Drawing Montana’s glaciers at a glacial pace

What does it take to draw each of Montana's glaciers? (Jonathan Marquis/Kickstarter)
What does it take to draw each of Montana’s glaciers? (Jonathan Marquis/Kickstarter)

With his dog Mylah by his side, the Montana artist Jonathan Marquis climbed up eight glaciers this summer. In addition to an ice-axe and crampons, he took less standard equipment: two graphite pencils and notebooks. These are essential tools for his undertaking, which he has termed his Glacier Drawing Project, an ambitious plan to make drawings of all 60 of the state’s named glaciers, an undertaking which will require four or five more summers.

This June he completed the initial financing of the project through Kickstarter, a popular crowd funding website. He reached his goal of $6,000, which paid for first hikes to Montana’s glaciers. As his Kickstarter project page declares, “I am going to hike to all of Montana’s glaciers to draw, bear witness and create a comprehensive record of these extraordinary features before it is too late.” Indeed time is short. Scientists in Montana’s Glacier National Park estimate that the park’s namesake glaciers may be completely gone by 2020. Historically, the park was the home of around 120 glaciers, and as of 2010 there were only 25.

Artist Jonathan Marquis and his dog XX
Artist Jonathan Marquis and his dog Mylah, who accompanies him on his drawing hikes. (Jonathan Marquis/Kickstarter)

Marquis is not limiting himself to Glacier National Park, but will also draw the glaciers in the Mission Mountain Wilderness, the Bob Marshall Wilderness and the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness. “I want to see each of these glaciers with my own eyes, feel their cold with my fingers, experience their presence with my body and breathe the chilled mountain air surrounding them,” he said.

Better known for his paintings and graphic designs, Marquis chose sketches and drawings as the media best suited to capture and evoke glaciers. He suggests that drawing offers a more intimate experience to the artist and the viewer than photography, the medium most often used to depict glaciers. The marks his pencil makes as he drags across a page evoke for him the marks that glaciers make as they move across the landscape. “Drawing has the potential to convey not only the seen but also to be a record of what is felt and experienced over a period of time across a broad set of vantage points,” he wrote.

Marquis' intention is to savor the "aesthetic and emotional character of these glaciers while we still can". (Jonathan Marquis/Kickstarter)
Marquis’ intention is to savor the “aesthetic and emotional character of these glaciers while we still can”. (Jonathan Marquis/Kickstarter)

Apparently his 129 financial backers agree. Kickstarter allows for public sourcing of financing of various independent projects, usually in modest amounts. The catch is that the full amount must be reached by the deadline; otherwise none of the funds can be used. The Glacier Drawing Project exceeded its goal and 20 patrons contributed $100 dollars or more each, a generous contribution.

Ultimately Marquis wants to show in exhibitions and create a coffee-table book of his drawings. This will both document Montana’s changing mountains and raise awareness about climate change.

You can see more on the progress of The Glacier Drawing Project on its Facebook page, and more about the artist, Jonathan Marquis, on his website.

For an account of an artist who evokes changing glaciers in the Italian Alps, see “The painting is our desire for the mountain“. And for an account of an artist who captures glacier sounds rather than images, see “If a glacier melts on a mountain, does anyone hear it?“.

3 Responses to “Drawing Montana’s glaciers at a glacial pace”

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    Jonathan Marquis

    Thank you for this great post on my project. For the detail minded I do bring a whole pouch of pencils rather then only two. The pouch consists of several colored pencils with varying hues and multiple graphite pencils ranging from 2H to 5B. I also haul up there a bunch of paper and a custom drawing board I made, which is fun to hold on to when it is windy. thanks again!

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