Augusta artist returns from North Pole expedition

When she left for the North Pole at the beginning of October, Marianna Williams was worried about what she would eat and whether she could bathe in warm water.

Last April, she told The Augusta Chronicle she was not concerned about polar bears or falling through the ice.

After she boarded a ship in Svalbard, Norway, however, her concerns flip-flopped when polar bears during excursions seemed to outnumber humans 2 to 1 and she explored a crack in a glacier that she later realized could have collapsed and crushed her.

“We did have hot water,” she said. “The food – we were really surprised about it. We had all these vegetables the first week. And then we ran out of vegetables.”

They picked up more during a supply stop, she added.

Williams, an artist who lives in Augusta, was one of 27 scientists and artists in the Arctic Circle Expedition’s fall residency program. She returned last week.

Her goal was to document what she saw through video, photographs and drawings to use in upcoming projects that explore science through art.

Her first project is to create an artist book of drawings and photographs from the expedition. She will send that out to project supporters early next year. She will produce documentaries from the video and will create paintings from the photographs and drawings that she plans to exhibit. She expects her projects to be complete by August.

During the trip, Williams said, she had plenty of experiences she hadn’t expected.

Often, when the day’s work was completed, the residents would explore their surroundings. One side trip included the former Russian mining town of Pyramiden.

“It had about 1,400 people,” Williams said. “Suddenly everyone just left. They abandoned their houses. They abandoned the mines. Still had dinner on the table, basically.”

She toured the town and made a documentary.

“It’s a nice little side project to this residency,” she said.

Williams has always had an interest in optical illusion that she explores through art. Optical phenomena she encountered at the pole has given even her more ideas to pursue artistically.

The arctic mirage, for example, occurs by the bending of light rays and the inversion of temperature layers – warm temperatures below colder temperatures – above the earth’s surface, she said.

“When you’re sitting on the boat, you look out on a clear day, you have this temperature inversion and you see an island floating upside down in the distance, or you see a boat floating above the water. Or you could, in another instance, see farther over the horizon than normally possible,” she said.

She will create artwork that combines that phenomenon with its hot-climate counterpart, in which puddles of water seem to appear on a dry surface such as a road.

More valuable than the documentation she gathered, she said, were collaborations with others on the expedition and the friendships they formed.

“The people I was working with are so phenomenal. I was almost embarrassed to be there,” she said. “They’re really great people. I’m so happy about the projects we’re starting and (to be) maintaining those friendships.”

Artic Artist: Local woman will document North Pole

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