Voices of the Wilderness

December 13, 2012 Posted by: MK MacNaughton

Flight In
Flight In, 30x40" | MK MacNaughton

In September 2012 I visited the Noatak National Preserve near Kotzebue, Alaska as a Voices of the Wilderness Resident. I hiked, sketched, painted, and soaked in as much of the vibrant fall color as my memory could carry away with me. Back in Juneau I worked on creating a series of paintings and drawings from this experience which were on exhibit for the First Friday December Art Walk. As part of the exhibit, I offered an artist talk and slideshow. Over 500 people visited the exhibit, and 40 people attended the slideshow. Additionally, I will be offering a talk and slideshow about my experience in the Noatak in Sitka on February 21st, 7pm at the Park Service Visitors Center.

MK MacNaughton pitching a tent in the backcountry
MK MacNaughton pitching a tent in the backcountry | NPS Photo

I have spent the past 23 years living in the rainforest of Southeast Alaska. I grew up in Portland, Oregon, so the Pacific Northwest and it's lush, green forest has always been home to me. The opportunity to visit the Noatak gave me a glimpse of an entirely different landscape, and the opportunity to spend time taking in the landscape as an artist guided my vision while I visited the preserve. Alaska is such a breathtakingly huge state, it is hard to fathom how different the geography, flora and fauna of our state is. The Noatak National Preserve is 8.5 million acres, which is about the size of Switzerland. This is only one of the four parks that the NPS Western Arctic National Parklands staff oversees!

Copter Peak view from camp
Copter Peak view from camp, 36x36" | MK MacNaughton

Visiting the Noatak in the fall presented colors I don't usually get to see. The cusp of summer to winter is quick in the north. We felt and saw glorious warm sunny days, burning red and orange tundra, icy rain, hail and dustings of snow during the days we camped at Copter Peak. There were still berries in the meadows, but it wouldn't be long before the nearby sea froze. I spent a lot of time looking at the colors around me. The mountains shifted from pale, dusty blues to purple to red, depending on the time of day and weather. The landscape expressed its moods through clouds that raced through the sky. I feel lucky to have visited during the magical and fleeting fall.

Paintings drying in the tent
Tiny paintings drying in the tent | NPS Photo

The Sleeping Giant
The Sleeping Giant, 16x20" | MK MacNaughton

As an artist I sketched and painted every day. I usually work in a studio, so the opportunity to make art in the field was a new experience for me. I found when I returned to my studio that my field sketches offered me more detail than photographs could sometimes as references. In photos, shadows sometimes obscured ridge lines and receding mountain edges. Because I took the time to sketch the world around me while I was in the field, I learned a lot about the landscape. I became personally acquainted with the landscape.

Looking for an un-crowded place
Looking for an un-crowded place, 30x40" | MK MacNaughton

I was, and still am, in awe of the scale of the Noatak. We flew in a small plane for about an hour from Kotzebue to get to our campsite. The aerial view of winding waterways, patterns and colors of the tundra is mesmerizing. On the ground, the tundra offers an infinite journey into pattern and color on a tiny scale as well. I could very well have dedicated an entire trip to learning about fascinating plants and lichens that looked like they were from another planet to me. The contrast of scale was fascinating, and had a great influence on the art I created once home in my studio. I hope to return to the Noatak again someday, and I appreciate the fabulous opportunity I had through Voices of the Wilderness.

Day hike with MK MacNaughton
Day hike with MK MacNaughton | NPS Photo

Stepping Back in Time
Stepping Back in Time, 16x20" | MK MacNaughton

A huge thanks to Dan Stevenson with the National Park Service in Kotzebue for making this residency possible, and my deepest gratitude to Wildlife Biologist Marci Johnson for accompanying me to the tops of ridges, up river beds, and best of all, for quietly sitting in the sunset watching caribou graze past our camp.

Thank you also to the teens at Kotzebue High School who spent time drawing with me and the elders in Assisted Living who sat for portraits and told me stories of the land that they love and know so well.

Tomorrow's Possibilities
Tomorrow's Possibilities, 20x20" | MK MacNaughton

Please feel free to visit my website to see a few of my photos from this trip under the "Projects" tab.

For the lichen guys
For the lichen guys, 6x8" | MK MacNaughton

This project is supported in part by grants from the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council and the Alaska State Council on the Arts.

After Dinner Stroll
After Dinner Stroll, 20x20" | MK MacNaughton

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  3. December 19, 2012 at 07:27

    Thank you for your comment to MK, Lyndon. You can see more of her work, including the portraits of elders, on her website: http://www.mkmacnaughton.com/#!exhibits

  4. December 18, 2012 at 08:19

    Wow, these are wonderful. Thanks, MK, for expressing the vitality of the park in a way that photos can't capture. I can almost smell the earth & air in these paintings. Would love to see your pictures of elders too. I'm glad you could be our eyes to see this place - and share it!

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Last updated: April 14, 2015

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