Article

Finding Peace and Inspiration in the North

A botanist reflects on the beauty of Arctic landscapes, from the magnificent vistas of icy fjords to the minutiae of lichens and shells at our feet, and what it can teach us about art, life, death, and renewal.
Mallory carolyn karrat fjord

While travelling with Adventure Canada through the Northwest Passage for the past several years, I’ve been taking photos of bones. The way bones are such a beautiful part of the landscape of the tundra is quite fascinating to me. They are generally spotted with lichens and returning to the land. It is somehow comforting as I get older that all things do indeed go back to the land. It’s not necessarily the end, but a kind of renewal.

Caribou jaw at rest

Caribou Jaw at Rest

I love the colours of the land in the autumn. The more I learn about lichen, the more I admire these hearty combos of fungus, algae, and yeast. On the tundra, the beauty of the land is so in your face because you are not distracted by buildings or by trees. If you stop and look, you will see so many wonderful things at your feet. I can’t help but be inspired to paint them.

Bones willow painting copy

Willow, Lichen, and Ribs

When I think about my favourite places to go with Adventure Canada, Karrat Fjord in Greenland stands out. Its beauty is unparalleled. Imagine having this as a final resting place. The views, the plant life, the ice—all of my favourite things in one place. There are many places that fill my soul in the Arctic. This is one of them. And although I’ve singled out this place, there are so many others in the Canadian Arctic and in Greenland that have this affect on me. Every year, I can’t wait to experience the Arctic again.

Cross at Karrat Fjord

Cross at Karrat Fjord

I am always inspired by colour, and seeing this pile of mussels next to the willow shrubs in Labrador was a feast for my eyes. In as much as the grandeur of the Arctic is hard to put into words, it’s almost always the minutiae that captures my heart. And so I paint. And it brings me such peace. I can escape back to where the photos were taken and lose myself in the joy of bringing the colour to the blank page.

Mussels and willow

Mussels and Willow

For years I painted the lonely graves on Beechey Island—a stark yet strangely beautiful and haunting scene. And then I turned my attention to Northumberland House. The old, decaying remnant of a building. A place where stores were kept for the searchers looking for Franklin. Bones of a civilization, remnants of an expedition gone horribly wrong, reminders of the fragility of human existence. This building is also going back to the land. Sad but comforting at the same time.

Northumberland house painting

Northumberland House

About the Author

Carolyn Mallory

Carolyn Mallory

Botanist, Author, and Artist

About the Artist:

Carolyn Mallory is a field botanist, co-author of Common Plants of Nunavut, author of Common Insects of Nunavut, and a watercolour artist.

Her latest publication, Painted Skies, is a picture book about a child’s first experience with northern lights. She is hard at work on more picture books for children, as well as a novel. Carolyn loves to depict the North in her work. She can always be recognized on activities off of the ship, looking down at the amazing Arctic plant world only a few centimetres above the permafrost.

Visit the Art COOP Gallery website to learn more!