Visions of the Boreal Forest
a Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition
The Boreal Forest is the largest terrestrial ecosystem in the world and the greatest wilderness on Earth. A vast expanse of deep forests, bogs, lakes and wild rivers it conjures in the imagination the primordial and viscerally feral world we evolved in; a world utterly indifferent to humans, full of mystery, freedom and adventure. It is also a critical and threatened ecosystem that is virtually unknown among the general public. Much of Earth’s carbon sink capacity, most of its liquid fresh surface water, nesting grounds for billions of birds, home for dozens of indigenous cultures, habitat for myriad species of wildlife, titanic reserves of timber, pulp, minerals and energy are all in the Boreal Forest.
This forest’s ecological significance, the wealth of resources it contains, our appetite for those resources and ignorance of where they come from are creating one of the greatest and most pressing conservation challenges in the world. Ringing the northern globe, the Boreal Forest is the largest and most intact terrestrial ecosystem on Earth. The Boreal Forest is an essential component of global climate change and a major source of the world’s fresh water and forest resources; it is also a fragile and unique habitat that is critical for the survival of myriad species of migratory song-birds and waterfowl as well as home to the largest ungulate aggregations in the world (the George River and Porcupine caribou herds of Labrador and Alaska). While often perceived as a remote and challenging wilderness, the Boreal Forest is the ancestral homeland for indigenous peoples who yet retain a remarkable intimacy to the land and its animals and whose subsistence-based lifestyles and deep spiritual roots are a last link to humanity’s common hunting and gathering heritage.
The concept of “wilderness” strikes a deep emotional chord in our modern society as alluded to in Henry David Thoreau’s perceptive call “In wildness is the preservation of the world”. As a place of wonderment and reflection the Boreal Forest is an inspiration to poets, photographers and artists who are drawn to the region to experience the majesty and minutia of a wilderness setting and to champion its beauty and preservation by providing an emotional connection with a sense of place.
These interrelated methods of understanding - the scientific, the indigenous, and the aesthetic - form the philosophy behind a unique and compelling exhibition plan to present the significance of the World’s Boreal Forest. With this exhibition we will weave a seamless story about the boreal forest with these three perspectives:
1. A scientific, public policy orientated focus that presents research results relating to the significance of the boreal forest to global environmental services and climate change, as crucial habitat for birds (specifically song birds and migratory waterfowl) and caribou;
2. An indigenous perspective that presents the antiquity and variety of human responses to the boreal forest;
3. An aesthetic perspective that brings the work of an international association of wildlife artists to work with the scientific and indigenous communities to capture yet another dimension of the Boreal Forest experience.
The goal of the exhibition is to inform the public about the importance of the boreal forest ecosystem and to celebrate its profound biological significance, cultural and historical relevance, and great intrinsic beauty. Project Consultants and Tentative List of Workshop Participants include:
Scientific Team Stephen Loring (Anthropologist, Smithsonian Institution) Exhibit co-organizer William Fitzhugh (Archaeologist, Smithsonian Institution) Terry Chesser (Ornithologist, Smithsonian Institution) Russ Greenberg (Ornithologist, Smithsonian Institution) Steven Young (Center for Northern Studies, Walcott, Vt.) John Jacobs (Memorial University, Climate Change and Boreal Forest Ecology) Andrew Trant (Memorial University, Ecologist) Micheline Manseau (Parks Canada, University of Manitoba) Indigenous Participants Richard Nuna (Innu Nation, Labrador) John Zoe (Tłįcho , Northwest Territories, Canada)
Artists and Environmentalist Team Exhibit co-organizers Robert Mullen (Painter) and Stephen Gorman (Photographer and Author). Robert Mullen and Stephen Gorman are the team leaders behind an extraordinary international fellowship of wildlife artists and wilderness landscape painters including Robert Bateman (arguably the world’s preeminent wildlife painter) who are committed to producing original art in support of this exhibition.
Partners Arctic Studies Center, Canadian Boreal Initiative Boreal, Songbird Initiative, Canadian Wildlife Foundation, Tshikapisk Foundation, Innu Nation, Mad River Canoe
Sponsors Toronto Dominion Bank Canadian Boreal Initiative