It’s no secret that I love the art of travel and I have figured out how to combine my love of art with travel by serving as artist in residence at various National and State Parks and other public lands. Now I can tell the story of my most recent attempt at adventure. Last Christmas one of my art friends sent me an application for The Voices in the Wilderness residency and told me I should apply. Flattered, I quickly did some investigating and learned that the program embedded artists in the Alaskan Wilderness, and I do mean embed. Artists were invited to apply to 10 different wilderness locations where they would accompany a ranger or US Fishery and Wildlife employee into the outback. Artists would be sleeping in a tent, hiking through Alaska and finding inpiration to make art, no comfy cabins here.
I spent the month of January lost in research about Alaska and devising a proposal that I hoped would land me the opportunity to really test my metal and kick up the ol’ adrenalin a notch or two. What a relief to find out there are no rattlesnakes in Alaska (see previous blogs regarding this particular reptile)! No snakes in the whole darn state to be exact. Huh. This was quickly replaced with concern that more people are killed by moose and plane crashes every year than those who meet their maker by snake bite in the whole rest of the country. Then there are the bears, both Black and Brown. For those of you needing to know, Brown Bears are genetically identical to Grizzlies, they are just a bit smaller and….brown. Have I mentioned the mosquitos? Before proceeding much further I consulted with my own personal wilderness expert, my brother Bruce. He gave me a brief tutorial on the finer points of bear barrels and the treatment of clothing with permethrin to ward off skeeters.
February saw the mailing of fat application packets to two carefully chosen wilderness sites and then the long wait for a response. Well, not so long after all. Within three weeks I received a very excited call from one of the sites. We talked at length about my proposal and the details of the potential trip. I would be flying into Anchorage then a pilot would retrieve me in a small float plane and fly me into the wilderness for a two-week stay. Here I would be accompanied by a 70-year-old, gun-toting volunteer whose job would be to keep me from getting lost and to shoot any bears with more than a passing interest in art and artists. To aid in this endeavor I would be provided with a battery operated electric fence to surround my tent, and myself should I choose to sit and sketch or photograph. Bear barrels would be provided as well as three different communication devices including a Satellite phone. Hey! Isn’t that what those embedded war correspondents use in the Middle East? So what was I actually worried about? None of that stuff. I was filled with anxiety regarding, shall we say, the finer points of personal hygiene in the backwoods with no running water or toilets and a total stranger in tow. A third week in Alaska would involve working with Native Alaskan youth on an art project at Culture Camp where Native arts like hunting, fishing and berry picking are combined with science and archaeology in an effort to keep the Native culture alive. Intriguing.
As it turned out I need not have worried. A week later I received a call advising me that the person in charge of the program was accepting a job in another state and that the program would not be going forward this year as there was no one else capable of organizing it on such short notice. Because well…people could actually die out there unless the logistics were done properly. I saw their point. The second venue I applied to did not receive funding from the feds this year, so done and done. This goes to illustrate the fact that often when we are rejected it is not personal in any way. Many times our seeming rejection actually has nothing to do with us, but often artists in particular view such so called rejection as judgement about themselves or their work, making them afraid to take chances in future that might afford them amazing experiences. By the way, if you have been following the news lately, it seems half the state of Alaska has been on fire this summer, and with no roads, fire fighting is an extreme and very serious vocation. Be careful what you ask for.
And….never underestimate the wonders to be found in your own back yard. Part of what I enjoy about travel is the indigenous art found in the areas I visit. Mesa Verde has the stunning Black on White pottery, Agate Fossil Beds, Sioux beadwork and ledger art, etc, etc. Ohio has the Mound Builders, the Hopewell Culture to be exact. I studied them in school, but this summer I have immersed myself in the beauty of their art and the new historical theory gained with advances in science and archaeology.
The summer started off innocently enough with a visit with my cousin to Serpent Mound for a Summer Solstice Supper created with turkey and the three sisters, beans, corn and squash, then a lecture by Dr. Brad Lepper, which turned out to be mostly about the amazing artwork created right here in Ohio. Well, that sent me on a quest and my summer has been consumed with visiting Hopewell Sites. So far I have visited Hopewell Culture National Park, Seip Mound, Spruce Hill, Fort Hill and The Ohio Historical Society to view this unique symbolic and spiritual art which is so skillfully executed, it is much more sophisticated than the Mesa Verde pottery. In my spare time I have also read Dr. Lepper’s book, Ohio Archaeology. Left on my To Do list is a visit to Flint Ridge only about 20 miles away and a source of the colorful flint used to make atlatyl spearheads, arrow heads, knives and other stone implements since the time of the Paleo-Indians, and Tarlton Cross only a 20 inute drive from home. I have had a wonderfully interesting summer so far and in just a few weeks I will be leaving to visit my son in Munich and my best friend in Wales with a side trip to Amsterdam. So if you try sometimes, you just might get what you need (and without being burned to a crisp in the Wilderness.)