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Story Last modified at 10:02 p.m. on Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Eagle River library's dragon a symbol for young life lost


Artist Amy Meissner created this colorful dragon artwork in memory of Jessie Withrow, a 20-year-old college student killed in 2000 by a drunken driver. The artwork can be seen at the Chugiak-Eagle River Library.
PHOTO COURTESY Anchorage Public Library

There is a new resident in the children's area of the Chugiak-Eagle River Library. A sweet-faced, multi-colored dragon floats over the bookshelves, chasing stars. The dragon's body wraps onto the back side of the 15-foot-long, three-panel banner, his long tail curling beyond his taloned rear feet.

Until last December, the dragon flew over the Samson-Dimond Branch's youth program room. The whimsical, quilted artwork was created as a memorial for Jessie Withrow, who was killed on a summer evening in 2000. A drunken driver veered his pickup truck off Minnesota Boulevard, drove up on the sidewalk and hit 20-year-old Jessie, who was riding her bicycle home.

Highly intelligent, Jessie, who was reading by kindergarten, graduated from Steller Secondary School and was attending Bates College in Maine, when she died. The creative and imaginative young woman loved science fiction. She started playing Dungeons and Dragons when she was only 9, according to her mother, Wendy. As the only child of a single mother, Jessie spent a lot of time with her mom. They laughed a lot. They would dress up in flowing dresses to join the dramatic give-and-take at local Renaissance fairs. Jessie could swing a sword with authority and was known for her passion for chainmail.

"Not only did I lose my only child," said Wendy. "I lost my best friend. We were very, very close."

Several years after Jessie died, Wendy received an insurance settlement. "I didn't really like the idea of getting money because my daughter was dead," she said. "I decided to use the money for a memorial to Jessie and I liked the idea of giving something back to the library where she spent so much of her time."


Jessie Withrow

Artist Amy Meissner met with Wendy to talk about Jessie and the artwork dedicated to her. "It seemed that Jessie had a lovely imagination and loved fantasy novels. A dragon seemed to suit the magical kind of person she was."

Wendy was delighted that Amy got most of the materials for the art piece from secondhand stores. "Each scale is made up of old clothes worn by people in the community. They were reused in a very cool way."

"About 60 to 70 percent of the piece is re-used clothing and curtains," the artist said. "Commerce fabrics don't inspire me. Secondhand materials feed my creativity and support my philosophy of using what is around me in my art."

Amy made hundreds of scales and tacked them into place to give the piece a three-dimension aspect. The dragon was made to be seen from either side, but can be taken apart and sewn back together to be a 31-foot banner, depending on the display area.

"I felt really nice being able to underwrite this wonderful piece," Wendy said. "I wish I were rich so I could continue to be a philanthropist. And I felt great being able to do something for the library because it enriched Jessie's life so much."


To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Z.J. Loussac Public Library, Friends of the Library announces a call for artists for an exhibit of art made from books. Applications are due April 22. Work from the selected artists will be on display on the third level of Loussac Library during the month of September.

All works will be for sale with artists receiving 50 percent of the sale price. Awards will be given.

For artist applications and more information, contact Toni McPherson at

This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, April 6, 2011.