery background represents a river flowing from mountain glacier to sea while “carving a beautiful Valley.”

Mary said the plow and sheets of wheat that represents the first settlers who built their homes in “untamed wilderness.”

She said that Bugge represents that colonial spirt of headwork and bravery conquering vast wilds for future generations to enjoy. She said the statue is a “monument to their legacy.”

Dr. Cathy Sandeen, UAA chancellor said this feel good story was very welcome, especially as the system braces itself for the $130 million cuts to the budget by Gov. Dunleavy. She wanted to focus on the art and MSC campus.

“Yeah, a lot of stuff is happening in the University Alaska system. We’re not going to talk about it. We have plenty of time to talk about that stuff. It’s just wonderful to see this beautiful campus, people who care about it both within and outside, and what’s better that a new piece of art for the campus?” Sandeen said.

Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reporter Jacob Mann at jacob.mann@frontiersman.com

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