Studio Work

January 17th, 2008

We’re working in the studio now. I’ll be posting pictures. Check this space…

Return Through the Gerlache Passage

January 12th, 2007

We boarded the Laurence M. Gould for our journey back on December 23, 2006. Going back through the Gerlache Passage was even more exciting and beautiful than coming the other way. If you look back towards the beginning of the blog, you can see the brilliant day that greeted us in Antarctica. On the way back the day was overcast, with mysterious lines of clouds clinging to the mountains on either side of the passage. I couldn’t put down the camera , or if I did, it was to pick up the video camera. I could barely grab a sandwich!

As the ship turned away, Palmer Station seemed to fade into the distance. But no sooner was it gone when suddenly the scenery was utterly compelling. We saw whales numerous times, although none with the Canon digital. This combination of granite and fog, ice and water was more mysterious than any landscape I had ever seen. Only the photos of Wang Wusheng come even close.

Usually it didn’t look sinister but that first picture reminds me of the pilots I have known who joke about granite clouds. The changes happened fast. Focusing on one point sometimes yielded several different photos, both because of the motion of the ship and also the movement of the clouds. The scale of the mountains is not terribly evident in these small photos. But I estimate the cliffs as 30 to 75 meters high.

Late in the day we passed Smith Island. Antarctica was retreating in the distance. The low angle of sun had us seeing night for the first time in nearly two months. I wondered how I would react, but I slept so soundly, it was a relief.

We had an almost endless sunset that went on for hours.

Here is mate, Larry Brissette at the controls. Since there were only five passengers on board, the crew invited us to be in the bridge. Art and I took them up on their offer and spent a good deal of time talking and watching the navigation process as we crossed the Drake. It was so smooth that they were calling it Drake’s Lake! Lucky, because we had talked to passengers on a cruise ship that moored at Palmer and they had encountered 10 to 15 meter waves. A part of me would have liked to experience something like that, but the prospect of being tied to my bed for three days was not too appealing.

This is how we celebrated Christmas Day. Captain Scott Flanagan gave us a “safety demo” by shooting of flares and letting us shoot some off the stern of the ship.

This is the chart and log as we approached Cape Horn. We continued up the Atlantic coast of Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, to the mouth of the Straight of Magellan. Once inside the straight, we met the pilot who guided us into port at Punta Arenas.

Somewhere in the Drake Passage I snapped this picture of the ship board computer screen. It was Christmas day, day 359 of the year, 17:04 GMT. Our position was at 55+ degrees South latitude, 64º west longitude. We were headed almost due north 345º with a bearing of 348º, making 11.5 knots of headway. The wind was coming from the due north at 25 or 22 knots (different gauges). Our heading is toward Isla Estados.

The salinity of the water was 33.7 (not sure the units), Water temperature was 5.362ºC (up at least 5º from our departure at Palmer.) Depth is 3953 meters (more than 10,000 feet!) Air temp is 10.2ºC. Relative humidity 76%. Wind Chill -1.1ºC. Barometric pressure measured 983.5 millibars.

Here is Punta Arenas on our arrival. I was overwhelmed by the color. Just seeing green trees was an intense experience. I like Punta Arenas. It is a stopping over point for many outdoor treks and the town is full of camping stores like North Face and Patagonia. (This is Patagonia, after, all.) Maybe someday I’ll come back and explore South America from here.

I have a lot to say about Antarctica, what I saw, what I learned. I’ll be posting form time to time about the progress on my work in the studio. I hope to display the cast glass along with the photography and video and perhaps some cast ice, as well. I’m just looking for the right venue. I’d still like to post my thoughts on the vast visual input of my ice studies. Another might tackle the implications of global climate change and the vast re-ordering of the earth which is happening under our feet.

I’d like to especially than the National Science Foundation for making this magical voyage possible, along with their contractor for Antarctica, Raytheon Polar Services. Everybody was wonderful and more than helpful. I saw more, accomplished more than I ever could have imagined.

Some of your comments that were posted also deserve a response. I didn’t take full advantage of the blog format, but what a blast this has been! Go Blogger!

If you wish to contact me, please write I’ll try to answer all questions.

Last Day at Old Palmer

January 10th, 2007

On the last full day we were at Palmer Station, I wanted to go out in the Zodiac one last time. Art demurred. I think he was looking forward to getting on the Gould and heading home. I wanted to see the one part of the glacier face that we had not been able to see from the Zodiacs. Curt Smith was eager to go. Our technology wizard, he ran the computer network and knew about all the electronics.

This channel was created by a collapse of the glacier in 2003 that cut off Old Palmer from the main part of Anvers Island. The channel itself was too narrow to allow boating, because of its nearness to the calving glacier face. But by climbing over Old Palmer we were able to get close and see the new ice. It was worth it because the whole scene was so fresh and pure. Plus it connected the parts we had seen from the boat.

