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Mystery bedevils former Gold Hill resident

As mysteries go, solving the conundrum over the puzzling painting will not change the world.

But if you live in Ketchikan, Alaska, where it rains an average 170 inches a year, well, it's a pleasant diversion to take your mind off the wet stuff.

It all began last year when a woman in Cave Junction found a skillfully done oil painting in the attic of her house. It portrayed a white-bearded fellow wearing a brown garrison cap with the word "Ketchikan" printed across the front. Stitched in bright yellow thread on one side is the number "3." On the other is an American Legion logo.

She contacted the American Legion Post 3 in Ketchikan, wondering if its members wanted the painting.

"When she contacted me, she explained she found it in the attic of a home she was either leaving or had just purchased," explains Post Commander Reg Galles, 56, a former Gold Hill resident. "She also sent a picture of the painting."

The woman had no idea who the artist was or who it portrayed.

"I told her we would love to have it," Galles says. "But we never heard back from her."

Galles forgot the incident until the painting arrived late last year, apparently without a return address.

In one corner is written "Myra Martin" and "77." A card attached to the frame indicates it was done in an art class with the instructor's name listed as "Divine." The class is described as "513.1-.5, Basic, Int., Adv. Oil Painting." Written on the back of the canvas is "$245."

Legion members pored over their records and displayed the painting at post events. No one could identify the bearded vet.

Then Scott Bowlen with the Ketchikan Daily News wrote a story that ran last Monday about the mysterious fellow. There was no consensus, but several longtime residents in the picturesque town where it rained - glug - 199 inches last year figured it was a colorful character named Albert Melvin "Rocky" Johnson who was 73 when he died in 1982. At the time, his daughter Angel Earles was living in Midland, Texas.

A mug shot of Johnson supplied by the Ketchikan Museum, complete with the garrison cap, which ran in the Daily News on Wednesday, looks remarkably like the painting.

In Wednesday's follow-up article, Bowlen noted the old miner was an Army veteran who relished walking in the Fourth of July parade. He often marched in his trademark canvas pants, a plaid shirt and either a white plastic miner's hard hat or American Legion cap, Bowlen reported.

With the old veteran likely identified, inquiring minds still want to know who painted it and how the painting came to be in the Illinois Valley. That brings us back to Galles, the former Rogue Valley resident, who went north in 1990. Efforts to find Johnson's daughter have failed, he says.

The U.S. Coast Guard retiree who attended Rogue Community College hopes someone, perhaps the one who sent it, can shed more light on the mystery.

The college was offering 500-level classes back in the late 1970s, recalls Tommi Drake, head of RCC's Art Department. An artist named Al Devine taught classes then, she says.

The name spelling is different, but people - journalists excluded, of course - do make spelling errors.

Devine, now vice president in charge of marketing for Evergreen Federal Bank in Grants Pass, confirmed he taught art classes at RCC during that period.

"I don't remember the painting but the name (Myra Martin) sounds familiar," he says. "I can't quite place her, though."

The artist's name didn't ring a bell with Pat Hammer, longtime president and member of the Illinois Valley Fine Artists Association.

Other calls to find even a trace of the artist who painted the old miner failed to pan out.

"We would love to find out anything we can," Galles says. "We would also like to give it to a relative or someone like that. If not, we'll probably just hang it up here at our post."

There it will serve as a conversation piece in the event of rain.