Civic Agenda: Bellingham exhibition highlights why frozen landscapes matter


vanishing ice

"Adelies, 2008," an oil-on-wood piece by Alexis Rockman, is part of the "Vanishing Ice" exhibit at Whatcom Museum Lightcatcher, running through March 2.


Just in time for the holidays we are hosting a beautiful, wintry, glittery art exhibition that carries an important message about our planet's majestic frozen landscapes. That message is: Ice matters, and the Earth's icy places are rapidly changing.

The city's Whatcom Museum is proud to host "Vanishing Ice: Alpine and Polar Landscapes in Art 1775-2012," an exceptional exhibition uniting the arts, science, history and civic engagement in its examination of ice, culture and climate change.

First and foremost, this show is a tribute to the beauty and majesty of the ice and its influence on the history of art, science, literature and exploration. It is the nation's most comprehensive exhibition about the legacy of ice - glaciers, icebergs, sea ice and more - and the role that Earth's icy landscapes have played in the world's cultural, scientific and economic development. "Vanishing Ice" provides visitors an opportunity to experience landscapes that have inspired artists, writers and naturalists for more than 200 years.

Through the eyes of contemporary and historical artists, "Vanishing Ice" encourages us to value the preservation of alpine and polar environments for the well-being of nature and culture. Dozens of special events featuring nationally renowned artists, scientists and authors accompany the exhibit, expanding on the visual feast that "Vanishing Ice" provides.


Among the 90 beautiful, inspiring images in "Vanishing Ice" is my personal favorite: an oil painting by Alexis Rockman called "Adelies," featuring a flock of Antarctic Adelies penguins atop an iceberg, the distinguished little seabirds dwarfed by the enormous and beautifully illustrated block of ice. It is an exceptional work of art. I love the penguins, and the quality of how Rockman painted the ice. Like many others in the show, this piece has been reproduced in print materials but is more striking in person.

The entire exhibition can be viewed online, the first time the Whatcom Museum has made a full show accessible to the public electronically. But this is a collection that is best viewed in person, and being there allows visitors to take advantage of the many events and activities being held in conjunction with this show. For example, the popular "Saturdays on Ice" on Dec. 7 features Family Activity Day, with reduced admission campus-wide and activities for every age, followed on Sunday, Dec. 8, with a presentation by Dr. Henry Pollack, Nobel Peace Prize recipient and author of "A World Without Ice." These are just two of the many ways families can engage with "Vanishing Ice." A full calendar of events can be found on the show website at, and many of the featured presentations will be available on video and shown on BTV10.


"Vanishing Ice" offers a unique perspective on the importance of ice, with works of art supplemented by exhibition pieces, events and activities designed to help answer the question: "Why does ice matter?" As the information panels in the "Vanishing Ice" display explain, ice plays a key role in making Earth a hospitable place for life by helping regulate our climate. Mountain glaciers, seasonal sea ice, and the deep piles of ice on Greenland and Antarctica prevent the world from overheating. Artist's images and scientific data reveal that glaciers, sea ice and ice sheets are rapidly changing. A world without ice holds profound consequences for plant and animal habitats as well as human culture. By highlighting the importance of alpine and polar landscapes in Western art, "Vanishing Ice" aspires to kindle a personal connection to these regions along with an active commitment to their preservation.


More than 4,000 people visited "Vanishing Ice" in its first month at the Whatcom Museum's Lightcatcher building. It has generated a great deal of interest locally, regionally and beyond, receiving excellent reviews and national and international media attention. We expect more in the weeks and months ahead, as the show will remain at the Whatcom Museum until March 2, 2014. After concluding its debut in Bellingham, "Vanishing Ice" will travel to The El Paso Museum of Art in Texas and the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Ontario, Canada. Meanwhile, museums across North America have expressed interest in hosting this inspiring show.

"Vanishing Ice" was organized by the Whatcom Museum and curated by Barbara Matilsky with the support of the Whatcom Museum board of directors, Executive Director Patricia Leach, and museum staff, volunteers and donors. Major funding for the exhibition and related materials was provided by The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, with additional support from The Norcliffe Foundation, the Washington State Arts Commission, the City of Bellingham, and Furthermore: a program of the J.M. Kaplan Fund. Our community is known for its leadership in promoting civic dialogue about climate change and taking steps to address it. We are proud to host this unique and thought-provoking exhibit in Bellingham, and deeply thankful to the many community partners, sponsors and donors who have helped make it possible.


This is one of a series of monthly Civic Agenda reports The Bellingham Herald invited Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville to provide to share updates about City of Bellingham issues and projects. She invites citizens to contact her at 360-778-8100 or

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