High Latitudes: Science and Art in the Arctic, Summer 2010

May 21, 2010

By Marcy Davis 

Maria Coryell-Martin's signature Altoid-tin expeditionary artist's tool kit. All photos courtesy Maria Coryell-Martin

When we last checked in with Maria Coryell-Martin, Expeditionary Artist extraordinaire, back in 2008, she was fresh off an artist-in-residence program with Quark Expeditions aboard the Clipper Adventurer, which sailed between Ushuaia, Argentina, and the Antarctic Peninsula. Since then, she’s been busy sketching, painting, and sharing her talents with students of all ages in her own backyard – the North Cascade Mountains of Washington State. Now, she’s getting ready to go to Greenland once again. 

This summer, Maria is headed north once again to Greenland (With NSF support, she visited Summit Station as part of her Watson Fellowship in 2005). She will participate in research led by Dr. Erik Born (Greenland’s Institute of Natural Resources), a biologist who studies walruses. Between July 19 and August 11, Maria plans to join the science party at Daneborg Station on Greenland’s east coast in Greenland National Park. In addition to painting, Maria plans to incorporate field sound recordings in multimedia works. 

Sketching at Summit Station in 2005.

“I have three goals in Greenland: I’m really excited to work larger. I have a new tripod that will allow me to do some larger-scale sketches and watercolors. I’ve been very inspired by artist Tony Foster. I also plan to gather as much field material as possible through sketches, sound, and photos so that I can develop my field work into an expeditionary art journal, educational materials, and studio work for exhibit,” she says. 

The work in Greenland will overlap with Girls on Ice, an annual free science education course wherein nine high school girls and three instructors spend eleven days learning about glaciers through scientific field work and mountaineering on Mt. Baker. Maria has participated in the program since 2007.  In her first year, she held field sketching/nature journaling workshops as part of the curriculum. 

The last two years, this part of the program has expanded and Maria has joined the ranks as co-instructor. To get the students going, she provides three sets of her signature ‘Altoid tin’ watercolor palettes for the team to share. In addition to individual journals, one student acts as artist of the day and is charged with representing their day through art in a group journal. Through art, the girls pay attention to the world around them in a very different way. 

“They are learning about science, mountaineering, and art. By including field sketching in their curriculum, students have time to reflect on and process their new and very different environment, as well as consider the cross-over between art and science,” Maria says. 

In addition to Girls on Ice, Maria participates each spring in Polar Science Weekend at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle. Here, she shares her paintings of the Arctic and Antarctic with the local community, other artists, and scientists. 

Maria (right) presents her work at Polar Science Weekend.

In her blog during this year’s event, Maria said, “I do truly believe that art and science overlap through making observations and cultivating curiosity. While I love my personal time out sketching and in the studio, I’m delighted to share the art of sketching and nature journaling with others to encourage awareness of the environment.” 

In the fall of 2009, Maria married Darin Reid, an independent Web developer, and the couple moved to the small town of Twisp, in Washington’s remote and lovely Methow Valley, for an “experiment in rural living.” 

In a few months, Maria and her sweetie plan to move back to Seattle where they will be able to grow their businesses and Maria will be able to focus on her passion – sharing her love and concern for the Polar Regions through art. Although she’s managed to continue holding workshops for kids of all ages all over Seattle, she admits, she’ll be happy to no longer have the nearly four-hour drive over the mountains. 

Maria teaches 3rd-5th graders tools for observation at Islandwood School on Bainbridge Island in January, 2010.

In the meantime, Maria is preparing to return to Greenland this summer. Although Dr. Born has generously offered her a place at Daneborg Station, funding the travel expenses is up to Maria. With her usual can-do attitude, Maria is applying for grants to help support her trip while actively fundraising for travel (you can donate air miles), living expenses, materials (such as watercolor paper or a thermarest pad), and studio time.

All donations are tax-deductible through the Allied Arts Foundation, a non-profit organization established in 1967 to support artist and arts organizations. A private grant will match what she raises until she reaches $8000, the amount needed to work with Dr. Born. As of this writing, Maria has raised $4600 and is working hard for the rest. You can support Maria at one of four sponsorship levels and, in return, you’ll receive original artwork from the field. Learn more here

Meanwhile, Maria is always looking for a Polar adventure – contact her to talk about joining your science team. 

“I want to involve my community more in the process of science by emphasizing education outreach,” Maria explains. “I want to use this trip as proof-of-concept. Stay tuned for my blog updates.” 

It’s October Polar Week!

October 7, 2009
What Happens at the Poles Affects Us All
A student at Ohio State University explores extreme cold weather issued by the US antarctic program. POLENET researchers established the exhibit at OSU to celebrate Polar Week. Click the picture to visit their site, brand-spanking new on October 9th.

A student at Ohio State University explores extreme cold weather gear issued to US antarctic program participants. POLENET researchers established the exhibit at OSU to celebrate Polar Week. Click the picture to visit their site, brand-spanking new on October 9th.

We’re in the middle of an International Polar Week exploring how changes at the poles affect the rest of the world—environmentally, socially, economically, politically, and so on.  You almost can’t swing a cat on the Internet without finding a link to a live event.

Two are planned for tomorrow, Thursday, October 8.  

  1. Join in on a radio discussion about the complexity of the issues in the Arctic, hosted by KLB radio in Yellowknife, Canada. “Listeners can hear classes around the globe share their concerns about the future of the Arctic by listening live OR blogging their own questions to a panel of experts who will respond to class presentations and answer student questions,” the IPY Web site explains. The event starts at 9am MST.
  2. PolarTREC teacher Cristina Galvan and scientist Merav Ben-David (U Wyoming) – both cruising aboard the USCGC Polar Star in search of polar bears –  will offer a short presentation on the Hank Harlow-led polar bear study before answering questions live from somewhere in the Beaufort Sea. This program gets under way at 9:30 am. To participate,  register here.

Check the official IPY Web site (interim) for more of the week’s happenings.

Meanwhile, in the spirit of polar week – and let’s face it, because it’s a great story – we bring you research news from the south:  black-browed albatross apparently feed with killer whales. Japanese scientists working with British colleagues equipped the birds with tiny cameras and depth recorders to investigate how these birds can survive long flights over the open (“featureless”) ocean.  Images suggest they clean up food scraps on or near the ocean surface after the killer whales (and other birds) feed. No news on who picks up the check.

Albatross Cam. Picture C shows the albatross following a killer whale; picture E shows it following a ship - perhaps another place to pick up food scraps.

Albatross Cam. Picture C shows the albatross following a killer whale; picture E shows it following a ship - perhaps another place to pick up food scraps.