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Harriman Expedition Retraced



A century of change
A Century of Change

An Alaskan Gazette
An Alaskan Gazette

Alaskan Tourism
Alaska Tourism

Nature and Art
Nature and Art in Alaska

Anchorage Museum Gallery

Poetry in Alaska
Poetry in Alaska


Nature and Art in Alaska

The natural landscape has always served as an inspiration for artists, and the Alaskan landscape is no exception. The two landscape painters aboard the Elder, Frederick Dellenbaugh and R. Swain Gifford, were respected artists who lived in New York City, but who had considerable experience painting the North American wilderness. The George W. Elder was not a fit studio for large-scale oil paintings, and so both artists chose to do smaller oil and pencil studies. In their work, we see that both chose softer colors -- greens, grays and browns -- so often seen along the Alaskan coast.

seal hunter's hut

Indian Seal Hunter's Hut, Yakutat Bay, painted by R. Swain Gifford in 1899.
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Gifford's Indian Seal Hunters Hut, Yakutat Bay conveys the muting effect of cold air and low skies on the landscape. The people and the dogs near the hut are still, small figures that emphasize the quiet of the scene. Dellenbaugh's Mt. Fairweather from the Northwest is an impressionistic depiction of a seascape and mountain range, where the subdued color contrasts with the grand scale of the scene.

Mt. Fairweather from NW

Mt. Fairweather from the Northwest, painted by Frederick Dellenbaugh in 1899.
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To Louis Agassiz Fuertes, the highly skilled bird artist on the Elder, the landscape was far less important than the animals that lived there. In his Rufous Hummingbird, he draws our attention to this tiny species by eliminating the background entirely. In doing so he allows us to see the features of the bird that, in a forest setting, would be camouflaged: the needle-sharp beak, the tapering wings, the rust-brown and gray feathers, the distinctive orange at the throat.


Rufous Hummingbird, painted by Louis Agassiz Fuertes in 1899.
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A Contemporary Nature Artist

In a very different style, Kesler Woodward, a Fairbanks resident and one of the artists traveling with the 2000 Expedition, shows us the vivid colors found in a stand of birch trees during the brief autumn in the arctic. In a way, this modern work represents not only what Woodward sees in nature, but also what he has learned from looking at the work of other artists. "You don't go into your studio and make up the world from scratch," he had said. "Art is as much about other art as it is about observation."

Woods at Creamers

Woods at Creamers, by Kesler Woodward, 1996.
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Photography, first introduced in North America in 1840, was, by 1899, a developing form that was seen as part art, part journalism. On the Elder, the young photographer, Edward Curtis, served both roles: framing the landscape as an artist, and recording both landscape and Native life in a way that would become the trademark of his long career.



Columbia Glacier

Columbia Glacier

Columbia Glacier, photographed from Heather Island by Edward Curtis in 1899.
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 "I made a sketch of a mighty snowy mountain, sublimely ethereal, which I took to be Mt. Fairweather... The day was bright, clear and glorious, not a cloud to be seen, except a little one hanging on the flank of Fairweather."

From the diary of Frederick Dellenbaugh, an entry dated June 11, 1899.

"Mr. Harriman said I could take all the material needed, of any kind, as we shall have plenty of room. We can do a great deal together, when the other specialists are absorbed in their respective pursuits."

R. Swain Gifford writing to Frederick Dellenbaugh before the trip began.

"The summer days in Alaska are long on both ends. And Mr. Harriman urged that I make use of this daylight. If there is any question in your mind as to my use of the daylight, please take a day off and peruse Volumes I and II of the Harriman Alaska Expedition."

Edward Curtis, in a letter dated November 17, 1950.


For information on the Harriman Retraced Expedition e-mail: harriman2001@science.smith.edu

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