2015 Year in Review

Winter sun on our property at the Nizina River

Winter sun on our property at the Nizina River

It is the end of the year: The days are short and I find myself inside at 4 pm, listening to the news and wondering what to make for dinner as it is pitch black outside. By contrast, during the summer, I don’t get to listen to the radio or think about dinner until 8 pm. The dark days are a good time for introspection; I enjoy sitting by the woodstove with a cup of tea thinking about what has happened recently, and where I’d like to be going.

Above: Since it's difficult to take photos of the pitch black, here are some December sunsets/rises on the Nizina

I haven’t been able to blog as much as I would have liked to this past year, but it isn’t because life hasn’t been interesting and fulfilling. To be honest, I think I have been too busy. It has been amazing living in McCarthy year-round, in a cabin that my partner and I built on our dream piece of land. I have to remind myself that this time two years ago we lived in the yurt that is now my studio, and every day to go to work I had to clear the breakfast dishes off our only table so I could set up my computer, paper, or whatever.

Above: Photos of the cabin, the yurt, and our old desk/ dining room table in the yurt

I have also had the honor of serving as the executive director to a local nonprofit, the Wrangell Mountains Center, whose mission is connecting people with wildlands through art, science, and education in the Wrangell Mountains. I first got involved working there by teaching field sketching. This job has kept me busy, but in many good ways. I’ve gotten to see and be a part of the inner workings of a nonprofit, and I’ve become more connected to the place and community that I care so much about. I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be where I am today with the WMC.

I have been doing some art and illustration too. I’m grateful that I have had some pretty cool projects to keep me balanced, inspired, and wanting to go for another walk in the forest by my house to see what interesting natural scene I will draw next.

Valdez Museum Solo Show and Workshop

I put together two solo shows this year, the first of which opened in January at the Valdez Museum. I had to purchase a pair of ice cleats to be able to carry my boxes of artwork into the museum, but it all worked out. I displayed a series of field sketches and recent illustrations based on those sketches and had a wonderful time connection with the local community, which is close to my own. Many people from McCarthy have strong connections to Valdez and visa versa. I also taught an afternoon workshop Building the Illustration Drawing from Life. The most fun part was getting to pick interesting specimens from the Valdez Museum and Maxine Jesse Museum collections. We drew so many interesting things including fossils, minerals, a puffer fish skeleton, bones, and more.

Above: Flyers and artwork from my show at the Valdez Museum

AVTEC Dormitory Public Art Project

I have been interested in making public art for a while and this past year I found a project that was the right fit for me. The AVTEC Dormitory in Seward was interested in commissioning art that depicted the local natural history and brought the outside world in. I worked meticulously over the winter to visit the site and natural landscape in Seward to develop my proposal, and then to create three tile murals, each depicting a different natural landscape and emphasizing what it is like to be in the landscape around Seward, as well as different wild edibles. You can read an article that Seward City News published about the project and more about my process in this blog post.

Above: Each of the three floors of the AVTEC Dorm go a unique mural which wrapped a corner in the hallway. Photos by One Shot Photography

Satellites in High Country Map Illustrations

I was just finishing the paintings for the Seward project and about to send the scanned images to the fabricators, when Jason Dove Mark contacted me about a series of map illustrations for a book he wrote. The book, Satellites in High Country, talks about the human experience in wilderness. It was really fun to travel (in my mind and through google earth) to so many cool wilderness areas including Yosemite, the north slope of arctic Alaska, the Badlands, and Mount Olympus. I also love to draw maps and was happy to do this despite the tight deadline.

Above: Most of the map illustrations for Satellites in High Country

Prince William Sound Science Center Newsletter Map

Wile I was drawing maps for Satellites, Prince William Sound Science Center contacted me to see if I would put together a map of the Copper Rive Basin and Prince William Sound for their annual publication, Delta Sound Connections. I had painted a map of the region before for the Copper River Watershed Project, and learned so much about the geography where I lived, and had a lot of fun doing it. So even though it meant more hours inside during the spring than I wanted, I was happy to draw my local landscape. The Copper River watershed is already huge, but this map also covered all of Prince William Sound, so I ended up drawing a big chunk of Alaska. It is really cool to see how the mountains and glaciers around where I live in McCarthy connect into a series of rivers that lead to the ocean.

Map for Delta Sound Connections

Capitol Christmas Tree Ornaments

This was the first year that Alaska was selected to provide a Christmas tree for the capitol and as part of the project number Alaskan artists were commissioned to create ornaments. The ornaments were supposed to be made of natural or up cycled materials, represent what was important about to Alaska to the artist, and be replicated by students and other Alaskans wishing to contribute to the tree. I decided to paint some of my favorite alpine flowers on wood rounds. To me, one of my favorite experiences about living in the Wrangells is being able to get up into the alpine tundra. It feels like a magic fairy world to be amongst the flowers and above the trees. That is the slice of my home that I wanted to share with the world, even though it meant painting flowers from photographs in the middle of winter instead of enjoying the real things.

Above: Front and back of my ornament for the capitol tree. Photos from left to right by Jenny Rosenbaum, Kristin Link, and Maria Shell

Natural History Field Sketching Workshop

The last couple of years I have taught a workshop for the Wrangell Mountains Center on Natural History Field Sketching. It has been 3-4 days where I get to explore the landscape around McCarthy, sharing my favorite places to draw, and my favorite techniques for capturing the natural world on the sketchbook page. I had a pretty small class this summer, but a great group of students. We had wonderful weather and I even got to do a bit of sketching myself.

Above: Sketching at the toe of the glacier during the Natural History Field Sketching Workshop

 DEC Lab Public Art Paintings

As far as public art commissions go, this was a pretty small project, but I was still incredibly honored and intrigued to be selected to create a series of paintings for the DEC Lab in Anchorage. I decided that it would be fun to travel under the microscope and decided to paint some of the microbes that the lab workers often work with and think about. Even though some of these creatures are deadly, I wanted the work to be beautiful and engaging, and to spark interest and not fear. It was interesting to research different microbes and try to figure out how to keep the scale accurate so that everything is roughly the correct size.

The World of Microbes, paintings for the DEC Lab in Anchorage.

Photography by Michael Conti

Ahtna Cultural Center Interpretive Panel Illustration

You may have noticed a theme so far in this review, that I love to make art about and for the place where I live. I was happy to create an illustration of a birch tree for the Ahtna Heritage Foundation this fall. It is now part of an interpretive exhibit at the Ahtna Cultural Center in Copper Center that explains how the clans are related. If you are driving through Glennallen or Copper Center it is well worth the stop to check it out and to talk to the great people who run the Center.

Above: My illustration of the birch tree for an interpretive panel for the Ahtna Cultural Center. Photos by Tana Finnesand

APU Solo Show

After a busy summer it felt pretty good to hunker down in my studio in September to finish my show for Alaska Pacific University, which opened in October. This show included some of my field sketches, but had more of a focus on my recent illustrations and my portraits of nature, especially that which surrounds my home. APU has some lovely gallery spaces and I was very please with how the show looked when it was hung.

Above: Scenes from my show at Alaska Pacific University

Every time I get to sit down and make art that educates people about the natural world I feel honored and fullfilled. Thank you so much to all who made these projects possible, and thank you for reading this post to the end! We all make progress one step at a time. I’m excited for what the next year may bring and I’m grateful to you who make it possible.