Unpacking Antarctica, at the National Science Foundation headquarters Arlington, VA (right outside D.C.)

As far as I know the show has reopened after the government shutdown has thankfully finished. As I remember this journey and read about how the shutdown has stymied Antarctic research,  I realize how fortunate I was to have had this amazing and demanding experience. This year, those at the National Science Foundation, who helped to facilitate my trip (in 09-10) had to fly back from the Antarctic a week after arriving and are in limbo even with the budget temporarily restored.

On Friday September 20, I gave a talk at the headquarters of the National Science Foundation, in Arlington, VA (DC region—accessible by Metro.) The talk was in conjunction with a show of my work currently on the third floor of the NSF building. My blog http://elise-on-ice.blogspot.com/ shows most of the work in the show.

Our winter (Antarctica summer) of 2009-10 I was a recipient of a National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Artist and Writer’s grant.  My proposal, entitled Unpacking Antarctica, set out the goal to draw everything possible in Antarctica—and thus give the viewer as much of a sense of this remote place as possible. The grant allowed me to spend 2 months on “the Ice.” My time was divided between McMurdo Station, Lake Hoare, Cape Royds, Cape Crozier and the South Pole Station.

McMurdo Station has a maximum capacity of 1200 people is the starting point for all American research done on the New Zealand side of Antarctica.  It is located on Ross Island—a small island right off the coast of the main continent. I was there for survival training, in between other field camp forays, as well as to witness some of the scientific research done in the station’s labs.  Cape Royds is a small penguin colony also on Ross Island. It is, in addition, the location of the hut of the early British explorer.  The hut, like everything in Antarctica, is preserved by the cold. There, I spent time learning about Adelie Penguins with environmental scientist and Adelie penguin expert, Dr. David Ainley. The penguin chicks were just hatching, and Dr. Ainley was recording data.

I spent three weeks at Lake Hoare, a field camp in the Dry Valleys—on the edge of the continent. Unlike most of Antarctica, there is a great deal of exposed ground here. The camp is located on a semi -frozen lake (it being summer) in the Taylor Valley and is part of the 1% of Antarctica that is not snow covered. During my time there I lived in a tent, and drew and painted outside until my watercolors or fingers began to freeze. (Temperatures were similar here to a NYC winter.)

Cape Crozier, also on Ross Island, is the home 150,000 breeding pairs of penguins. I was at this small field camp for several days and Dr. Ainley was here concurrently to tag adolescent penguins.

I was also fortunate enough to visit the Amundsen-Scott Station at the South Pole. The pole is roughly 900 miles form McMurdo Station and one travels there on an army plane. (The other places were reached by helicopter.) Here I drew from looking out the windows—it being too cold to attempt to paint/draw outside.

I returned to NY with thousands of photographs, videos and many drawings and paintings. I have subsequently worked in my studio—making an 11-part timeline in gouache/ color pencil drawing on paper of the entire trip. I also made many small oil paintings using the photographs and drawings as references. This work and the watercolors, drawings and 2 accordion books done on site are all in the show.

The work has been exhibited at the Esther Massry Gallery, College of Saint Rose, Albany NY earlier this year in a 3-person show titled Bi Polar-Journeys to the Ends of the World. Some of the work will be in an exhibit at Dorsky Gallery, Long Island City starting in January 2014.

Images from the Albany show, and the blog posts from the trip itself can also be seen at http://elise-on-ice.blogspot.com/ While in Antarctica I was on a short sabbatical from teaching through the Studio in a School program. My students at PS 165 in Manhattan sent me questions while I was on the Ice and those can be read on the blog as well. The computer teacher and the science teacher used my blog as a teaching tool. The computer teacher posted the pictures and the text on a bulletin board dedicated to the expedition, and the entire school followed my journey.


10 part drawing chronicling trip to Antarctica through the National Science Foundation"s Antarctica Artist and Writer's Program

10 part drawing chronicling trip to Antarctica through the National Science Foundation”s Antarctica Artist and Writer’s Program


McMurdo Station Inventory, Text from Ninety-Degree Draft, and Lake Hoare Field Camp


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s