visions of the boreal forest
An Upcoming Smithsonian Institution Exhibit
Ringing the northern globe, 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.
The largest and most intact terrestrial ecosystem on Earth, the boreal forest is an essential player in carbon sequestration and global climate change, and it is the major source of the world’s liquid fresh surface water. It is also a fragile and unique habitat that is critical for the survival of myriad species of migratory songbirds and waterfowl as well as being 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 boreal forest also contains titanic reserves of timber, pulp, minerals, and energy.
This forest’s ecological significance, the wealth of resources it contains, and 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.
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 songbirds 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.
All these are set against a background of wilderness travel and adventure.
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 Organizers are Robert Mullen, Stephen Loring, and William Fitzhugh.
Project Consultants include: Project Director Dr. Carol Bossert.
Scientific Team Includes: Stephen Loring (Anthropologist, Smithsonian Institution) Exhibit co-organizer William Fitzhugh (Archaeologist, Smithsonian Institution), Jeffrey Wells (Senior Scientist Boreal Songbird Initiative), Peter Mara (Curator Migratory Bird Center National Zoo Smithsonian Institution), Steven Young (The Center for Circumpolar Studies).
Artists and Environmentalist Team Includes: Robert Mullen (Painter, Director of WREAF) and Stephen Gorman (Photographer and Author). WREAF, a program of The Center for Circumpolar Studies, is an international fellowship of wildlife and wilderness landscape painters and photographers including Robert Bateman (arguably the world’s preeminent wildlife painter) who are committed to producing original art in support of this exhibition.