Point of View: Boreal forest stories in the time of change

This summer’s special exhibit, “In the Time of Change: Boreal Forest Stories,” at the Pratt Museum is themed toward our changing Alaska environment and the life cycle of the boreal forests that surround us. The exhibit is truly captivating, and illustrates the incredible natural wonders around us and the fascinating ecology of these boreal forests. It also illuminates the impact that climate change is having, with depictions of wildfires and spruce bark beetles eating away at the trees, yet does not discount the incredible beauty that the cycle of life and death in the natural world embraces.

A piece that particularly stood out to me in the exhibit is a foldable booklet of local plants done in a collaboration of Alaskan artists and organized by Laurel Herbeck and Chris Greenfield-Pastro with Northwoods Book Arts Guild of Fairbanks. The booklet is titled “Boreal Herbarium,” located on the left wall in the main gallery and is designed to create a visual record of the plants, berries, wildflowers and lichen that we encounter in our own backyard. It reminds me of exploring in the woods behind my house as a child growing up in Homer, and long wandering walks along the boardwalk up at the Wynn Nature Center, crouching down and examining a petite flower and asking my mother to identify it for me, the smell of cottonwood thick in the air.

The colors of the hand-drawn images are strikingly bright and beautiful, yet accurate to a level of scientific precision, bridging the gap between art and botany. Each image brings up a flood of memories: the yarrow plant reminds me of chewing the leaves and feeling my tongue slowly start to go numb and tingly, engaging its medicinal properties. The blueberry bush and the carefully sketched drawing of a steaming blueberry pie unlocks a treasure trove of memories of gallons upon gallons of berries my mother and grandmother pick behind our homestead in late July, staining their hands for days and filling our freezers for smoothies, pies, and toppings for our morning oatmeal. The fireweed reminded me of the signaling of the beginning of fall, and looking out over a sea of pink and orange lit up like a wildfire in the setting sun over the rope tow. Like each artist, I had my own personal anecdote to each plant and I found myself reminiscing on the beauty of the nature I grew up amongst. I desperately wish that I could take home a copy of the beautifully crafted foldable, however, it is a one of a kind piece content to be seen in the summer exhibit at the Pratt Museum.

Participating artists include Chris Greenfield-Pastro, Pat Sheehan, Laurel Herbeck, Mary Baarlaer Maisch, Sherrill Peterson, Mary Liston, Magdeleine Ferru, Corlis Taylor, Yumi Kawaguchi, Karen Stomberg, Leila Pyle, Dawn Crass, Susan Campbell, and Ashley Thayer. More information is available at https://itoc.alaska.edu/boreal-herbarium/.

Sophie Morin is an intern at the Pratt Museum. She is a senior at Colorado State University studying History and Cultural Anthropology. She grew up in Homer and plans to return after her graduation.