ALASKA NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE PROJECT
Artist in Residence: US Fish and Wildlife Service
I began working as an artist in residence with US Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska in 2016. That year I visited the southern portion of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Gwich’in people of Arctic Village. Since that summer, I have returned to complete projects throughout Alaska’s National Wildlife Refuge System – there are 16 Refuges total. I spend time in the wilderness learning about the land and animals and lead community service projects, art workshops, and murals in the Native villages. The resulting artwork is an ode to the way the people have been living in harmony with the wilderness for thousands of years and the interconnection that exists between all life forms in these precious public lands.
The artwork produced from these trips belongs to Fish and Wildlife to utilize for education, outreach, and relations. I hope what I share with you seeds a deep love for wilderness, a respect for traditional ways of life, and a desire to take care of the environments we live in with every step we take.
Selawik and Kodiak National Wildlife Refuges 2019
“Stories of Change”
Featuring May Walton, Frank “Sonny” Berry, and Shaylynn Ticket of Selawik
Vast expanses of tundra boasting blueberries and cranberries provide haven for the Western Arctic caribou, wolves, foxes and bears. Boats threading through the Selawik River delta send ducks and swans into flight. Sheefish and whitefish teem under the surface. Toward the mountains, sprawling tundra closes in with thick willow, alder, spruce and birch where great horned owls perch and wolves howl.
In Selawik National Wildlife Refuge above the Arctic Circle in Western Alaska, three generations of Iñupiaq people are at work. May Walton, who taught decades of Iñupiaq language, shares the secrets of navigating the landscape by dog team as she hangs whitefish to dry. Sonny Berry winds his boat swiftly up Fish River, recounting stories around every bend. 19-year-old Shaylynn Ticket monitors Selawik’s new recycling program from her position with the Environmental Protection Agency. Stories of travels, heroes, challenges and successes are carried in the hearts of generations of Iñupiat. But the land and water of Selawik National Wildlife Refuge, home for 10,000 years, is rapidly changing. What will be tomorrow’s story?
Yukon Flats and Togiak National Wildlife Refuges 2018
Featuring: Julie Mahler of Ft. Yukon and Clara Joseph of Beaver
The Yukon River flows 1,982 miles from Canadian mountain glaciers, across Alaska, and into the Bering Sea. A churning river of chocolate-colored silt, it sprawls across the land in braided tributaries and channels. This is the highway for the life-giving kin of this land – the salmon. The salmon create a vibrant cycle of life that is joined by moose, caribou, wolves, bear, and thousands of migratory birds that flock to the wetland ponds and lakes that pockmark the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge.
Born from this wilderness of water and boreal forest are Julie Mahler of Fort Yukon and Clara Joseph of Beaver. Molded by the river’s lessons for decades, these Gwich’in women carry the rhythm of the river under their skin, and their eyes and smiles tell stories of winter freezes, spring break-ups, and summer abundance. The Yukon provides life for the Gwich’in and calls to the wild-at-heart, who come from around the world to canoe, kayak, boat, fish and learn from the tremendous river that prevails across the Yukon Flats.
Linda Kirby, Togiak
“Made of This”
Featuring: Elsie Abraham, Aubrey Gosuk, and Skylar Wassillie of Togiak
It’s salmon season in Togiak Village, and everyone’s on the water. Home to people of Yup’ik Eskimo heritage, it is nestled in Togiak Bay, with Togiak National Wildlife Refuge spilling for 4.7 million acres behind it. In this expansive wilderness, the Ahklun Mountains give way to tundra and willow-edged rivers carrying fleets of spawning salmon inland from the Bering Sea. No fish will go to waste – they feed the mouths of humans, bears, wolves, ravens, eagles and dissolve as nutrients in the soil and water.
Togiak elder Elsie Abraham knows well this precious balance of her wild home, and takes good care to extend this knowledge to the younger generations like Aubrey Gosuk and Skylar Wassillie, whose joy is palpable as they reel in jack salmon and rainbow trout from Togiak River. Complete with harvests of sour dock, stinkweed, and salmon berries, the natural abundance here fills bellies and hearts. They are made of this. A cycle unbroken.
Arctic and Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuges 2017
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
The Hula Hula River, Brooks Range Massif, and Kaktovik on the Arctic Coast
“The Arctic Miracle of Life”
Featuring: Betty Brower and Isaac Akootchook of Kaktovik
At the northernmost point of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, rivers split at the Continental Divide and wind through the Brooks Range Massif. Out onto the flat Coastal Plain they flow, depositing nutrients into a teeming Arctic Ocean. Here, mother polar bears den in the winter and caribou birth calves in the spring. Wolves pursue caribou and Dall’s sheep over tundra trails, and bowhead whales carrying ancient threads of the sea nourish a people who call this place home – the Inupiaq Eskimos of Alaska.
Elders like Betty Brower and Isaac Akootchook who thrive here know it to be a land of self-reliance, but also radical interdependence.
By recognizing the cycles that push and pull at the North of the planet, we can find roles in supporting this persistent
Arctic Miracle of Life.
Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge
Featuring: Samuel Jackson Sr. of Kwethluk and Sophie Sakar of Chuathbaluk
Winding down the Kuskokwim River towards the delta, the earth flattens, trees disappear, and the expanse of tundra becomes unfathomable. Upriver, 75-year-old Sophie Sakar collects the abundant wild blueberries of the late summer tundra, her backdrop, the Russian Mountains, of the last undulations in the terrain. Those same hands that boil moose in stew, take apart whitefish for akutaq, and fillet salmon for drying, rebuilt her village from the ground up.
Downriver, Samuel Jackson Sr., speaking only his native tongue, tells harvest stories as his eyes trail flocks of geese overhead. At 93 years old and the traditional chief, his family legacy spans up and down the river. The magic of the wild Kuskokwim is evident as rounding every bend of the river sends waterfowl and osprey into flight, and through its history with its people, the Yup’ik Eskimos of Alaska, who to this day live inextricably intertwined with the river that sustains them.
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge 2016
Last Lake and Arctic Village
“As Above So Below”
Featuring: Trimble Gilbert of Arctic Village
Through the layered complexities of the Arctic landscape, the continuity and the connection of all things surface. The Arctic loon calls out from the mouth of the Teedrinjik River, cutting through mighty mountains and sparse spruce forest. The call is met by the swans flying above and the caribou grazing below. Merging with the mountainside, Gwitch’in elder Trimble Gilbert bears a look that is telling of the depth of the People of the Caribou, their understanding of the land’s workings, and wondering what is to come.
Melting permafrost reveals that a land, even this vast and untouched, is subject to the effects of climate change. Here, in one of the wildest places on our planet, we find context and lessons for life. The importance of wilderness is immeasurable.
As above, so below.