Ice Age painting exhibition combines art and science


Painter David Rosenthal at work in his home studio. (May 3, 2021) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith / The Cordova Times

Would you prefer to visit an art exhibition or a scientific exhibition? Would you rather see paintings of Alaskan landscapes or learn more about the effects of climate change on the glacier environment?

Why not both? “Painting at the End of the Ice Age”, a planned exhibition by the Cordova-based artist David Rosenthal, will use paintings to illustrate how Alaska’s winter landscapes are changing. And while Thesauruss may offer “glacial” as a synonym for “slow,” Ice Age environments can actually be remarkably active.

“Glaciers rise and retreat quickly geologically, so paintings from my short lifespan show significant changes over time,” wrote Rosenthal.

The exhibition uses a range of realistic paintings to depict glaciers in different locations over the past two centuries. A triptych of oil-on-linen paintings shows Childs Glacier as it might have looked in the 19th century and in 1977 and 2017. The time-lapse effect is dramatic: a stark ice cliff that decreases to a gently rounded slope. Rosenthal’s nineteenth-century depiction of Childs Glacier was informed by a National Geographic poll that shed light on the structure of the glacier during that time, Rosenthal said.

“I hope people realize when they see the glaciers receding evenly … that, yes, global warming is a real thing,” said Rosenthal.

Rosenthal is self-taught, who says that studying physics taught him more about realistic landscape painting than any art class. His previous scientific excursions include a trip on the Northwind Coast Guard icebreaker from Tromsø, Norway; 10 seasons in Antarctica with the National Science Foundation; and a position as a science technician at the Greenland Ice Sheet Research Station Summit Camp. Copies of Scientific American and National Geographic are more likely to be found in his apartment than art magazines. Nonetheless, Rosenthal could have depicted the Antarctic surroundings more than any other artist, said Denis Keogh, curator of collections and exhibits at the Cordova Historical Museum.

David Rosenthal is arranging some of the paintings that will be on view in his exhibition “Painting at the End of the Ice Age”. (May 3, 2021) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith / The Cordova Times

“David Rosenthal’s chosen path of chasing after the diluted light of the strictest places at the extreme ends of both hemispheres has led to a visual chronicle that is second to none,” wrote Keogh in a catalog for Rosenthal’s exhibition. “Through persistence, discipline and a sense of awe of the world, Rosenthal has created a work that gives the viewer the opportunity to see parts of the beauty in places that continue to instill a sense of objective awe, in places that are incredibly remote are. “, but now in the minds of all of us.”

Since the 1970s, Rosenthal has created hundreds of landscape paintings around Cordova and elsewhere. Rosenthal prefers to work from sketches that have been collected at landscape locations than from photos, he said.

Rosenthal’s work has already been exhibited in Cordova several times. The most recent exhibition dedicated to Rosenthal’s work was Art and Science on the Katmai Coast, a traveling exhibition hosted by the Copper River Gallery in 2017. Rosenthal has also contributed to other local art exhibitions, including the “Quarantine Dreams”. Copper River Gallery exhibition from December 2020 to January 2021.

“Painting at the End of the Ice Age” is scheduled to start in October this year at the Copper River Gallery before traveling to another location according to an itinerary that has yet to be set. The exhibition is supported by the Cordova Historical Society.

A catalog of works of art, photographs and other material related to the exhibition is available from the Cordova Gear outdoor sports store. If there is sufficient interest, a more extensive catalog can be published, says Rosenthal. Rosenthal’s art can also be found online at


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