The famous skua. Not sure if this is a south polar skua or a brown skua. They are slightly obnoxious birds that are like giant seagulls. The eat penguin eggs and chicks, and are scavengers. Not too popular among the Happy Feet crowd, but hey, a bird’s gotta eat! They were very protective of their own nests. Art got a picture of one coming at him dead on, also on Old Palmer. We heard they like to kick as they go by so he ducked, but got the photo anyway.

We jumped over a lot of rocks. Its amazing how much of a rubble pile is left in the wake of glacier retreat. My feet, ankles and knees hurt for weeks!

We were hoping to take one more look at the ice arch. But a colony of elephant seals had gathered in front of our access. These two young males were wrestling right in our path. We went around them.

The Gould had pulled in a day earlier, loading freight from Palmer. It was there to take us home. A bittersweet ending. We deleted ourselves from the computer systems, the lab and our dorm room. All of our stuff was packed and ready to ship. By time I took this picture, they had already loaded our freezer container that had been on the edge of the dock. That night we stayed on the Gould in preparation for leaving the next morning.

More To Come

December 30th, 2006

Dear Friends, I`m travelling in Chile, on the slow route home. I have many great photos yet to post so watch this space sometime after January 5th, 2007. Art and I took many photos in the Gerlache and Neumayer Passages. The day was quite different from the brilliant, cloudless day when we arrived. This one was misty and dramatic. I´ll get to it soon. DAVID

Summer Solstice - Leaving Palmer

December 22nd, 2006

We are leaving Palmer Station today, Saturday, December 23, for our four day boat ride on the Laurence M. Gould back to Punta Arenas, Chile. A bittersweet ending, leaving this beautiful place. However, I got what I came for, which was information on how the ice looks. I feel that with the molds and so many photographs I have learned so much. Now I can go home, digest, and start to make my cast glass sculpture.

I expect to add a few postings to this blog as I dig out photos and clean them up with Photoshop. (Not to enchance them, so much as to make them more realistic than what the electronic camera thought it saw.) Hang on for a few weeks until I get home.

Thank you, everybody, for your support and comments. This has been so fun and I feel invigorated by all your compliments and questions.

Please email me at


Ice Cave

December 22nd, 2006

On old Palmer, which is now an island, due to the retreat of the glacier, and the former site of Palmer Station, there is both an ice arch and also an ice cave. We posted pictures of the ice arch before. This time we couldn’t get to it because the elephant seals had taken it over. Fifteen or more had come inside, and a few were in the cave itself.

A few weeks ago, Jeff found the entrance to the ice cave under the snow and dug it out. I had seen pictures and was eager to get back to Old Palmer but circumstances delayed us for a while.

The entrance is small and we had to crawl in. You couldn’t stand up, but what a scene. The whole thing is glowing blue green ice, floor ceiling and walls. It has indented arches forming a long tunnel, maybe 20 or 24 meters. The floor was lightly frozen over some water, which I found when I sat down.

Christina is the person in charge of all the long running experiments, mostly in Terra Lab. She has been doing time-lapse studies of the environment. Last one was of the Gould leaving, in several thousand pictures. I suggested a picture of my ice sculpture melting and evaporating.


December 22nd, 2006

In a land without green plants the rocks become stark, the lichens vivid. Especially as the snow melts off the glacier rubble, it exposes beauty in the patterns of lichens, moss and the rocks themselves.

I have been in love with rocks for years, but here they are so prominent. In my proposal to the NSF I requested that I be allowed to cast the local rock if I decided that the it was more interesting than the ice. In the end, although I love the ice, the variety of textures is not all that great. After ten molds we had most of them. I asked and was granted persmission to spread the silicone mold material on sea-washed rocks next to the station. The resulting rubber mold is spectacular, although I didn’t get to see it for long as it was snatched away to send home.

Art has the incriminating photo of me spreading the raw goop on the rocks. I felt kind of bad doing it, even with permission since this environment is so pristine, the international park, as it were. But the silicone performed like a champ and completely peeled off the rock without a trace. I spent a few minutes picking up the few pieces, but there is no remaining evidence that anyting happened there, to my relief. I had visions of spending the last two days of my stay at Palmer Station rubbing moling compound off the rocks. Fortunately that was not the case.

No post of mine from Antarctica would be complete without pictures of ice. We got the boat out and found some gorgeous pieces in Arthur Harbor. This piece was clear ice, but even underwater, you can see the facets, veils and bubbles.

One last blue ice glacier bit.

Two minutes of glorious sunset on the night before solstice at midnight. Orange light on the blue ice.

