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Series of art-related events to highlight global climate change

By Kari VanDerVeen
March 7, 2008

To explore the issue of global warming, artist Mary Edna Fraser didn't travel to the arctic with scientific equipment in hand. Instead, she took to the skies and used an ancient medium to convey perspectives that the human eye and ordinary cameras cannot reveal.

This piece of Fraser's work is titled "Katrina."
Fraser's work is on display at St. Olaf College through April 13 in an exhibit she and scientist Orrin Pilkey put together called "Expanding Oceans." Several discussions and lectures will accompany the exhibit, which will be on display in the Flaten Art Museum. The exhibit and all accompanying events are free and open to the public.

Fraser uses aerial photographs -- which she often takes herself from the open windows of her grandfather's 1946 Ercoupe plane -- and satellite imagery as the foundation for her work. She then transfers that view of the earth onto silk using dyes in the ancient medium of batik, an Indonesian method of hand-printing textiles by coating the parts you don't want dyed with wax.

"The art comprises a series of narrative landscapes inspired by the terraqueous reaches of the continent -- where separate realms of earth, sea and sky converge," Fraser writes on her website.

In "Expanding Oceans," Fraser and Pilkey explore the major elements of global climate change and the greenhouse effect with an emphasis on melting ice and rising seas. The goal of the project is to use art as a vehicle to share scientific information, to educate and to inspire.

"This beautiful exhibit brings, visually, the effects of global warming home," says Flaten Art Museum Director Jill Ewald. "In it we will see the beauty of hurricane Katrina, eroding shorelines from Columbia to Alaska to Venice and Boston, and icebergs and glaciers."

Fraser and Pilkey are also nearing completion of a book by the same title, Expanding Oceans.

At the same time that "Expanding Oceans" is on display at St. Olaf, another exhibit by Fraser and Pilkey titled "Celebrating The World's Barrier Islands: Restless Ribbons of Sand" will be on display at Carleton College. The exhibit portrays the planet's barrier islands through batiks, scientific text, original maps, poetry, prints and photographs. The goal is to show the fragility of the barrier islands and why they're an important environmental concern.

Other events in conjunction with the exhibit include:
  • Monday, March 31 at 7 p.m.: Author Orrin Pilkey and artist Mary Edna Fraser will deliver a lecture titled "A Science and Art Collaboration" in Room 305 of the Dittmann Center at St. Olaf College.
  • Tuesday, April 1 at 4 p.m.: Pilkey and Fraser will hold a Round table discussion about the project and book "Celebrating The World's Barrier Islands" in the Gould Library Athenaeum at Carleton College.
  • Wednesday, April 2 at 7 p.m.: A discussion titled "What is it About Expanding Oceans?" will feature Pilkey and Fraser as well as Luce Professor of Asian Art History and Asian Studies Karil Kucera, Professor of Art History Christine O'Malley, Professor of Physics and Grace A. Whittier Endowed Chair Robert Jacobel, and Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies John Schade. The discussion will be held in Room 305 of the Dittmann Center at St. Olaf College.
  • Thursday, April 3 at 7:30 p.m.: Pilkey will deliver a public address titled "Global Warming: Lost in a Fog of Skepticism, Models and Manufactured Doubt" in Room 104 of Boliou Hall at Carleton College.

The pioneering work of Fraser, a contemporary American artist, has been collected and exhibited worldwide. In 1994-95 she was the first woman to be honored with a one-person exhibition at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. The National Science Foundation and National Academy of Science have featured Fraser and Pilkey's collaboration. Fraser has competed numerous public commissions including batiks for the American Embassy in Thailand and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Pilkey is the James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of Geology and director of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Duke University. In addition to having written The Beaches are Moving: The Drowning of America's Shoreline, Living by the Rules of the Sea, and Useless Arithmetic, Pilkey has coauthored or edited 36 books. His work is featured in publications such as New York Times Magazine and National Geographic.

Contact Kari VanDerVeen at 507-786-3970 or