Artist in Residence Highlights 2019


As we celebrate the 10th season of hosting the Voices of the Wilderness, Artists in Residence Program, we excitedly present to you this year's artists.


US Forest Service Shield.Nellie Juan-College Fiord Wilderness Study Area
Chugach National Forest
US Forest Service

VALISA HIGMAN | Paper artist from Seldovia, AK

Valisa Higman sitting on the shore working on an art project. Oyster Catchers. “The opportunity to visit Prince William Sound, to see its tidewater glaciers and seals on icebergs felt like one of those ‘catch it before its gone’ moments. I wanted to burn the image into my mind, of calving glaciers making salt water wakes; the exact shades of blue of the ancient ice; the sculptural shapes of icebergs melting as they drifted away on the tide. I wanted to appreciate it now before it was gone, make it familiar. It is hard not to think of change when I think of my time in Prince William Sound. The icy landscape has somehow existed past the ice age into our lifetimes, a holdout against the march of time. How long before the tidewater glacier is extinct? I take a moment to appreciate the gravity of that."


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Community Extension: Valisa hosted a slideshow lecture about her experiences at the Sea Otter Community Center in Seldovia, Alaska.

Artist Donation:  Valisa donated a 10” x 22” matted and framed piece, consisting of cut paper and watercolor.

Stewardship Projects:

  • Participated in the “Teach the Teachers” Expedition at Derickson Spit, a partnership between the US Forest Service, Alaska Geographic and the University of Alaska.
  • Assisted with trail work at Granite Mine trail in Prince William Sound.
  • Assisted the cabins crew at Harrison Lagoon Cabin.
  • Deck hand aboard two Forest Service vessels.

Artist website: 

Nellie Juan-College Fiord glacier and reflections.


US Forest Service Shield.Tebenkof Bay Wilderness
Tongass National Forest
US Forest Service

JENNIFER SONNE | Oil painter from Anchorage, AK

Jennifer sitting next to her tent near the shore in the Tebenkof Bay Wilderness. A Paddler’s Shore Guide to Tebenkof Bay “I spent 8 days kayaking deep within the uninhabited Tebenkof Bay Wilderness in the Tongass National Forest of Southeast Alaska, where I was sensorially inspired by what I saw, heard, smelled, and felt emotionally. I was surprised to be inspired by the sounds of the wilderness area as much as the sights. I heard sea otters munching, whales breathing, and seals splashing. Prior to this experience, I had not spent time with my environment at such a pace that allowed me to truly experience my surroundings. Neither had I ever been able to paint from my memory and feelings as I have in the months since leaving Tebenkof Bay. It has completely changed my perspective on how I process my surroundings. Now I am working on creating an experience of the seclusion and grandeur through my paintings.”


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Community Extension: Jennifer exhibited 30 paintings from the photos she collected during her time in the Tebenkof Bay Wilderness. The paintings offer a macro and micro view of the living shores of Tebenkof Bay with three main objectives:

  • The first is the discussion of the positive role of public lands in Alaska.
  • The second is a deeper dive of what it means to be a wilderness area in those public lands.
  • The third objective builds on the other two to bring to light a broader message of environmental preservation.

Artist Donation:  Jennifer wrote and illustrated “A Paddler’s Shore Guide to Tebenkof Bay”, which identifies and details the flora, fauna, geology, and natural history of the area, as seen by a kayak.

Stewardship Projects:

  • Marine debris collection
  • Invasive plant removal


Related Links:


US Forest Service Shield.West Chichagof Wilderness Area
Tongass National Forest
US Forest Service

CECIL HOWELL | Visual Collage artist from Brooklyn, NY

“What struck me most powerfully throughout our 10-day kayaking trip, was the intensity of life found in the Tongass National Forest; my brief exposure to the West Chichagof wilderness was saturated with salmon, whales, eagles, sea lions, towering trees, and fungi. It is a place of expansive beauty, where the human form is lost within the grandeur of nonhuman life. We spent our days kayaking the tightly articulated bays and islands of the outer archipelago (which become mudflats and peninsulas with the tide), looking for traces of human impact. While we found relatively little signs of humans visiting the islands, we did find an abundance of human trash. The experience changed the way I look at waste as well as conceptually expanded my understanding of wilderness."


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Community Extension: Cecil hosted a special class on wilderness and mapping for elementary school children in New York. 

  • Collecting encounter data
  • Monitoring outfitter/guides
  • Conducting campsite inventories
  • Recreation site cleanup/naturalization

Artist website:



US Fish and Wildlife Service Shield.Arctic Wilderness
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
US Fish & Wildlife Service

MICHAEL BOARDMAN | Painter/Illustrator from North Yarmouth, ME

Michael rests on a boulder while sketching the spectacular view. 2nd Annual Arctic Refuge Virtual Bird Fest poster. “Being selected as this year’s VOTW artist for Arctic was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream to explore the crown jewel of Alaska’s NWR system, a piece of protected land big enough to encompass an entire undisturbed ecosystem. I was stationed at the Canning River Bird Camp, working with ornithologists to record breeding birds nesting on the arctic plain. These birds migrate from far and wide to take advantage of the 24 hour daylight, endless food supply (bugs) and most importantly a landscape free of disturbance in which to lay eggs and raise their chicks. Most of them migrate to the arctic through the lower 48, and I was able to sketch several shorebird species that migrate through my home state of Maine, connecting us to the refuge and what happens there."


