Thursday, January 29, 2015

We have a new website!

We've moved!!
We haven't updated this site for some time because we now have an official website link for our Voices of the Wilderness artist residency program. To check out past participants, along with their artwork, stewardship projects and community extensions, please go to: The 2015 information and application are also located on this site. Please note that the deadline for applications is March 1, 2015. For further information or questions about our Voices of the Wilderness program, please contact VOTW coordinator Barbara Lydon at or (907) 783-0090

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Meet the 2012 artists

During the summer of 2012, seven different wilderness areas across Alaska hosted artists.  Included were five Wilderness areas on the Tongass National Forest, one Wilderness Study Area on the Chugach National Forest, and our first National Park: Western Arctic National Parklands.

Misty Fiords National Monument
Diana Woodcock (Qatar, writer) was a volunteer artist for ten days in Misty Fiords National Monument on the Tongass National Forest.

While in the field, Diana helped monitor visitor use on three subalpine lakes and trails and assisted with campsite monitoring and developed site maintenance.  She also helped set up sound monitoring equipment.

Petersburg Duncan Salt Chuck Wilderness, Tongass NF
Janet Davis (Brookield,CT photographer) was a volunteer artist for ten days on the  Petersburg Ranger District. 
Janet peeling a log for a bridge stringer in preparation for a foot bridge

During her time in the field, Janet pulled invasive plants at two sites at Petersburg Lake, photo documented the wilderness trail construction project, created a photo log of the 1/2 mile of trail conditions before and after project and assisted wilderness trail crew on a construction project.

Western Arctic National Parkands
MK MacNaugton (Juneau, AK, painter) was a volunteer artist for seven days in the Noatak National Preserve, Western Arctic National Parkands.

MK helped monitor backcountry airstrips for any activity in order to assist the Wildlife Protection Officers.

West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness, Tongass National Forest
Francis Vallejo (Austin, TX graphic artist, painter) spent five days on the Tongass National Forest, Ford Arm, West Chicagof-Yakobi Wilderness Area.

 Francis accompanied a Sitka Ranger District Wilderness Ranger and intern, assisting with important fieldwork that included monitoring twelve campsites that included documenting use of new and existing sites and naturalizing fire rings.  He helped remove an illegal structure (demolition, burning, and site naturalization) and helped maintain encounter data for wilderness character monitoring.  In addition, he helped maintain a bird and mammal species list for District biologist.


Nina Khaschina (Palo Alto, CA – watercolor illustrator) - volunteer artist for five days in Necker Bay, South Baranof Wilderness

Nina assisted with important fieldwork that included monitoring campsites, helping to maintain encounter data for wilderness character monitoring, and helping to monitor Benzeman Lake sockeye run for SRD Subsistence biologist. 

Kaylyn Messer (Seattle, WA – videographer/phtographer) - volunteer artist for five days in Necker Bay, South Baranof Wilderness

Kaylyn accompanied the SRD Wilderness Ranger, SRD support staff and another VOTW artist. As a former sea kayak guide, Kaylyn also provided invaluable technical expertise assisting with paddling and camping training and execution while serving as an important additional safety boat in at times exposed waters. Kaylyn also assisted with important fieldwork that included monitoring campsites, helping to maintain encounter data for wilderness character monitoring, and helping to monitor Benzeman Lake sockeye run for SRD Subsistence biologist. 

Susan Watkins (Eagle River, AK oil painter) was a volunteer artist for seven days on the Chugach National Forest.

Susan visited 3 different campsites known to have invasive weeds and helped pull dandelions at 2 of the locations.  She also helped pick up trash, monitored campsite conditions in Harriman Fiord, participated in visitor contacts, provided education to a group of  Alaska Geographic students who were helping the Forest Service with service projects and looked for lichens for air quality monitoring.

Irene Owsley (Potomac, MD, photographer) was a volunteer artist for nine days in Tracy Arm-Ford's Terror,  Tongass National Forest.

While in the field, Irene boarded two ships with a ranger to provide wilderness education.    She spent a large part of her field trip documenting the work of the rangers to contribute images for their image library. 

Jason Elvrom (Los Angeles, CA, painter) was a volunteer artist for nine days in Tracy Arm-Ford's Terror, Tongass National Forest.

While in the field working with another ranger, Jason maintained an encounters form to monitor "Outstanding Opportunities for Solitude." He also boarded two cruise ships in Tracy Arm to provide wilderness education to passengers, rode along on a cruise ship emissions test in Tracy Arm and cleaned up trash.

To view more artwork inspired by Alaskan residencies....

