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Pratt Museum showcases Cordova painter who has studied ice for over four decades

"Columbia Glacier, Prince William Sound, Alaska", from David Rosenthal's traveling exhibit, Painting at the End of the Ice Age, currently on display at the Pratt Museum.
David Rosenthal
"Columbia Glacier, Prince William Sound, Alaska", from David Rosenthal's traveling exhibit, Painting at the End of the Ice Age, is currently on display at the Pratt Museum.

A new solo exhibit opened April 1 at the Pratt Museum. The paintings primarily focus on one subject: glaciers.

Walking into the Pratt Museum’s Special Exhibits gallery feels like entering an ice cave. Oil paintings with lavender blues and pastel pinks depict Antarctic sunrises, while emerald green and gray showcase the diversity of ice formations.

Among the hyper-realistic oil paintings are information panels explaining the science of glacial formations and sea ice. And their unprecedented rates of retreat.

“Ice has been one of my favorite subjects for the last 40 some years,” said Cordova artist David Rosenthal. “I am a realist painter, so I am perfect for describing these changes.”

Rosenthal, who is around 70 years old, has spent the majority of his life on the ice. Originally from Maine, he came to Prince William Sound after college to work in the fishing industry. Prince William Sound suited him. The Sound has more tidewater glaciers than any other region in North America.

“And it turns out, I was in the middle of the remains of the great ice sheets,” Rosenthal said.

His love of ice took him to Antarctica where he spent five years working as a laborer and as an assistant in the Antarctic Artists and Writers Program. His current exhibit at the Pratt Museum, titled Painting at the End of the Ice Age, includes paintings from his time in Antarctica, Alaska and other boreal environments.

Logistically it is difficult to paint in below freezing temperatures, so Rosenthal relies on sketches and his memory for compositions.

“I've got paintings from 60 [degrees] below and 20 knot winds from Greenland and the ice cap,” he said. “If you've ever tried plein air painting with oils, they turn to crayons at about minus five.”

Besides wanting to share the beauty and science behind glacial formations, Rosenthal also aims to show the rapid rates that the glaciers are receding.

Many of his paintings portray the changes of individual glaciers within his lifetime, other paintings show renditions of glaciers based on scientific and historic documentation. In every case, the retreat is dramatic.

“I am just astounded at how rapidly this is occurring, and I hope that people do get some urgency about the subject, because this [exhibit] is a visible way to see it,” he said.

The show is a traveling exhibit. Rosenthal does not have any shows planned once the exhibit leaves Homer, but he is trying to secure more locations to show his work.

“I'm hoping that this exhibit will travel to natural history museums primarily in the Lower 48 and I hope it travels for five or 10 years,” he said. “I hope it outlives me.”

Rosenthal also plans to host a one-day painting workshop towards the end of his exhibit. His paintings are on display in the Pratt Museum’s Special Exhibits gallery with artwork for sale in the Community gallery. The show will run until the end of May.

Originally from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Southwest Virginia, Desiree has called Alaska ‘home’ for almost two decades. Her involvement in radio began over 10 years, first as a volunteer DJ at KBBI, later as a host and producer, and now in her current role as a reporter. Her passions include stories relating to agriculture, food systems and rural issues. In her spare time, she can often be found riding her bicycle, creating art from handmade paper, or working in the garden.
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