Art that reflects the land

Part 2: Climate change hits close to home

Jun 21, 2017
Ryder is standing next to a landscape painting.

Ryder with one of his paintings. Courtesy Ryder Erickson.

Ryder Erickson makes paintings from his home in Unalakleet, Alaska. He says climate change hits close to home. He’s a self-taught artist who recently supported Stickers for Conservation and its work to drive good deeds by contributing an image called “Shaktoolik Gold.”

Trustees for Alaska sponsored the production of 100 stickers for the project. Anyone who does a good deed for the planet—like donate to a conservation group, write a letter to a legislator, educate others about the environment—can make a sticker claim.

We recently asked Ryder to talk about his work and the issues that matter to him. We edited his responses for length. This is part 2 of that interview. Read part 1 about how he came to art. 

 

Landscapes with a human presence
An image of a northern hunter on ice.

“A Good Provider.” Courtesy Ryder Erickson.

While my ultimate goal is, in a small way, to preserve the culture of my heritage with my art, I also endeavor to make landscape paintings that reflect the land I grew up in. If my work somehow can reproduce that feeling of a human presence, then I feel I have succeeded in portraying our core belief of utilizing the land with respect. Humans can either try to master the environment or be stewards of it, and in my culture we strive for the latter. We live off the land, but not at its expense, and take what we need and no more. I strive to create artwork that reflects these types of values.

 

Climate change hits close to home 

In the area that I grew up in, climate change and the erosion it causes has hit very close to home. Several villages in our area are threatened with the terrifying thought that their homes and communities will inevitably erode into the ocean itself. As the permafrost melts, whole sections of coastal land are now teetering on the edge of disaster.

Photo of a sled in snow and fish smoking structure in a the waning light.

“Sweet Home.” Courtesy Ryder Erickson.

The wildlife and fish that we live on are directly impacted by climate changes, and these animals are part of our livelihood. We use them for food and the ecosystem that supports them gives us medicine, food, firewood and drinking water. Warmer water drives fish further north, strange weather affects hunting and gathering, caribou grazing patterns change, they all result in less food available to hunt or fish. The land is inextricably linked with the indigenous people that inhabit it, and as the resources necessary for survival are affected, so are the people.

The reason it is important to protect the land and its resources is that it is part of indigenous people’s way of life.

For communities like Shishmaref the issues have gone far beyond what the residents can do for themselves, it will take compassion and hard work from people who don’t live around here for it to resolve in a positive manner. I am grateful for organizations like your own that do help those who can’t help themselves.

 

Read part 1 of this interview to learn more about Ryder’s art.

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