Check out:

2012 South Baranoff watercolor painter/illustrator Nina Khashchina 

2011 Nellie Juan-College Fiord WSA oil painter Kathy Hodge for photos from her residency:

2012 Western Arctic painter MK MacNaughton 
Art residency page-!projects

2012 Tracy Arm Ford's Terror painter/illustrator Jason Elvrom

2012 Tracy Arm Ford's Terror photographer Irene Owsley 

2011 Tracy Arm-Ford's Terror photographer Julie Denesha

"Guardians of the Tongass" website

    Thursday, November 22, 2012

    Summer 2012: VOTW expands to include 7 different Wildernesses

    This essay appeared in the Juneau Empire in April 2012.  The article reflects on the 2011 residencies and addresses the expansion of Wilderness areas hosting artists for the 2012 residencies.

    Voices of the Wilderness program expands to include 7 areas

    Deadline for artist residency programs is April 20

    Posted: April 4, 2012 - 11:01pm

     Back Next 
    Kathy Hodge, an oil painter from Providence, RI., accompanied rangers to Prince William Sound for one week last August.   Courtesy of Barbara Lydon
    Courtesy of Barbara Lydon
    Kathy Hodge, an oil painter from Providence, RI., accompanied rangers to Prince William Sound for one week last August.

    When Rhode Island painter Kathy Hodge headed up to the Chugach National Forest to participate in the Voices of the Wilderness artist residency program last summer, she expected that she might be artistically inspired by the landscape. But she didn’t foresee how that landscape would root itself in her consciousness in other ways. After spending a week with U.S. Forest Service wilderness rangers Barbara and Tim Lydon, and helping them to perform their duties while kayaking through fjords in Prince William Sound, Hodge developed a deep appreciation for the area and the rangers' work there.
    “Their love of the fjords of Alaska was contagious — now I am hooked,” she said.
    Hodge, who has participated in eight other artist residency programs around the country with the National Park Service, said the Voices of the Wilderness program was a significantly different experience for her because of her work with the rangers.
    “I did interact with many of the rangers in the National Parks and learned a lot about park stewardship (during other residencies), but my week with Barbara and Tim was total immersion.”
    The artist-ranger pairing stands as the backbone of Voices of the Wilderness residency program, begun two years ago by former Juneau resident Barbara Lydon. The program enables artists to travel with and assist rangers as they go about their jobs – an unusual feature in an artist residency program, which are often independent or observation-based.
    Lydon, who is an artist as well as a ranger, was inspired to design the program after participating in other residencies, including one at the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, which also encourages active artist involvement. Part of the idea behind the Voices of the Wilderness program is that artists are well-suited to translate their experiences in the wild back to the public through their art, thus helping spur awareness of the value of public lands.
    “I think that this is really important and impactful, spending time with the ranger -- and not just spending time but actually pulling invasive weeds or counting harbor seals, and finding out why we do those things, and how our public lands are being managed,” Lydon said.
    Lydon said her field experiences have also been made richer by the artists’ presence, and that the personal connections are part of what make this program unique, she said.
    “It’s just this beautiful symbiotic relationship where the artist learns from the rangers and the rangers learn from the artists,” she said.
    Now in its third year, the program has grown from three trips in one area (Tracy Arm-Ford’s Terror Wilderness) to multiple trips in seven different wilderness areas, five of which are in Southeast. The sixth is in the Chugach -- Lydon and her husband now work with the Glacier Ranger District in Girdwood -- and the seventh is in the Western Arctic National Parklands. The program in Western Arctic, which involves a 10-day river patrol of the Noatak River, was created with the cooperation of the National Park Service, and represents the interagency cooperation in building the program that has developed over the past year. Lydon, project coordinator for Voices of the Wilderness, organizes the applications and outreach for all seven programs, but artist selection and program specifics are completed on a local level.
    Lydon said in making interagency connections, and bringing in sporadic, existing programs, she hoped to streamline the process for everyone involved.
    “I was thinking people are trying to get this going but it’s not that easy when you have to reinvent the wheel,” she said. “We have the same objective — we’re trying to promote wilderness and we don’t want to create competitions but instead celebrate wilderness -- so it just makes sense that we outreach together, with the same idea of this stewardship aspect.” 
    Lydon said all the groups she talked to are “super charged” about the possibilities.
    The wilderness areas available to artists this year are Tracy Arm-Ford’s Terror Wilderness, Misty Fjords National Monument, Petersburg Creek-Duncan Salt Chuck Wilderness, Nellie Juan-College Fjord Wilderness Study Area in Prince William Sound, South Baranof Wilderness, West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness and the Western Arctic National Parklands. The deadline to apply for all seven is April 20.
