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Visions of the Boreal Forest
Art, Science and Adventure in the Northern Wilderness

A project of the Wilderness River Expedition Art Fellowship,
and the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History

The Boreal Forest


1. Executive Summary
2. Issue Description
3. Project Description
4. WREAF Members
5. Expeditions to Date

Prepared by Rob Mullen, Program Director
Wilderness River Expedition Art Fellowship
3488 Stage Rd.
West Bolton, VT 05465
Northern Lights on the George River; Aug 31, 2005

Executive Summary:

Ringing the northern globe, the Boreal Forest is the largest and most intact terrestrial ecosystem on Earth. Though critical for climate, cultures, fresh water, habitat, breeding grounds, resources, energy and the human spirit, and despite overwhelming scientific studies supporting its conservation, it nonetheless remains largely "out of sight, out of mind" to the general public. WREAF's goal with "Visions of the Boreal Forest" is to enlist art as well as science to promote awareness, knowledge and an emotional connection with this ecological treasure, helping to build an informed constituency to spur and support its conservation. We have some of the top nature artists and paddlers in the world, and the National Museum of Natural History, working on the expeditions. These resources, combined with the Smithsonian Institution as the hosting venue, puts us in a unique position to be effective advocates for the Boreal Forest.

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Issue Description

The Boreal Forest, circumpolar in extent, is the largest terrestrial ecosystem on Earth and the greatest wilderness in the world. In an age of vanishing and fragmented habitats, its expanse of unbroken forest across Canada, Alaska, Siberia, and Scandinavia is unique and presents inestimable value as a "cold-spot" biological resource. Beyond the contiguous ecosystem, the Boreal Forest exists in pockets in the northern US, Europe and Asia. This enormous forest ecosystem provides:

•       40% of Earth's carbon-sink capacity (ability to absorb CO2)
•       80% of the liquid fresh water on Earth
•       Dozens of unique indigenous cultures
•       Nesting grounds for 50% of North American birds (75% of waterfowl)
•       A last and greatest bastion (habitat and population reservoir) for myriad species
•       The greatest diversity of fungi anywhere in the world
•       Immense sources of energy, minerals, timber and paper pulp
•       Finally on a more ineffable level, it is a remnant of the wild and non-human Earth; a source of romantic adventure, beauty and personal challenge; a wellspring of the human spirit

Ironically, however, this critical ecosystem, within a day’s drive of most residents of the industrialized world, is virtually unknown to the general public. Compared to the smaller and far more remote Amazon, it is totally off the radar screen. We seek to help change that.

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Project Description

This project combines art, science and adventure, enlisting the heart as well as the mind to promote conservation of the Boreal Forest Ecosystem. The project has two components:

1. The Raw Material:

The Expeditions: Crews of internationally known artists on remote rivers experience the wilderness they are going to paint intimately and intensely. In addition to the artists, due to educational, safety and publicity goals, we have a support crew of expert paddlers, writers, researchers and medical personnel, many of whom are themselves among the best in their fields. These on-going expeditions have run every year since 2001 and are continuing on other rivers of the Boreal Forest and adjoining ecosystems.

2. Finished Product:

A. Exhibition(s): In late 2005 the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) committed to host an exhibit of materials from the expeditions in Washington DC. The Director who made the commitment, however, left the museum before the exhibition agreement was finalized in 2006. We started again early in 2007 and now have obtained all the necessary preliminary approvals and will again present the exhibit to the new Director with the full and enthusiastic backing of a several museum departments.

The exhibit is a multi-disciplinary display of field notes, sketches, photography, plein-air and studio paintings by the participating artists, supplemented with scientific/cultural materials provided by the Smithsonian's Arctic Studies Center, the Canadian Boreal Initiative, Boreal Songbird Initiative and their associated scientists. A preliminary version of the exhibition premiered in the summer of 2007.

The Wildling Art Museum: Los Olivos, CA June 24 – September 9, 2007
The Wildlife Experience: Parker, CO February 23 – May 18, 2008
Boreal Views: Artists in the Northern Forest: St Johnsbury, VT April 2012

  • 2011: With funding from TD Bank and the Pew Environmental Program, two exhibition planning conferences were held at the NMNH in Washington D.C. for ‘Visions of the Boreal Forest.'
  • 2012: Approval to proceed from the Smithsonian.
  • 2013: Despite promised funding, the new NMNH Director put the exhibit on hold pending work on a dinosaur hall.
  • 2014: work commenced on a book, Boreal Wilderland, to help promote the exhibit and to accompany it when it was revived.
  • 2015: the book proposal was favorably reviewed by Smithsonian Press and Rizzoli New York but it was held back pending exhibition news.
  • 2016: SITES (Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service) asked to include ‘Visions’ in a competition to select an exhibition to develop as a Smithsonian touring exhibit.
  • 2017: In December, ‘Visions’ won the selection.
  • 2018: first curatorial team meeting held in Washington DC February 2; Rob Mullen, Stephen Loring, and Bill Fitzhugh all on the new SITES team. Final decision expected in June.

B. Other media: While we have been almost exclusively focused on developing the exhibition, we have generated numerous magazine and newspaper articles. Many ideas for web-based outreach are coming out of future expedition and exhibition planning

Most recently, the possibility of artists on expedition and in their studios, talk directly with students from around the world has come up from Microsoft and Skype in the Classroom. Brand new to us and we will see if it can be initiated for the 2018 “Tundra & Trees” expedition.

