End of Season Field Reports

2009-2010 Field Season

Ice Cores: Translucent Truths from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (W-217-M)
NSF-OPP supported
PI: Anna McKee (Independent Artist, Seattle, Washington)

I traveled to the WAIS Divide field camp as a participant with the 2009-10 NSF Artists and Writers Program. This visit was part of an ongoing inquiry into ice cores and the glaciated environments of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and the Pacific Northwest. My primary goals are to create artwork that both documents this research and articulates a visual response to these landscapes, the ice specimens and the environmental changes that this research is tracking.

Prior to the trip, I visited NICL and the University of Washington's Isolab to draw ice cores, spoke with several scientists to gain insight into current research, and hiked to Northwest glaciers for sketching sessions. During this time, I created a series of etchings and drawings that explored the micro scale of ice cores and the macro scale of glaciers.

While in Antarctica, I spent time sketching, writing, taking pictures, watching the ice coring operations and talking with a rich array of scientists and staff. I returned with a flood of impressions. Some of the more striking impressions are: the peculiar effects of undifferentiated space on my perception, observing cutting edge science first hand, and the curious experience of being in a remote extreme place with very high tech and resource intensive support. In the studio, I am sorting these impressions into themes: the story of the camp, the character of "the white", and the concurrent trapping and obliteration of substances on the plateau (i.e. the gradual burial of the arch, the constant shifting of the snow surface, etc.).

I am now creating artwork in several groupings; The Camp Stories, Antarctic Space and Light, Ice Cores, and Temperate Glaciers. It is a process of sifting through a large collection of images, (ranging from my own photographs and sketches, to scientific and historic sources) to convey the beauty and magnificence of these frozen landscapes in the face of environmental degradation. I began by creating drawings of my first impressions of the place and am now adding narrative elements to current drawings that allude to the changing environment and human history. The goal is for the viewer to consider their surroundings to reconnect to natural processes and our intertwined relationship with these processes.

In June, I was a "Visiting Artist" to art and science classes at two middle schools in Seattle. In addition to a slide and video presentation about my work and the WAIS Divide Ice Core Project, Heidi Roop and I developed an activity in which the students build "Mallow" ice cores using marshmallows as the snow crystals and small candies to represent various particles that get trapped in the snow column. Students then wrote about or sketched their core columns.

The West Antarctic Ice Sheet is a remote and unique place that few people are able to experience, though because of global climate change, the public is being asked to consider its fate. Mass media attention, though important, may not always be effective in connecting people to the frailties of Earth's systems in an emotional way. Through the use of metaphors and symbols that communicate both consciously and subconsciously, art is an alternate and potent vehicle of communication

Schedule of Exhibitions and Outreach Events:


  • "Phinney Resident Captures Antarctica in Art", Phinney Ridge Review, Spring 2010
  • Critical Messages: Contemporary Northwest Artists in the Environment; curated by Sarah Clark-Langager, Director, Western Gallery and John Olbrantz, Director, Halle Ford Museum, Willamette University – Traveling group exhibition with catalog.
  • Visit to the Mt Waddington Ice Core Project, British Columbia
  • Visit to Girls on Ice, Easton Glacier, Mt Baker, Washington
  • November 12-December 12, Deep Ice, Deep Time, Exhibition of Prints and Drawings, Francine Seders Gallery, Seattle
  • November 19-January 8, 2011, Artist Talk and Exhibition of Mt Waddington drawings at Gage Academy of Art, Seattle
  • Community talk at the Seattle Public Library, Greenwood Branch


  • January-April, American Meteorological Society & EcoArts Communicating Weather and Climate Group Exhibition at the Washington State Convention Center.
  • November-December, Ice Stories, Three Woman Exhibition, including The Camp Stories prints at the Washington State Convention Center, Seattle
  • Release of a catalog of artwork and journal entries.

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