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Art in the Arctic
by Todd Paris, University Relations

[PHOTO: Jesse Venable]September 2004

University classes don't often include jagged snow-capped mountain vistas, access to seemingly endless arctic tundra and countless icy streams--unless the class happens to be ART 295 at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. A partnership among three UAF units with seemingly different missions resulted in a learning opportunity for art students with a sense of adventure this summer.

Jesse Venable, a retired self-described computer nerd who now makes a living selling his own paintings, has three new works in his portfolio after attending a week-long field painting class this June in Alaska's Brooks Range. The UAF Summer Sessions class, taught by art Professor Dave Mollett and organized by Tim Stallard of the Outdoor Adventures Program, proved to be a big hit.

"The class exceeded all my expectations," Venable said. "I've been a fan of Mollett's paintings for a long time, and being able to take this class was a golden opportunity to learn from a great painter .... at a bargain price."

That sentiment was echoed by Stefanie Simpson, a UAF graduate student working toward a master of fine arts degree.

[PHOTO: Stafanie Simpson]"I've been working with Dave in drawing classes for a couple of semesters and have always been interested in landscape painting," Simpson said. "I'd never been to the Brooks Range before, and this sounded like a great opportunity."

Perfect weather and perpetual daylight during the six-day trip helped organizers and participants make the most of the experience.

"We had fantastic weather and it was a great group of people," Simpson said. "I learned a lot from Mollett and was able to really broaden my view of looking at mountains and landscapes."

[QUOTE: It (the Brooks Range) is both exotic and practical at the same time.]"The Brooks Range offers a spectacular venue for a workshop," Mollett said. "Everywhere you look is a great spot for painting. It's open, you can see the geology and the lay of the land. There's nothing to block your view. It's both exotic and practical at the same time."

But the environment did present a challenge for Mollett, who wanted to spend equal time with all 12 students, from serious painters like Simpson and Venable, to relative beginners.

"The class was open to students at all skill levels," Mollett explained. "They would spread out with their easels and supplies each morning, and I would hike around, up and down mountains all day to see them at their different locations. It was definitely a workout for me. I'm a big advocate of field painting. There's just so much more information you can convey in a painting if you're actually seeing the landscape in person rather than just looking at a photo."

Simpson agreed.

[QUOTE: When you're sitting there painting a mountain for eight-to-10 hours at a stretch, it really makes you look at things closely.]"I definitely look at landscapes differently now," she said. "I notice more colors, shadows, more textures and structural components. Dave helped me become more aware of what I'm looking at in a more detailed way. When you're sitting there painting a mountain for 8-to-10 hours at a stretch, it really makes you look at things closely."

For Stallard, the class offered a way to increase exposure for his Outdoor Adventures Program, and help students take advantage of what Alaska has to offer.

"I've been looking for ways to incorporate our program with more academic aspects of UAF," Stallard said. "We've been able to organize a couple of great glaciology trips in the past couple of years, and expanding to art classes was a natural. We didn't have to advertise this at all. Word spread within the art department, and before I knew it, it was full."

[QUOTE: I've been looking at ways to take some of our summer art classes above and beyond the normal studio work.]The class resulted from a shared interest in expanding students' exposure to the summer splendor of Alaska among Mollett, Stallard and Summer Sessions Director Michelle Bartlett.

"I've been looking at ways to take some of our summer art classes above and beyond the normal studio work," Bartlett said. "What better way is there than to take advantage of the glories of summer in Alaska and get students out in the field? It's just been sitting there, waiting to be enjoyed and utilized."

Bartlett said the idea is proving popular.

[PHOTO: Dave Mollet]"Last year we offered 18 sessions of art classes during the summer," she said.
"This year we had 30, and all but two of them were filled to capacity."

Next year Bartlett hopes to include sections offering a return trip to the Brooks Range, and offer more trips taking advantage of UAF's relative proximity to Denali National Park. In addition, she hopes to organize summer art trips to the Kennecott Mine near McCarthy, and possibly Cordova.

Meanwhile, Mollett said he's planning to organize an exhibition in the Fine Arts complex student art gallery sometime in October. showcasing some of the paintings produced during the class.

[PHOTO: Mollet and student painter]

Mollett offers some encouragement to class member Susan Nachtigal.

 

[PHOTO: Stefanie Simpson paints a landscape in the Brooks Range.]

Stefanie Simpson works on another painting.

 

[PHOTO: Students hike in the Brooks Range.]

Participants took time one evening to climb a nearby peak, taking advantage of the 24 hours of daylight in June on Alaska's North Slope.

 

[PHOTO: Students sit on the grass and paint in the Brooks Range.]

Karen Austen and Jeanne Armstrong enjoy a cushion of arctic tundra as they work on their paintings.

 

[PHOTO: A painting by an ART295 student.]

This painting, one of three created by Jesse Venable during the class, is entitled "Above Galbraith."

 
 

UAF photos by Tim Stallard