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SELAWIK: Artist-In-Residence Program Comes to the Arctic
Alaska Region, November 16, 2015
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Holly Gittlein and a Selawik River sheefish. Male sheefish were harvested and their ear bones (otoliths) collected for aging. Meat from the fish was dried and distributed in Selawik village.
Holly Gittlein and a Selawik River sheefish. Male sheefish were harvested and their ear bones (otoliths) collected for aging. Meat from the fish was dried and distributed in Selawik village. - Photo Credit: USFWS
Holly and the crew at the Selawik River sheefish research camp, September 2015.
Holly and the crew at the Selawik River sheefish research camp, September 2015. - Photo Credit: USFWS
Holly discussing her fish sculpture (one piece of the mobile) with a student at Selawik Science-Culture Camp.
Holly discussing her fish sculpture (one piece of the mobile) with a student at Selawik Science-Culture Camp. - Photo Credit: USFWS/B. Sweeney
Mixed-media mobile created by Holly Gittlein, Selawik 4th graders, and teacher Norma Ballot including pieces of metal sculpture and natural found objects from camp. Now on display in the Selawik School!
Mixed-media mobile created by Holly Gittlein, Selawik 4th graders, and teacher Norma Ballot including pieces of metal sculpture and natural found objects from camp. Now on display in the Selawik School! - Photo Credit: USFWS/B. Sweeney

Art has the ability to touch people, and connect with them in a meaningful way. It can inspire people, and motivate them to feel, act, or care. For these reasons, artists’ residencies (where artists spend time in a place to learn about it and then create artworks inspired by the visit) have long been popular in forests, parks and natural areas. Art which reflects these places’ beauty and value can help spread the word to more people about special places and why we should work to preserve them.

 

Selawik National Wildlife Refuge chose to participate as a host site in the 2015 “Voices of the Wilderness” artist residency program. From their description: “The Voices of the Wilderness artist residency is a unique opportunity. It is modeled after traditional residencies in the national parks…with a twist. Instead of staying at a remote wilderness cabin, our participating artists are paired with a wilderness specialist and actively engaged in stewardship projects, such as research, monitoring, and education. The idea is to give artists a sense of the stewardship behind America’s public lands, fostering an artistic exploration of these natural and cultural treasures. The hoped-for result is artwork that communicates something of the meaning of these lands.”

After being surprised by the number and diversity of the applications, the refuge selected Wasilla-based mixed-media sculptor Holly Gittlein to participate in the program. Her interest both in fish (which we have a lot of), and the connections between the Selawik River and its local people made her a good fit for what we wanted to showcase about the refuge. Holly came to Selawik in September and spent 2 weeks, split between a sheefish research project field camp in the far upper river and Selawik Science-Culture Camp based out of the village.

Holly proved herself to be quite hardy, enduring multi-hour open boat rides in the snow, winter camping conditions, icy waters and chewy maktak. She also turned out to be an adept angler, helping with the “hard work” of hook-and-line sampling for sheefish. Young people and community members welcomed Holly’s participation in the Science-Culture Camp, where she learned about Selawik’s subsistence traditions and also worked with 4th graders to create a mobile that now hangs in the school.

We are looking forward to seeing what Holly creates to help tell the story of her visit to Selawik, and to sharing her creation with others.

Thanks to those at the USFWS Fairbanks Fisheries Office and Native Village of Selawik that helped with this project. More about Voices of the Wilderness at http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/r10/home/?cid=stelprd3820977. More about Holly Gittlein at http://www.hollygittlein.com/Holly_Gittlein/Homepage.html.


Contact Info: Brittany Sweeney, (907) 442-3799 ex.16, brittany_sweeney@fws.gov
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