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WREAF Members

1. Robert Bateman, BC -

2. Dawn Banning, ON -

3. Kalon Baughan, MT -

4. Jordanna Benuen, NF -

5. Linda Besse, WA -

6. Bill Brody, FL/AK -

7. Steve Bruno, ON

8. Jean-Louis Courteau, QC -

9. Julia "JJ" Daniels, NH

10. Dr. James Evans, CA - Search and Rescue physician

11. Lindsey Foggett, CA/UK -

12. Steve Gorman, VT -

13. Bob Hansen, ON - paddler, musician

14. Julia Hargreaves, BC/UK -

15. James Gary Hines II, Tanzania -

16. Nany Howe, VT -

17. Tony Jenkinson, NF -

18. Cole Johnson, NY -

19. Jay J. Johnson, MA -

20. Lee Kromschroeder, CA -

21. Rod Lawrence, MI -

22. Dr. Stephen Loring, MD -

23. Jan Martin-McGuire, Tanzania -

24. Greg Mchuron, WY -
**In Memoriam (2012). Planned to be on the 2012 Noatk crew

25. Gary McGuffin, ON -

26. Joanie McGuffin, ON -

27. Sila McGuffin, ON -

28. Rob Mullen, VT/QC -

29. Ralph Oberg, CO -

30. Steve Oliver, PA -

31. Patricia Pépin, QC -

32. John Potter, MT -

33. John C. Pitcher, VT/AK -

34. Andrea Rich, CA -

35. Bonnie Rowell, QC - wildlife photographer

36. Sandy Scott, WY -

37. Trish Smith, WY - artist/studio manager

38. Dr. James Vogelmann, SD - US Geological Survey

39. Sue Westin, VT -

40. Ken Whiting, ON - 1998 World Whitewater Kayak Champion

41. Jeff Whiting, BC -

42. Derek Wicks, ON -

43. Paco Young
**In Memorium (2005). Planned to be on the 2006 George River crew

Supporting Members:

Jean Bibber, AK
Dr. William Fitzhugh: Director Arctic Studies Center, Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.
Loren Gentemann, AK -
Buff Grubb: Sponsor/advisor
Victoria Hust, VT
Larry Innes, NF 
Neil Simmons, NF - photographer 
Dr. Steven Young, VT -

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Expeditions to Date:

2018: Upcoming: “Trees & Tundra” Top of the Boreal Forest on an Ancient Route Across Nunavik: 435-mile route from Umiujaq on Hudson Bay – Kuujjuaq on Ungava Bay and traversing the new Tursujuq

2017: Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument Montana

2016: Ending the Beginning; back to the Missinaibi and James Bay

2015: Northern Rim of the Boreal Forest Part III

2013: Northern Rim of the Boreal Forest Part II

2012: Northern Rim of the Boreal; Part 1 – Noatak River, Alaska: July 29 – September 2
Mountain Recon section: Bill Brody, Rob Mullen, Dustin Van Wechel, Derek Wicks River Crew: Linda Besse, Bob Hansen, Gary McGuffin, Rob Mullen, Sandy Scott, Trish Smith

2011: Heart of the Boreal Expedition: August 1 – 29, 2011 Bloodvein River, Woodland Caribou Provincial Park – Lake Winnipeg: amended to a month-long exploration of Woodland Caribou Provincial Park due to major wildfires
Dawn Banning, Julia Hargreaves, Gary McGuffin, Joanie McGuffin, Sila McGuffin, Rob Mullen

2009: Trans-Labrador Expedition: September 1 – October 3, 2009
Schefferville – George River: Kalon Baughan, Rod Lawrence, Rob Mullen George River – Nain, Labrador: Cole Johnson, Rob Mullen

2008 Lake Kamestastin Labrador; September 29 - October 18, 2008
Linda Besse, Cole Johnson, Jay Johnson, Steve Oliver, Gary McGuffin, Rob Mullen, John Pitcher and Sue Westin.

2008 Slate Islands, Lake Superior Ontario; September 2 - 8, 2008
Steve Bruno, Gary and Joanie McGuffin, Sila McGuffin, Rob Mullen and Bonnie Rowell.

2008 Lake Superior NMCA Winter trek: February 1 - 12, 2008
Gary McGuffin and Rob Mullen.

2007 Crew: Lake Superior North shore; Tea Harbor to Rossport. July 15 – 31, 2007
Steve Bruno, Gary McGuffin, Joanie McGuffin, Rob Mullen, Patricia Pepin and Andrea Rich.

2006 Crew: Main Expedition, George River, Nunavik. September 1 – 18.
Robert Bateman, Jean-Louis Courteau, James Evans MD, Lindsey Foggett, Lee Kromschroeder, Dr. Stephen Loring PhD, Gary and Joanie McGuffin, Robert Mullen and John Pitcher.

2005 Recon expedition August 30 – September 12: George River, Nunavik
Dr. James Evans MD, Lindsey Foggett, Gary McGuffin, Joanie McGuffin, Robert Mullen, Jeff Whiting and Ken Whiting.

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Paddling North First Light Lights Above Camp Eagle Rising, by Lindsey Foggett