I am drawn to dense wooded areas in the boreal landscape where I feel at home and excited creatively. The wetland at Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge is just such a place. My work for the ITOC project originated with small field studies there, done in watercolor and colored pencils. The painted images reinterpreted in collage are distillations meant to emphasize a feeling of unrest — some would say even a “battle scene.” Cut pieces of painted paper are contrasted with rubbings of old floorboards. Woodgrain and knots form undulating lines that look like ripples on the water’s surface radiating from a disturbance, a symbolic representation of climate change.
The Creamer’s Field Refuge is a magical place that I have been visiting since moving to Alaska in 1997. But it is changing rapidly. The boardwalk itself, most noticeable because it is what gives people access to the wetland, has been disintegrating to the point of impassability. For the ITOC project, I looked at the impact of permafrost melt on hydrology and ecology of wetland areas and considered what the release of carbon from these carbon-rich soils means for the planet as a whole. Helene Genet, an ecologist at UAF, explains that permafrost melt affects hydrology by changing the flow of water. A “bog,” for instance, is a wetland where the water is contained. When the “permafrost plateau” melts, the water is allowed to flow into other bodies of water and is no longer contained. Rising air temperatures are also responsible for creating bodies of water where formerly there were none. These “thermokarsts” are where the permafrost melt causes the ground to collapse. Depressions in the landscape then collect water, a process called “ponding,” and this in turn causes more permafrost melt, a release of carbon, and increased nitrogen production. As these processes play out at Creamer’s Field, anything stationary is subject to catastrophic change. The rapid plant growth, broken boardwalk, and “drunken” leaning trees are all visible symptoms of a landscape in flux — due, in part, to permafrost melt. With this cycle in motion, the rate of change continues to escalate.
Jessie Hedden is a painter and sculptor who works with abstract and representational imagery, basing both approaches on direct observation. Dynamic composition, luminous color, and the formal elements are central to her work. Hedden has a BA from Hampshire College and a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Washington. Her awards include a Rasmuson grant and two All Alaska Juried awards from the Anchorage Museum. She has been a faculty member at the University of Alaska Fairbanks since 2000. She lives in Fairbanks with her husband, fellow artist David Mollett, and their son Blake.