In honor of the International Polar Year, through March 2009, the Portland Museum of Art
will present an exhibition of the story of Arctic exploration during its peak years from 1850 to 1910. Drawn from the collection of the Osher Map Library at the University of Southern Maine in Portland, the exhibition will feature more than 35 maps, books, prints, and other graphics dedicated to the Arctic explorer. The Coldest Crucible: Arctic Exploration in American Culture will be on view March 14 through June 21, 2009.
The Arctic explorer is a storied figure in American history-an icon of endurance, single-mindedness, and American spirit. This story of exploration unfolded not only in the Arctic but also at home in America. As Arctic Fever swept across the nation in the late 1800s, more than a dozen expeditions entered the Arctic on voyages of discovery, to rescue missing explorers, find a Northwest Passage, and stand at the North Pole. Few of these missions were successful, and many men lost their lives en route. Yet failure did little to dampen the enthusiasm of new explorers or the crowds at home that cheered them on.
The Coldest Crucible: Arctic Exploration in American Culture will paint a new portrait of polar voyagers, removing them from the icy backdrop of the Arctic and setting them within the tempests of American cultural life. The exhibition will feature artifacts produced at the height of the nations Arctic Fever, including dramatic full-page engravings of explorers from The Graphic, The Daily Picayune, and Scientific American. These images drew inspiration from a tradition of Romantic landscape painting by artists such as Frederic Church and William Bradford, whose most influential Arctic scenes are included in the exhibition.
The Coldest Crucible will also feature rare Renaissance maps of the Arctic Regions by Michael Lok, Sebastian Munster, and Abraham Ortelius. Fascination with the Polar Regions had local roots as well. Photos and memorabilia from Maine residents Robert and Josephine Peary, the most famous Arctic couple in American history, will be on display. Taken together, these diverse objects will offer a cultural portrait of the Arctic as experienced by an eager American public.
This exhibition is curated by Michael Robinson, assistant professor of History at Hillyer College, University of Hartford, Connecticut, in collaboration with the Osher Map Library and Smith Center for Cartographic Education at the University of Southern Maine.
Accompanying The Coldest Crucible on the Museums second floor will be Polar Dispatches, an installation of 19 contemporary works that will explore polar geography in a variety of ways, from specific encounters recorded in sound and image, to poetic abstractions in prints, drawings, and works on paper.
For more information on the International Polar Year, visit www.ipy.org.