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Exhibition at Whatcom Museum frames the cultural legacy of ice within the context of climate change
Thomas Hart Benton, Trail Riders, 1964–65. Oil on canvas, 67 ½ x 85 3/8 in. (171.5 x 217 cm). National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, Gift of the artist, 1975.42.1

BELLINGHAM, WA.- Vanishing Ice: Alpine and Polar Landscapes in Art, 1775-2012 opened to the public on November 3, 2013, at the Whatcom Museum’s Lightcatcher galleries and remains on view through March 2, 2014.

Showcasing the beauty and attraction of Earth’s frozen frontiers through 90 works of art from 12 countries, Vanishing Ice frames a unique body of art within the context of climate change. This cultural perspective reveals the importance of alpine and polar landscapes in shaping Western consciousness about nature, and helps inform the environmental challenges faced today.

“First and foremost, this show is a tribute to the beauty and majesty of the ice and its influence on the history of art, science, literature, and exploration,” explains Executive Director Patricia Leach.

Vanishing Ice provides visitors an opportunity to experience landscapes that have inspired artists, writers, and naturalists for more than two hundred years, highlighting the cultural legacy of ice. The exhibition traces the impact of glaciers, icebergs, and fields of ice on artist's imaginations, as well as the connections between generations of artists over two centuries.Visitors will experience the show thematically, geographically and chronologically, beginning with alpine landscapes and then moving on to Arctic and Antarctic sections. There is also a section devoted to Washington’s changing climate; Washington is home to more glaciers than any state except Alaska.

Culture-climate convergence zone in Bellingham
The show has become a catalyst for cultural and climate-related events in Bellingham. Along with the museum, 24 partner organizations are offering more than 80 programs related to Vanishing Ice from October 2013 through May 2014. Bellingham, like many coastal cities, is already planning for global warming affects related to diminishing snow pack and rising sea levels.

“The City of Bellingham is proud to host this unique and thought-provoking show,” said Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville. “Our community is known for its leadership in promoting civic dialogue about climate change and taking steps to address it.”

To commemorate the opening of Vanishing Ice, Linville issued a proclamation designating November 2013 as “climate change awareness month” in Bellingham.

Interweaving science, history and art
Through the centuries, collaborations between the arts and sciences expanded awareness of the Earth's icy regions.

"Years ago, scientists were artists and artists were scientists. Once again, artists are acting like other artists before them by reporting climate change through art, said Curator of Art Barbara Matilsky.”

Early artist-explorers contributed to a geographic understanding of alpine mountains, the Arctic, and Antarctica, satiating popular demand for new images of little known territory. In the wake of the large number of voyages launched during the nineteenth century, artworks of alpine and polar landscapes helped popularize revolutionary scientific discoveries and theories in natural history.

Works of art appeared in scientific publications, expeditionary atlases, travelogues, popular magazines, and exhibitions. Today, these early landscapes continue to play a major role in science by helping climatologists measure the retreat of glaciers over the centuries.

Internationally recognized artists
The exhibition features artists from Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Russia, Switzerland, and the United States. It will examine the connections among generations of artists as they sought to understand and interpret the color, light, and structure of ice.

Vanishing Ice also examines the stylistic evolution of alpine and polar imagery over two centuries. Within this context, the exhibition will feature the wide array of materials, media, and techniques that artists have employed to vividly capture the frozen landscape. Initially limited to drawings, prints, paintings and later photography, artists now utilize video, sound, and site-specific sculpture to interpret these environments. Among the fifty internationally recognized historical and contemporary artists included are: Ansel Adams, James Balog, Otto Olaf Becker, Rena Bass Forman, Lawren Harris, Helen and Newton Harrison, Frank Hurley, Issac Julien, Kahn & Selesnick, Rockwell Kent, Paul D. Miller/DJ Spooky, Alexis Rockman, and Spencer Tunick.

Despite diverse themes and interpretations, almost all of the artists respond, in some way, to the beauty of ice, according to Matilsky, who authored the 144-page catalogue, circulated by the University of Washington, that accompanies the show.

Available online
To make Vanishing Ice accessible to a wide audience, it will be possible to see the show online after November 3 at

Thirty years
While research for Vanishing Ice began 2005, the idea for the show traces to Matilsky’s doctoral dissertation, written some 30 years ago on the subject of French sublime landscapes. Her study included artists who traveled to the poles and mountain glaciers for inspiration. Later, she noticed that contemporary artists were doing the same thing. “I saw the opportunity to compare the historical with the contemporary,” said Matilsky. The more Matilsky dug into the idea, the more interdisciplinary connections she encountered. “Losing these landscapes would be a loss not only to the planet and its wildlife but also a major loss to culture, she said.

Vanishing Ice is organized by the Whatcom Museum and curated by Dr. Barbara Matilsky.

After concluding its debut in Bellingham March 2, 2014, Vanishing Ice will travel to The El Paso Museum of Art in Texas and the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Ontario; Canada.

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