Glass Casting in Antarctica

December 17th, 2006

I figured out how to save the glacier! I’m going to turn it into glass. I actually managed to make a small glass sculpture in the Palmer Station lab using exactly the process I had proposed with the ice molds. Over the past few weeks, Art and I have taken several silicone molds off of ice surfaces from pieces we have found in the water around the station. I melted some paraffin wax into different silicone textures and built up a small wax model for the glass using three textures from the ice.

After embedding the wax in a dental casting plaster, I melted out the wax in a small lab bench furnace at about 200ºC.

Here is my studio on the mash and grind deck of Palmer Bio building. We put the kiln go outside so as not to smoke everyone our during the burnout process. I was worried that the weather might affect the firing temperature, but it didn’t.

Here is the mold with chunks of glass I had brought from Oakland, melting at nearly 800ºC. The glass is a very light copper/cobalt blue, with about a thousandth percent colorant, very light.

Ken setting the temperature on the controller. This controller was not ideal since it wouldn’t turn down slower than 1ºC per minute. I wanted the high temperature cooling to be less than half that so I babied it for several hours while it went through that critical phase.

Here is the piece when I broke it out of the mold. Notice the two textures. One was the smooth faceted ice and the other side was the snowy, granular ice. The “nose” is a third slightly wrinkly texture.

Zenobia and Kerry organized an art show in the bar at Palmer. I put in some of my ice pieces, including this tall one I have shown before in “Ice Studies.”

The top photo is after an hour out of the freezer container. The second, several hours later as the sun was setting. The ice broke up internally around the crystals, which had also formed the facets. The afternoon was warm enough so the ice started to melt. It lasted just about exactly 24 hours before it tumbled to the deck.

I also put in one of the silicone molds. I wonder if anybody got it, but it represented an absence of form, absence of a sculpture, maybe the absence of the glacier. Several guys were fascinated by the silicone, since it’s flexible and strong.

Above is another picture of my glass casting taken in the declining light of the day at about 11PM. Below is another of our “Ice Studies,” when we were in the container with the photo lights. This one used one blue light to accentuate the clear form.

Between Breaks/Aerobatic Macrofauna - Art Quinn

December 15th, 2006

As you know from David’s last post, my extreme age necessitates certain pauses, expecialy after slogging through the long hours demanded by a slavedriver like him! He made me get up to photograph these Chinstrap Penguins. They circled our inflatable, shooting through the water, then bursting up out of the surface. If you inspect the wave above the penguin, you will notice that the left ring is the other penguin’s exit spot, the right its entry, even detailing the beak on the far right.

Here are the Chinstraps again, but underwater. In the past some of their jumps have landed them in the boats here at Palmer. They jump out immediately.

It is hard to imagine why they have evolved to breed and waddle around on land considering their expertise in the water. This is a picture of Penguin Heaven, with cloud-like snow.

Across the straits from the Penguins is Elephant Rocks. This is some mega-macro fauna. We happened to be nearby when these two got into it.

The glacier in the background photographed with a closeup through an iceberg recently calved. We got this shot from our Zodiac.

This is detail from the same berg as above, but very close. The inverted triangular piece of ice was about 15″ wide at its base.

Charismatic Macrofauna

December 14th, 2006

The other night, an announcement went out that a rare King penguin had been sighted on Torgensen Island, just across Arthur Harbor. I had been up on the glacier videoing Mount William, but at dinner, Jeff invited me to take a boat out just before our 10PM boating limit. The King was just standing alone and he has been there for a couple of days now. No one here knows where he came from or where he is going. Obviously the colony of Adelie penguins on the island don’t seem to mind. Indeed, they don’t mind humans either.

Tha’s the Adelies and the King, above. Just 100 meters from Torgensen is Elephant Rocks, clearly Elephant seal territory. It’s rare to see a penguin there but the elephants are all over the place. Cozy, too.

This elephant seal, probably an adolescent climbed up on the rocks no more than 5 meters from the station, on the rocks that I use to fish out ice pieces. I started to go down the snow-grid path to the dock and this guy made threatening noises. From my experience with the elephant seals in Northern California, I didn’t take him too seriously, but I still used a telephoto lens.

We think this is a leopard seal, because of his prominent head, even if we didn’t see any spots. He was on a berg that was floating by quickly in the current and raised his head every so often presumably to see how he was being carried along.

This is the famous quinnar seal of Palmer Station in a semi-relaxed moment. Palmer has been hard work for Mr. Quinn and he takes his rest when he can.

No post of mine would be complete without a few pictures of ice. this glacier face is so fantastic, I could never get enough of seeing it. The berg probably calved from the face right there. The form is right, anyway.

Here is an actual plant; let’s call it a charismatic macroflora in honor of Matt who works on plankton, here. I think this is the only plant with leaves, if you can call blades of grass, leaves. The only other greens plants I have seen are a couple of mosses. I suppose lichens are plants, too, but they don’t count in the green category.