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Information iconYukon River flowing through Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge. (Drawing: Lindsay Carron)

Portraits of Alaska

Each year within Alaska’s 16 national wildlife refuges, the frigid temperatures, darkness and compounding snow of winter slowly give way to tundra bursting with berries in summer. A quick couple of months bring sunlit abundance in the form of millions of salmon and migratory birds, and thousands of migrating caribou. Countless living beings rely on this cycle before darkness returns.

Lindsay Carron

As an artist in residence with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Los Angeles-based Lindsay Carron (left) travels into the heart of refuge lands and meets Alaska Native people who have called them home for thousands of years.
Carron creates intricate drawings with ink and colored pencil over vintage topographic maps that honor the lifeways of the people she meets. She learns firsthand the importance of these wild places from people deeply connected to them. She gives the final artwork back to the communities and, as they permit,  shares it with broader audiences. The drawings, she hopes, “light a fire of stewardship in our hearts and urge for the care of these lands for generations to come.” This story showcases six of Carron’s drawings, each paired with a short reflection by the artist.


Arctic NWR Arctic Village (Drawing Lindsay Carron)
(All drawings: Lindsay Carron)

“As Above, So Below” 2016 Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
Featuring Trimble Gilbert of Arctic Village

“The continuity and the connection of all things surface through the layered complexities of the Arctic landscape. The Arctic loon calls out from the mouth of the Teedrinjik River, cutting through mighty mountains and sparse spruce forest. The call is met by the swans flying above and the caribou grazing below. Merging with the mountainside is Gwich’in elder Trimble Gilbert bearing a look that is telling of the understanding of the People of the Caribou of the land that is their home.”


Arctic NWR Kaktovik (Drawing Lindsay Carron)

“The Arctic Miracle of Life” 2017 Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
Featuring Betty Brower and Isaac Akootchook of Kaktovik

“At the northernmost point of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, rivers split at the
Continental Divide and wind through the Brooks Range massif. Out onto the Coastal

Plain they flow, depositing nutrients into the Arctic Ocean. Here, mother polar bears den in the winter and caribou birth calves in the spring. Wolves pursue caribou and Dall’s sheep over tundra trails, and bowhead whales carrying ancient threads of the sea nourish the Iñupiaq people. Reflected in this portrait of elders Betty Brower and Isaac Akootchook is a land of self-reliance, but also radical interdependence.”


Yukon Delta NWR (Drawing Lindsay Carron)

“Inextricably Intertwined” 2017 Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge
Featuring Samuel Jackson Sr. of Kwethluk and Sophie Sakar of Chuathbaluk   

“Winding down the Kuskokwim River toward the delta, the earth flattens, trees disappear, and the expanse of tundra becomes unfathomable. Upriver, Sophie Sakar collects the abundant wild blueberries of the late-summer tundra. Downriver, Samuel Jackson Sr. tells harvest stories as his eyes trail flocks of geese overhead. The significance of the Kuskokwim River is evident through every bend of the river that sends waterfowl and osprey into flight and through its history with its people, the Yup’ik, who to this day live inextricably intertwined with the river that sustains them.”


Yukon Flats NWR (Drawing Lindsay Carron)

“River’s Rhythm” 2018 Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge
Featuring Julie Mahler of Fort Yukon and Clara Joseph of Beaver

“The Yukon River flows 1,982 miles from Canadian mountain glaciers, across Alaska and into the Bering Sea. This is the highway for the life-giving kin of this land — the salmon. Born from this wilderness of water and boreal forest are Julie Mahler of Fort Yukon and Clara Joseph of Beaver. Molded by the river’s lessons for decades, these Gwich’in women carry the rhythm of the river under their skin, and their eyes and smiles tell stories of winter freezes, spring break-ups and summer abundance. The Yukon provides life for the Gwich’in and calls to anyone who wants to learn from the tremendous river that prevails across the Yukon Flats.”


Togiak NWR (Drawing Lindsay Carron)

“Made of This” 2018 Togiak National Wildlife Refuge
Featuring Elsie Abraham, Aubrey Gosuk and Skylar Wassillie of Togiak

“It’s salmon season in Togiak Village, and everyone’s on the water. Home to the Yup’ik people, the village is nestled in Togiak Bay, with Togiak National Wildlife Refuge spilling for 4.7 million acres behind it. Here, the Ahklun Mountains give way to tundra and willow-edged rivers carrying fleets of spawning salmon inland from the Bering Sea. Togiak elder Elsie Abraham portrays the precious balance of her homeland, and teaches the younger generation like Aubrey Gosuk and Skylar Wassillie, whose joy is palpable as they reel in jack salmon and rainbow trout from Togiak River. Complete with harvests of sour dock, stinkweed and salmon berries, the natural abundance here fills bellies and hearts.”


Selawik NWR (Drawing Lindsay Carron)

“Stories of Change” 2019 Selawik National Wildlife Refuge
Featuring May Walton, Sonny Berry and Shaylynn Ticket of Selawik

“Within Selawik National Wildlife Refuge, straddling the Arctic Circle in Western Alaska, three generations of Iñupiaq people are at work. May Walton, who taught decades of Iñupiaq language, shares the secrets of navigating the landscape by dog team as she hangs whitefish to dry. Sonny Berry winds his boat swiftly up Fish River, recounting stories around every bend. Nineteen-year-old Shaylynn Ticket monitors Selawik’s new recycling program from her position with the Environmental Protection Agency. Stories of travels, heroes, challenges and successes are carried in the hearts of generations of Iñupiat, melded by the land.”

Compiled by Bill    | May 20, 2020
Information iconThe artist at work. (Photo: Lisa Hupp/USFWS)