Fireweed is at the heart of this Dee McLean image, now on display as part of Water, Wilderness and Wildfires. | D.McLean photo Photo User

An international exhibition that started in London five years ago and passed through Louisiana has now come to the Jasper Yellowhead Museum.

The three locations are more than just where people have been able to view the works. To the artist herself, they were the very inspiration.  

Dee McLean, the British artist who makes yearly family visits to Jasper, calls this one of her places. It was several years ago when she moved away from her profession as a medical illustrator to return to her fine art practice, starting with a big project on climate change in Hampstead Heath in the United Kingdom.  

Two months after she started painting again, she paid a visit to Churchill, Man., the famous place where tourists can see polar bears. The year was 2016, she said, and the ice was six weeks late. There were 30 polar bears on the shore waiting for the ice so that they could hunt.

“It was a real eye opener. I follow what’s been happening with the climate like anybody does, but to actually see that was a real shock,” she said.

“That’s what started me thinking about what was happening in my other places. That started me thinking about how these places – Louisiana, Jasper and London – are all intimately linked by our changing global climate.”

Louisiana, where she spent most of her career, is sinking and shrinking, she explained. London (like the whole of the U.K.) has experienced extreme heatwaves and devastating wildfires. And in Jasper, we’ve seen the glaciers shrink and thousands of trees be eaten by the Mountain pine beetle.  

Climate change affects each of us in different ways. To this artist, she used it as fuel for her time in the studio.

Her exhibit called Water, Wilderness, and Wildfires is the culmination of the separate bodies of work that she created for each of the places that so inspired her. Far from feeding despair, she hopes that it inspires viewers to rally into action to speak to government officials and demand stronger actions to save the environment.

“I think it’s really important to make people realize that they can make a difference in their own small way. The more of us that do it, governments will have to react. They’ll be forced to.”

This is the first time that all of these works have come together in one room, and it’s a large assembly of images indeed. It will be on display for a two-month run until July 23.

McLean utilized her illustrator’s background to recreate natural objects – pine cones, leaves, weeds, etc. – as the highlights in the several dozen works. Her process starts with her nature walks where she collects these objects to take to the studio. The works themselves then serve so much as her way of preserving those moments in time and place to the point of her considering including a timestamp on each piece.

“The main inspiration, I suppose, is depending on the day, the weather, the time of year, there’ll be a feel to the walk. I have to come home and I have to put the background onto the paper almost right away to capture the colours and the atmosphere, the mood, all of it. Once I put the background down, then I’m okay and I can carry on,” she said.

She has also written guidebooks and even a children’s book to accompany the exhibit. Copies of those are available for purchase at the gift shop as well. The artist explained that she ties each of her projects to help a local voluntary organization or sustainable business to further inspire people to help out and take action. For this exhibit here, she has chosen the Friends of Jasper National Park.

There will be an opening reception starting at 7 p.m. on Friday, May 26. The artist will be in attendance and will offer a presentation during the event.

By Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on May 25, 2023 at 12:00

This item reprinted with permission from    The Fitzhugh    Jasper, Alberta
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