This past June we hosted our first Plein-Air at the Pratt art group with NOAA intern Kate Lochridge. These Plein-air groups are a collaborative effort with local artists We are having our next workshop with Metis Riley this Sunday August 28th from 11 to 1 pm.
The coordinator of our plein-air workshops and our front of house lead, Jenna Gerrety, interviewed Kate. Kate is from Bowling Green Ohio, where she is a double major in Marine Biology and Art. Her long term goals include working in marine conservation and creating scientific illustrations for papers and public education. She is currently in Alaska for the NOAA Hollings Internship program, structured similarly to an artist residency, at the Kachemak Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve and the Kasitsna Bay Laboratory. Below Jenna sits with Kate and discusses her internship.
Water babbles happily in the background as we settle in and break out our art supplies to speak with our featured artist- NOAA Intern and Hollings Scholar, Kate Lochridge.
Jenna: So how did you first learn about the NOAA internship program?
Kate: I knew growing up that I wanted to be a marine biologist, and as I was looking for internships at the end of high school I kept stumbling across the Hollings Internship.
I wasn’t old enough to be eligible at the time- you need to be a sophomore in college going into your third year.
So I put it on my calendar as a senior in high school and two years later the notification popped up! I applied and I was very, very, very excited to be selected as a recipient.
Jenna: How does art play a role in science communication, and how do you utilize your skills as an artist to reach people?
Kate: I think science is so interdisciplinary, there is no way you can go about communicating it in just one way. Art can come in and attract viewers who possibly don’t have the background to dive into a super long scientific article, but whose attention may be caught by a graph, a plein air piece, or a conceptual abstract piece. These types of things can really draw people in, showing them the background they need to pursue questions and fall down rabbit holes like: What does this phenomena do? What happens in nature when XYZ occurs?
I think that art is a great way to target a broad audience because it expands on what is available to people.
Jenna: How does working and doing art in the field impact what you do, and how does it benefit your work?
Kate: I think one of the biggest things I have discovered is the impact connections have. For example, just being out here on the Pratt trails if someone walking along were to stop to chat- people are very interested in what you are doing, especially when you are sitting on a trail painting. They usually feel comfortable coming up and asking you about yourself and the work that you are doing- that in itself is a way to reach people and expand on what you are trying to teach.
It’s crazy how many people, whether they are scientists, artists or educators, come up to you and make a connection- then it’s like oh! Well, did you know about this? And this and this? These conversations and cross disciplinary discussions push people further in learning- which is really cool, because that is both for me and for the person I’m talking to.
Jenna: What has been your favorite project to work on so far, and what are you currently working on?
Kate: Oh I don’t know, that is a hard one!
This past year I have had the amazing opportunity to be a part of two different projects. One of them was my honors project, which I developed while I was in school. I used watercolor as a medium to paint issues like the causes, effects and solutions to harmful algae blooms in Lake Erie- the kicker is that I created the watercolor pigment myself and it was all made from the biomass of harmful algae blooms! It got a lot of attention and it was really interesting to see the reactions because many people in the area learned a great deal from the project. I got a lot of feedback – from “oh my gosh this is so cool” to like; “How does this happen? Can you give me more details? What other sources can I look into” ect.
So that one was a really cool project- the other project that I think is tied up for my favorite (before my current work) was in the spring. I was selected to be a designer for some public parklets in downtown Bowling Green Ohio. It’s essentially a community space designed to be functional as an extension of the sidewalk, but I designed it to complement the idea of community. Asking questions like: What does this mean from an ecosystem perspective? And how do humans fit into our ecosystem? In Bowling Green we have this really amazing habitat called the Great Black Swamp, it is a very important part of our identity so I really enjoyed tying that in and referencing all the amazing things we have around us.
Now, as to where I am today, I am working with the Kasitsna Bay Lab and Kachemak Bay National l Estuarine Research Reserve as an Artist in Residence/Hollings Scholar to create a work that targets issues surrounding sea level change in Southcentral Alaska. I’m trying to tease out some background information so that we can have future discussions that really push us as a society to address and be proactive when it comes to sea level change.
Participant question: what are some sources from which you draw the greatest inspiration?
Kate: Oh that’s also a good question!
Part of my inspiration comes from what’s around us, so revisiting background research that I have done-whether that is on glacial melt or thermal expansion of water etc. and drawing on volumes of literary research on sea level change & the differences that are happening around various coastal regions of Alaska has been really important.
Also, going out into nature and doing plein air drawings of specific examples that I find- that way I can see what it looks like from the perspective of someone who is walking around and looking from the ground, not necessarily a drone or an airplane, though those photos are beautiful!
So I find inspiration in that, and also I draw a lot of inspiration from my fellow interns both at Kachemak Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve and the Kasitsna Bay and the UAF EPSCOR team, they have both been incredible sources of inspiration.
Participant question: So relative to what you thought before you came here, and now having been here up in Alaska in South central and Kachemak Bay for a while, what surprised you? People come into Alaska with ideas maybe about how Alaska is, and sometimes it’s in line and sometimes it’s different than what they expect. What was your experience with that?
Kate: I think one of the things that surprised me the most was the whole environment around here- and the social perspective on life is so incredibly refreshing. I didn’t think I would ever be able to find this except in historical novels- but the integration between everyday life and the natural world is just mind blowing. And the interdisciplinary work that everyone does around here, whether it is art, science communication, economics, engineering- everything just ties in together and plays a role in the larger system.
Even the fact that you can be walking down the road, and someone just driving along can slow down, roll down their window and just talk to you! And it’s awesome how many conversations you can have just with people passing by and asking how you are doing. Questions like: Are the salmon berries ripe today? It’s things like that you know? I didn’t think I would be able to find that in the world, so it’s pretty amazing.
Jenna: Thank you so much for being with us here today to get outdoors and make art! For the people who are interested in your work, where can they find you? Where can they keep up to date with what you are doing and what you are all about?
Kate: Yes! So on August 5th from 5 to 7 PM I will be presenting my artwork in an open gallery night over at Homer Council on the Arts. I am also working on a website to continue promoting the work and I’ll hopefully continue doing collaborations around the state to broaden the target range of my project documenting what is going on with sea level change.
I want to give a huge shout out and thank you to everyone who supported me, including my mentors, Kris Holderied and Nicole Hinsman- without them I would not be where I am today and I am so grateful!
(interview edited for length and clarity)
Thank you so much to Kate for being our first featured artist- if you are an artist who would like to participate or be featured in a future Plein Air day please contact the museum at firstname.lastname@example.org.