The first professional artist to permanently settle in Alaska, Sydney Mortimer Laurence's reasons for heading to the rugged pioneer region were never fully explained. He was born in Brooklyn, New York and studied at the Art Students League. He began to exhibit by the late 1880s, and then headed overseas to continue his training.
He lived in the artist's colony in St. Ives, Cornwall in England, where he would remain for more than ten years. He exhibited at the Royal Society of British Artists as well as the prestigious Paris Salon, winning a medal in 1894.
In 1904, however he relocated to Alaska and would complete at least one painting each year, though he was obviously living a rugged lifestyle. By 1906 he had staked a claim on an area known as Poorman Creek, which offered views of Laurence's favorite Alaskan sight, Mt. McKinley. The Poorman Creek is, in fact a tributary of the Tokositna River, and of the hundreds of portraits that Laurence painted of the mountain there are very few that do not also depict the river as well.
By 1913 the Knapp Company had produced a calendar with one of Laurence's Mt. McKinley paintings depicted on it. He continued to paint throughout the rest of his life, and opened a photographic establishment in the city of Valdez as well. He later relocated to Anchorage, and opened his studio there. He would frequently head inland, to his cabin-studio in order to paint his favorite views. Laurence would also spend many of his final winters in Los Angeles, though he died in Anchorage in 1940.
He held memberships in the Royal Society of British Artists as well as the Salmagundi Club in New York. He exhibited widely throughout his career, and his works are in several major museums, including the Alaska State Museum and the White House collection in Washington, D.C.