A Letter from Antarctica

Art, Science and Landscape in the Last Place on Earth

William L. Fox

January 2002, 19 page pamphlet. Western States Arts Federation, 1543 Champa Street, Suite 220, Denver, CO 80202, 303-629-1166.

Writer William L. Fox, literature consultant for the Western States Arts Federation (WESTAF), writes from Antarctica, where he is participating in the National Science Foundation's Visiting Artist and Writers Program. Fox is working on a book about the more than 100 painters, photographers, sculptors, composers, poets, and novelists who have visited Antarctica with explorers or as part of official government expeditions — a story he describes as “an interdisciplinary look at the evolution of our vision, and the entwined histories of exploration, art, cartography, and science.”

The National Science Foundation has been sending artists to Antarctica since 1958. New Zealand and Australia have had similar programs, and the British Antarctic Survey followed suit just this year. However, the story of western artists visiting Antarctica begins with William Hodges, who sailed with Captain James Cook on his second exploration of the Pacific from 1772-1775. Trained as a painter, Hodges “was soon taught by the Royal Navy crew how to record topographically accurate impressions of coastlines.” Fox sketches the legacy of Antarctic landscape art from the Dutch artists who were hired to teach sailors to draw, to the sailors' influences on Hodges (steering him away from the Italianate style), to Hodges' influence on the legendary J. M. W. Turner (who once had himself tied to the mast of a ship during a storm so that he could paint it later), and Turner's influence on Thomas Moran and Edward Wilson.

Fox's report is titled a “letter” and is, indeed, written more like a diary than an art history treatise. He writes with clarity and elegance of the adventure inherent in this research — the extreme cold, severe storms, and austere dryness of his surroundings.

reviewed by Frances Phillips, The Walter and Elise Haas Fund