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Community Extension: Michael’s community extension included multiple presentations on his experiences, including several in Anchorage and Fairbanks to help promote the Arctic Virtual Bird Fest, a way to connect people who may never get to experience the Arctic Refuge, so they may enjoy the multitude of avian life that thrives there.

Artist Donation:  Michael developed the Virtual Bird Fest poster for 2019.  He also created a digitally formatted migratory map of many of the bird species that he assisted in studying, showing their movements through many states in the lower 48 to the arctic plain. The map included bird illustrations and an interactive info page with field sketches and more info on each species.

Stewardship Projects:

  • Assisted with surveys for nesting birds.
  • Checked eggs for hatch timing.
  • Checked nests for signs of hatch success or predation.
  • Assisted with arctic fox den surveys and DNA (fur) collection.

Artist websites:



US Fish and Wildlife Service Shield.Innoko Wilderness    
Innoko National Wildlife Refuge
US Fish & Wildlife Service

ROBERT WINFREE | Multi-media artist from Anchorage, AK

Robert stands next to the blooming fireweed at the Innoko Wilderness. Robert painted a triptych depicting the scenery, wildlife, and conditions experienced kayaking. “My two-week field residency with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, at Koyukuk/Nowitna/Innoko National Wildlife Refuge, was more than I could have imagined.  My host, Karin Lehmkuhl Bodony, organized a fast-paced itinerary, traveling by motor boat, float plane, canoe, kayak, and on foot through remote “bush” Alaska. Two round-trips in float-planes necessitated aircraft safety training.  Otherwise, I might have missed out on hiking across Nogahabara Sand Dunes and kayaking at the Innoko Field Camp (the subject material for my painting).   My residency started with a motorized boat trip, 50 miles up Alaska’s Yukon River to the village of Ruby, where we offloaded our canoe to start an awe-inspiring 3-day downriver paddle to Galena.  The hospitality of using private cabins each night provided time for paddling, exploring, and rest and protection from insects, large animals and the occasional rip-roaring thunder storms."


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Community Extension: Between field excursions, Robert held two well-attended art workshops in Galena, Alaska. The first was on tangle drawing, which attracted about 30 elementary-age kids.  Also offered was a class on introductory landscape and wildlife painting, which attracted about 20 adults and older children.  Robert’s preparations, residency experience, and creation of the artwork were chronicled through posts on multiple Facebook that were viewed by more than 3,000 people.  He also presented artwork and a coffee-table size book about his experiences at the September 2019 meeting of the Alaska Watercolor Society.

Artist Donation:  Robert painted a realistic triptych (42” wide in three panels) depicting the scenery, wildlife, and environmental conditions that we experienced while kayaking in Innoko NWR.  Each 11”x14” panel was composed and executed as a complete signed artwork, so that individual panels can hang together as a panorama, or separately in more than one location.   He also provided a large-format printed book of collected blog entries, and DVD of photographs (350 of which were individually corrected for color and contrast).

Stewardship Projects:

  • Participated in Peregrine Falcon surveys.
  • Participated in exotic plant surveys.
  • Seasonal maintenance at the Innoko NWR Field Camp.

Artist websites: 



US Fish and Wildlife Service Shield.Togiak Wilderness
Togiak National Wildlife Refuge and Wilderness
US Fish & Wildlife Service

MARA MENAHAN | Painter and Illustrator from Helena, MT

Mara Menahan works with a partner doing a dwarf fireweed study in Togiak.. Mara created an illustrated guide to common flowering plants and seabird eggs found at Cape Pierce. "Only accessible by plane, boat or a long overland journey by foot, the Togiak Wilderness is remote. After a month of traveling throughout the refuge—flying from the Akhun glaciers to the coastal estuaries, floating down the Togiak river, walking the shoreline of the Bering Sea—I began to see the Togiak wilderness less as an isolated landscape and more as a place intimately tied to people. From indigenous coastal communities to the fishing town of Dillingham, people hunt, forage and recreate on the land. At the same time, the impacts of people who have never set foot in the refuge, people living hundreds and thousands of miles away, and people who are no longer living, are felt in subtle and heartbreaking ways. I am inspired by the scientists, land managers, fishermen, and families who build their lives within this landscape and are carefully observing changes to the non-human world. As an artist interested in documenting these changes, I felt an immediate sense of community with the people I met during my residency. I am grateful to the staff of Togiak NWR, especially pilot and biologist Kara Hilwig who took me under her wing and generously shared her aerial perspective with me."


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Community Extension: Mara joined refuge staff and students from the Dillingham area on a 5-day float trip down the Togiak river. During the float Mara provided art instruction, leading drawing exercises to help students become more careful observers of the world around them. She also facilitated discussions about wilderness, stewardship and place-based identity. Mara gave an interview with Togiak Refuge's Education Specialist, Terry Fuller, on KDLG public radio. The interview can be found under the Bristol Bay Field Notes archive at

Artist Donation:  Mara created an illustrated guide to common flowering plants and seabird eggs found at Cape Pierce. Each summer, the Togiak NWR sponsors an environmental science camp at Cape Pierce for middle school students. The guide will be a resource for both visiting students and the general public.

Stewardship Projects:

  • Seabird productivity surveys at Cape Peirce
  • Invasive aquatic plant (Elodea spp.) surveys through parts of the Togiak Refuge
  • Participated in a 5-day high school science camp float trip.



Visit our past Artists in Residence

2021 | 2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010


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