Grace Juneau, ’20 | Student Artist for The Juneau Icefield Research Program: Researching Southeast Alaska’s Glaciers Through an Artistic Lens

In March of 2018, I received an email from a classmate at Skidmore with the subject: “You should totally apply!” Linked to this email was the application information for the student artist position with the Juneau Icefield Research Program (JIRP). As a studio art major at Skidmore with a background in environmental sciences and research, the program sounded perfect right off the bat.


After further reading I discovered that JIRP is an eight-week long research expedition across the Juneau Icefield (the icefield is located in Southeast Alaska through British Columbia). This year Skidmore has collaborated with JIRP to create the student artist position, in which one student from Skidmore will go to the icefield, participate in the expedition and research with the other students, while also creating artwork and exploring science communication throughout the summer.


When I found out about JIRP, I instantly fell in love with the idea of living on an icefield, traversing across glaciers, doing glaciology research, and of course, doing scientific related artwork in one of the most beautiful environments on Earth. And now, only a few days after stepping off the icefield, I can confirm that I fell deeper and deeper in love with the landscape and the JIRP community as a whole throughout the two-month expedition.


Traversing over an icefield that covers 5,000 square miles was a very challenging and gratifying way to spend my summer. Leaving my comfortable home in Connecticut to spend two months without cell reception, internet, running water, mirrors, vehicles, fresh food, and a real bed means learning to step out of my comfort zone in nearly every aspect of my regular lifestyle. Skiing and cramponing for over 7 hours from camp to camp can be physically challenging, but living in a place that is so large and vast and isolated creates incredible mental and emotional challenges as well. I found that with no distractions of modern amenities, I had to face my doubts and fears up front. On long traverses, many JIRPers (people on JIRP) and I found that certain thoughts and memories we believed to be tucked away in the corners of our minds would peak through and we would be forced to deal with supposedly settled baggage.


As the student artist, my main role as a member of JIRP this summer was to help visualize the science, landscape, and JIRP community through an artistic lens. Over the course of the summer I worked on different ways to capture the idea of perspective on the icefield. This ranged from perspectives of JIRP life through the camp communities, getting perspective of the large mountains through observing rocks, understanding the landscape better with timed color scale paintings, and small scale drawings. Now that I am no longer on the icefield and will be returning to Skidmore in a few short weeks, I’m going to expand my summer projects and keep exploring the idea of different perspectives of the icefield through drawing, painting, and ceramics.

*Taku Range photo credit to Andrew Opila.

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