When my sister Megan Duncanson, a successful artist, told me that she was doing a series of portraits on “Women Warriors”I thought there couldn’t have been a better person in charge of such a project.
Alaska for Real: MAD - Women Warriors 030117 AE 1 Tara Neilson, for the Capital City Weekly When my sister Megan Duncanson, a successful artist, told me that she was doing a series of portraits on “Women Warriors”I thought there couldn’t have been a better person in charge of such a project.

Megan shows her warrior form as she takes on our oldest brother Jamie in a sword versus spatula fight in Meyers Chuck. (Tara Neilson | For the Capital City Weekly)

Left, Frida Kahloand right, Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, two of the portraits in Megan Duncanson's portraits of Women Warriors. (Courtesy of Megan Duncanson)

Susan Butcher and her favorite dog. (Courtesy of Megan Duncanson)

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Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Story last updated at 3/1/2017 - 2:45 pm

Alaska for Real: MAD - Women Warriors

When my sister Megan Duncanson, a successful artist, told me that she was doing a series of portraits on “Women Warriors” I thought there couldn’t have been a better person in charge of such a project.

When we were growing up in the wilderness, the only two girls for miles around in any direction, we were toughened up, whether we wanted to be or not, by clearing the land, hauling lumber and firewood, not to mention groceries and fifty pound bags of dog food up a low tide beach. And then there were the wheel barrows full of sawdust from our dad’s mobile sawmill that we hauled for hours at a time — with a .44 revolver for protection against bears and wolves — to make a trail through the deep woods.

We grew up fishing, shooting, and building forts with our brothers. We never hesitated to take up arms when there was any fighting to be done, whether we were wielding wooden swords, homemade bows and arrows, or chunked pieces of skunk cabbage and bull kelp. We were just as quick to chase as be chased when we played “log tag” or “tree tag”—the former involved running over rafts of rolling logs in the water, the latter involved springing from the tops of trees, from one branch to the next while in hot pursuit of a screaming sibling.

Despite always being of a creative, artistic bent, Megan never allowed the boys to think they could outdo her and she had the athletic ability to more than hold her own. Our mom tells the story of a 15-year-old Megan running in a region-wide cross country race on Prince of Wales Island. She’d gotten sick just before the race, but she refused to allow the flu to stop her.

Still, our mom found her trudging along the course, pasty-faced and discouraged. When our mom asked her why she’d stopped running, knowing Megan’s determined nature, Megan said there wasn’t any point because she was so far behind everyone else. She was all alone on the road. Our mom said, “So what if you don’t win. Will you really be happy later if youdon’t give your best now?”

That got to Megan and she immediately started running again. When she got to the finish line she was still all alone and thecrowd was cheering. The fact was, she’d looped everyone, even walking part of the way and sick. She broke the tape, threw up, and picked up her trophy.

As an adult in Florida she does marathon mountain bike races (placing in the top five in women’s and in co-ed races), hasdived with the barracudas, bow-hunted (always getting her deer), and while on a visit back to Alaska, I watched her completely demolish her brothers and husband in an axe-throwing competition.

In addition to Carrie Fisher as the indomitable Princess Leia of “Star Wars” fame, who was strong and intelligent without losing an ounce of femininity or her dry sense of humor, Megan also painted Frida Kahlo, who’s celebrated for her passionate pursuit of her art despite the obstacles of health, prejudice, and problem relationships. And, of course, as an Alaskan, Megan couldn’t leave out Susan Butcher, the first person to win four out of five Iditarod races, in her “Women Warriors” series.

Megan met Butcher in high school after a talk the musher gave, and was taken with her personality and attitude.

“She is from Alaska and dominated a male sport, and really in such a way that it wasn’t even about her being a woman, she just loved mushing and wanted to race. She didn’t come across as someone who had something to prove, that she was better than any of the men, just that she was the best, and she had a passion for what she did. So many of the women warriors I’m painting are similar in this way,” Megan said.

She added that society pushed on some successful women the fact that they’d won a measure of fame as a woman in a man’s world, and when that became an issue they used it to fight for women’s rights. “Susan, not so much,” Megan said. “She just loved what she did and was going to do it no matter what, and continued to do it year after year, and win. You can tell just by looking at some of her pictures that she loved what she did and loved her life, always smiling and free-spirited.”

In conclusion Megan said: “As with all of my women warriors, Susan Butcher is unapologetic for being who she is. That’s what makes her and so many of these women strong and inspirational. They know who they are and aren’t afraid to stand up for themselves and do whatever it is they have a passion for.”

Megan uses her initials, MAD, to sign her artwork. Her art has been featured in “O,” the Oprah magazine, Family Circle, and HGTV Magazine. At the Art Basel (Miami) international art show she was the VIP artist for the Spectrum Show in 2015. Her art can also be seen on the sets for popular TV shows including Grey’s Anatomy, Celebrity Wife Swap, and Good Morning America. It’s also available in stores ranging from Amazon to Bed, Bath, and Beyond to Nordstrom’s. Her website is

Growing up so self-sufficiently in the Alaskan bush, with parents who encouraged creativity, allowed my sister to believe she could follow her passion and become a successful artist on her own terms: the exactly right person to do a series of portraits on strong, dedicated women.

Tara Neilson blogs at