    Each program is different in both content and length, but all involve participation in “light ranger duties.” Lydon said artists should be prepared to camp in remote locations, but capability is more important than experience, and no one will be asked to do anything rangers consider dangerous.
    “The bottom line is, we’re not going to be taking these artists, just as we wouldn’t take any volunteer, out into a situation where they feel unsafe,” Lydon said. “We give them the basic training and we always make sure that they are capable of what we are asking them to do.”
    Painter Hodge said her lack of outdoor experience made her a bit nervous at first.
    “I was a little apprehensive about how I would do, since at 55 years old I had rarely kayaked, hardly camped and never visited Alaska,” Hodge said. “I was also a little apprehensive of bears, especially when we went into the woods, but I was confident in the ranger’s instincts and I never had doubts about my decision to go.”
    Hodge prepared for the trip by hitting the gym and taking kayak lessons, learning how to make a “wet exit” — how to get out of the kayak if it’s upside down — just in case. But one of her biggest challenges proved to be something entirely different — no-see-ums, which she kept at bay with a headnet (and luckily they only dropped by for a day).
    Hodge said completed half a dozen studies in gouache during her stay, and took lots of photos to use in developing her work at home.
    Julie Denesha, a documentary photographer from Merriam, Kansas, also participated in last year’s Voices of the Wilderness program, traveling to Endicott Arm and Holkham Bay in Tracy Arm Ford’s Terror with Juneau-based rangers Liz Gifford and Sean Rielly. She said she also had hesitations about applying.
    “I distinctly remember standing at the post office, with my application in hand, wondering if I was prepared for an artist residency in the wilds of Alaska,” Denesha said.
    “My greatest fear was being the weakest link that would somehow put the other members of my team in danger.”
    But once on the trip, her fears were offset by her confidence in Gifford and Rielly. Like Hodge, Denesha said her interactions and experiences with the rangers was a huge part of what made the trip so rewarding.
    “I was incredibly grateful for every minute I had in the Tongass, and I wouldn’t have had the chance to experience it as intimately as I did without the help and guidance of the rangers I traveled with,” Denesha said.
    Denesha, who has had her photos published in the New York Times, Newsweek and The Economist, among other publications, focused on the effects of climate change through her art, gathering images that documented the rangers’ activities in the field -- such as boarding tour boats to provide education and monitoring emissions -- as well as many images of the natural world.
    “Seven days traveling in the Tongass is not a long time. But it is difficult to spend any amount of time around glaciers, to see how far they have retreated in the last hundred years, without concluding that the world is changing rapidly,” she said.
    On her return home, Denesha created a website about the program, Guardians of the Tongass ( that features her photographs, links and other resources.
    Last year’s participants also included Irene Owsley, a landscape photographer from the Washington D.C., area, and Marybeth Holleman, a writer from Anchorage. The women were scheduled to travel to Tracy Arm on separate trips, but hit it off on the first day and ended up sticking together, soon hatching plans for a collaborative project that featured Holleman’s writing and Owsley’s photographs. One of those products, a joint article, can be seen at the 49 writers blog ( They also have an article coming out in Canoe & Kayak magazine.
    Voices of the Wilderness residencies are open to artists and arts professionals in all media. This year’s applicants include composers and musicians, Lydon said, as well as many writers and poets. Artists pay to get themselves to their departure city, such as Juneau or Anchorage, and the Forest Service takes care of the rest of the transportation, as well as food and most supplies.
    Because one of the goals of the program is to share the beauty of these wilderness areas with the public, artists are expected to donate one piece of artwork to the Forest Service for use in publicizing public lands.
    Landscape photographer Owsley, for example, plans to donate two 60-inch panoramas, Lydon said, while Holleman will contribute an essay that the Forest Service may use for promoting the program or the area, and Hodge will donate an oil painting. Participating artists also agree to at least one public presentation (in Alaska or elsewhere) within six months — such as a lecture or workshop or performance.
    “The reason why we’re having the artist go to these places and take them back to say, Kansas, is so people can realize, hey, these places are special and worth protecting, climate change is real and it’s happening, and I’m here to tell you all about it,” Lydon said.
    The artists’ enthusiasm for spreading the word seems to be coming pretty naturally, as Alaska wins them over, one residency at a time.
    “I knew it would be exciting, but I didn’t know I would feel such a tug to go back,” Hodge said.
    “I’d go back in a heartbeat, if I could.” Denesha said.
    For more information about this program, e-mail Barbara Lydon at or check
    • Contact Arts Editor Amy Fletcher at