Following the Panther: Arctic Photographs of Rena Bass Forman*

Exhibition Dates: April 26 – September 3, 2013

Artist and photographer Rena Bass Forman travelled extensively in search of transformational landscapes and light. This exhibition included a selection of her prints taken from her trip in 2006 to the West coast of Greenland.

Her interests led her to the Whaling Museum in 2010 to study William Bradford’s book, The Arctic Regions. This volume, published in 1873, sits on exhibit as a central object in Arctic Visions: ‘Away then Floats the Ice-Island’.  Rena’s work was influenced by it, and by nineteenth-century Hudson River School sensibilities.

Bradford’s 1869 expedition that led to The Arctic Regions was successful due in part to John L. Dunmore and George Critcherson, two professional photographers hired out of J. W. Black Studio in Boston. In collaboration with Bradford they captured the Polar Regions in all its grandeur. Bradford used these photographs as inspiration for his artwork, as an aid to compositions, and later for his lectures.

Greenland, Ilulissat, 38″ x 38″, 2009 

Prior to her sudden death in 2011 Rena developed a plan to retrace Bradford’s 1869 voyage, to be inspired by the same landscape that marveled those aboard the Panther, and even photograph some of the same views taken by Dunmore and Critcherson. Tragically, she was unable to see her vision to its end. In lasting honor to her memory Rena’s family and friends manifested her dream as the ‘Chasing the Light’ voyage aboard the Wanderbird, an expedition trawler out of Belfast Maine.

Rena’s creativity and productivity was aided by her family who acted as her assistants and travel companions. Their supportive efforts are held within these frames too. Together they faced the challenges, and occasional dangers, of photographing in remote and isolated places. Frequently, the results were images of a timeless nature which capture but for a moment the extraordinary luminosity of the scene.

All of Rena Bass Forman’s photographs were custom printed under her watchful eye. Black and white silver gelatin prints were toned, archivally processed, and mounted. They were printed in limited editions of seven. 

Work on display was generously loaned by Winston Wachter Fine Art, New York and Seattle.

*Zaria Forman, one of Rena’s daughters, along with Lisa Lebofsky, both participated as artists-in-residence at the Museum for the first month of the exhibit opening. They sketched and painted based on the ‘Chasing the Light’ voyage. Visitors were able to watch them work and engage them in conversation.