Rosenthal’s glacier portraits offer a lesson in climate change

Ignoring the message of melting glaciers ‘is at our peril’

Sheridan Glacier painted by David Rosenthal.

In the dramatic silence of Alaska’s melting glaciers artist David Rosenthal’s paint brush has captured the impact of climate change on Earth, a message he hopes will inspire all who see his paintings to help slow global warming.

The lifetime body of work of the Cordova artist is on display at Homer’s Pratt Museum through June 5, including landscapes of Alaska and Antarctica paired with science based informational panels.

“My hope is that this exhibit will travel for five to 20 years, maybe beyond my lifetime,” Rosenthal said. “With the glaciers you see them shrinking as well as sea ice shrinking too. They are very visible”

Child Glacier painted by David Rosenthal.

He hopes his paintings will encourage people to do their part to decrease the impact of climate change, a situation he describes as “frightening. It is right here. Ignoring this is at our peril.”

His advantage as a painter, said Rosenthal, is “I just happen to be where it is so obvious.”

“It is the perfect thing to bring a lot of attention to this subject. It is a way for me to give back and have people take this work seriously,” he said.

Rosenthal grew up in Maine, where he graduated from college in 1976, then moved to Cordova, where he lives and works when not traveling extensively. His college studies in physics, he said, explained to him how the world makes sense, as he captures with oil paints on canvas the end of last ice age.

Sea Ice Mirage painting by David Rosenthal.

His passion for ice and climate change has taken him from the north polar ice cap Greenland and the Northwest Passage as part of the U.S. Coast Guard Art Program to Palmer Station on the Antarctic Peninsula, where he was selected for the National Science Foundation Antarctic Artist and Writers program for residencies at McMurdo Station for an austral summer 1993-94 season and for the austral winter of 1998.

Rosenthal had a traveling exhibit of Antarctic work shown at art and natural history museums and university galleries in 15 states and New Zealand. He has also been un 10 All Alaska Juried shows and been awarded tree media awards and two honorable mentions,

Surprise Glacier painting by David Rosenthal.

In a University of Oregon interview about his work Rosenthal was asked if he had ever experienced a sense of a phenomenon known as Climate Grief. He passed to consider the question, before responding “yeah, definitely.”

“I love cold weather and winters,” he said. “That’s why I migrated to Alaska and the arctic regions, but living in Cordova you could say it’s ‘grief’.  Seeing things warm up, seeing glaciers disappear. And the only reason why I don’t feel (hopeless) is because I’ve gotten older. I’m not going to see the worst of it. But when I think of the younger generations, (they’re) going to miss out on so much of this,” he said, gesturing to the mountains behind him, “and from my standpoint it is a tragedy.”