Painting climate change — artists revisit Rocky Mountain landscapes, decades later

Nearly a century after Catharine Robb Whyte captured the landscapes of the Rocky Mountains in her paintings, a collective of emerging, female artists will be walking in her footsteps — painting how a changing climate has transformed those same vistas.

Whyte and her husband Peter are the namesakes of Banff’s Whyte Museum, which is where a short film about the project, as well as an exhibition, will be hosted.

Whyte’s paintings of sites like the Columbia Icefield and Lake MacArthur, dating back to the 1930s, will be exhibited alongside modern studies by artists Kayla Eykelboom, Cheyenne Ozînjâ θîhâ, Ariel Hill, Kerry Langlois and Emily Beaudoin.

“Climate change is so amorphic and hard to grasp for many of us,” said Caroline Hedin, who is directing and producing the short film, Rockies Repeat.

‘What’s powerful about this is we’re able to combine art and science and go back to places people really care about and are really inspired by.”

Artist Kerry Langlois works to recreate a landscape painted by Catharine Robb Whyte decades ago. (Vincent Bonnay/Radio-Canada)

Hedin hopes that by depicting the profound changes to landscapes so tied to a Canadian identity, it will help people connect with the realities of global warming.

Langlois said it’s been a powerful experience to trek to the same locations Whyte once visited and witness receding glaciers and vegetation. 

“To think about … 100 years ago there weren’t that many female painters and the fact that she was going into these places probably on horseback, hiking with tons of supplies … really cool, really humbling experience,” she said.

Anne Ewen, curator at the Whyte Museum, said Whyte was a master of her medium — a needed skill when capturing the constantly evolving mountain landscape.

“You can be looking at one scene one moment .. and then the next moment, it’s clear sky,” she said.

Caroline Hedin is the director of Rockies Repeat, a short film about the project. (Vincent Bonnay/Radio-Canada)

Ewen applauded Hedin for encouraging young artists to follow in Whyte’s footsteps. 

“I think artists in many ways paved the way for people’s understanding of change, they’re often at the forefront of describing that change through their work,” she said. 

“I don’t think they set out to document, I think they set out to be challenged by the climate and the atmosphere that the mountains throw at you.”

The film, and exhibit, will be shown as part of the 2022 Exposure Photography Festival. 

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