Interpreting a Changing Landscape
By Caitlin Styrsky
The steady decline of glaciers in Montana’s Glacier National Park is no secret. Only 25 of the park’s original 150 remain, and studies by the United States Geological Survey predict the park’s largest glaciers could disappear as early as 2030. Though the USGS provides a wealth of analytical data on these shrinking ice masses, public awareness remains low.
Three artists from across the country set out to document the disappearing glaciers and create a new type of historical record. Todd Anderson, Bruce Crownover and Ian van Coller formed The Last Glacier project as a means of chronicling the fading glaciers through an artistic lens. The project will culminate later this year with the publication of a limited-edition artists’ book, featuring reductive woodblock prints and large-scale photographs of 13 glaciers within the park.
Anderson, an artist and assistant professor of printmaking at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, initiated the project shortly after hearing about the disappearing glaciers. As an outdoorsman, the news was devastating. “I realized that somebody needed to do something, or at least document their disappearance,” Anderson said. He made his first trip to examine the glaciers in 2010 and quickly recognized the project’s potential to resonate with the public.
“Reports don’t necessarily reach the public in the way that art can,” he said. “You don’t have to be a scientist to understand what’s happening.”Crownover, a printmaker from Madison, Wisconsin, and van Coller, a Bozeman, Montana-based photographer originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, joined the project in 2011. The artists visited the glaciers over the last four summers and created unique artwork based on their experiences. Anderson and Crownover produced woodblock prints while van Coller created large-scale photographs. Together, the artists generated a distinctive blend of images to convey an experiential interpretation of the disappearing glaciers.
But documenting the fading ice fields was far from easy. Seasonal and personal constraints made it difficult to spend large periods of time in the park. The men also struggled with the physical challenges of hiking to the glaciers, since some are as far as 20 miles into the backcountry. They then translated the enormous landscapes into art.
The limited-edition book is slated for completion in winter2015 and will contain 23 original prints on Japanese paper with each image spread across two pages. A floating spine will allow the book to open 40 inches by 24 inches and lay completely flat. Only 15 copies will be created.
“It allows the viewer to experience images in a different way from a mass-produced coffee-table book,” said van Coller, also an associate professor of photography at Bozeman’s Montana State University. The volume will cost upwards of $6,500, and individual prints sold separately will go for about $800, according to van Coller, who expects museums, universities, or private collectors to purchase the book.
The artists believe the project will serve as an educationaltool to help initiate conversations about the vanishing glaciers. “We hope that people, through art, experience the landscape in a different way,” van Coller said. “And that they might create some kind of emotional connection.”
The project’s next step, like the glaciers themselves, remains to be seen.
Each artist plans to continue examining human interaction with the environment through art. “The impending loss of the glaciers motivates me to spend more time with nature,” Crownover said. “I simply want to absorb the places that I find so beautiful before it is too late.”
This story was first published in the summer 2015 issue of Mountain Outlaw magazine.