Olympic National Park, Artist-in-Residence 2023

Over the summer, I joined a group of thirteen artists in Olympic National Park’s artist-in-residence program, and participated in a park-sponsored show Terminus.

Terminus is an artistic elegy, a river you could skate away on, a love poem to a changing planet. Between 1982 and 2009, the number of glaciers in the Olympic Mountains shrank from 266 to 184. We know that number will dwindle further as the climate continues to change. The goal of the Terminus project is to immortalize glaciers of the Olympic Mountains through art. Each selected artist has created an original work as a tribute to their assigned glacier. As these glaciers melt away, the works of art will live on as a reminder that they were meaningful, and are still meaningful.

The Olympic peninsula was where I had many transformative and memorable outdoor experiences. It is an incredible place with a huge array of biomes including beautiful coastlines, alpine mountains, and temperate rainforests. This rich and delicate ecosystem has come under threat due to climate change. It was an honor to participate in a project to raise public awareness of our natural treasures, but what the stakes are if not cared for.

Olympic National Park assigned me commemorate a glacier through art. I consulted my mountaineering friends on which glacier they thought was significant. The now extinct Anderson Glacier piqued my interest the most.

 
Photo of Anderson Glacier in the winter taken by Jason Hummel.
Photo of Mt. Anderson taken by Jason Hummel.
It was a prominent body of ice located on the western slopes of Mount Anderson in the Olympic Mountains. The glacier was the headwater for Quinault River, and served an important role in the ecosystem. But between 1927 and 2009, it had lost 90% of its mass. By 2011, Anderson Glacier was extinct.
 
Since it’s disappearance, the Quinault River’s water levels have reached record lows. The loss of cold glacial waters have caused higher river temperatures. This has created dire consequences for multiple salmon species. The cooler waters helped the fish navigate upriver to breeding grounds, and also time their reproductive cycles.
 

In that moment I felt my heart sinking, thinking that the glacier that feeds the mighty Quinault River has now disappeared.

– FAWN SHARP, QUINAULT TRIBAL COUNCIL PRESIDENT
Communities with fishing-based economies along the Quinault River have suffered. Salmon habitat have suffered a loss in both quality and quantity. Communities with fishing-based economies along the Quinault River have their livelihoods threatened.
 
The Quinault Tribe, in particular, have lost a major source of income. They also had to relocate coastal homes and facilities due to rising sea levels. The downstream effects of glacial retreat aren’t confined to wild animals. There are also human costs.

The Residency

I worked on my pieces for the residency and art show during the spring of 2023. I first created a watercolor painting entitled, “The Funeral.” It was later showcased in the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center during the summer.

Port Angeles Fine Arts Center "Terminus" show.
"The Funeral."

During the onsite residency, myself and fellow artists gave public presentations about our topics and work. We travelled around to different ranger stations around the park between Port Angeles, Lake Crescent and Hoh Rainforest. 

Public presentations at Lake Crescent.
Public presentations at Port Angeles Ranger station.

On our off hours, I would kayak around different parts of the peninsula. Sometimes our group would have activities together, like hiking with the rangers up Hurricane Ridge and getting a world class lecture from the park’s Chief Scientist.

Hurricane Ridge, living up to its name.
Olympic NPS Chief Scientist Bill Bacchus, pointing out remaining bodies of glacial ice.

Public Works

For our presentations, I wasn’t sure if I would have Wifi or electrical outlets in the middle of the rainforest. I designed two portable displays with information on the  Terminus project, and Anderson Glacier.

Anderson Glacier banner.
A father explaining to his son the exhibit.

I also wanted to create an interactive exhibit, so I made three diorama sculptures that shows different stages of Anderson Glacier’s death over the course of a century.

I recruited help from an old friend, Evan Watson, a cartographer. With his assistance, we were able to get an accurate 3D model of “Anderson Basin” (now glacierless).

I created this to reflect how Anderson Glacier looked in the 1920s, 1950s and 2011, when it became extinct. This particular piece was a success in conveying glacial death in a tactile way. It was really sobering to see children asking their parents questions while their fingers ran across the different models, drawing comparisons. 

Reflections

Kayaking at Lake Crescent.
Kayaking at Ediz Hook at sunrise.
It was a great experience in one of my favorite national parks.  When I first embarked on this residency, I was on the hook for a painting. I appreciate art projects versus design is the more freeform and flexible nature of it. (Unless you are doing specific client work.) The most fulfilling piece was the dioramas, which I chose to do in the very last minute. I didn’t even complete it until two days before I threw my bags in the trunk and headed to the park! But it ended up being the most useful educational tool, and the the most fun to make. 
 
I hadn’t considered the accessibility aspect of this dioramas. Among the audience were young children who haven’t developed literacy skills. So, information on the display panels weren’t very helpful.
 
The dioramas were simple for them to comprehend. Children ran their fingers on the diorama Anderson Glacier. They compared the different stages of glacial death, and it left an impact on young audiences. In the future, I would add features like braille to help audiences who may be visually impaired.