More than a decade ago, when Helen Glazer first entertained the idea of applying as an artist in residence at the bottom of the world, she had one image in her head: flat and white.
But after applying to the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Artists & Writers Program six times over 10 years, she was accepted in 2014. A year later, in November 2015, she found herself in a C-17 transport plane powering out of Christchurch, New Zealand and landing at McMurdo Station, Antarctica.
When she stepped off the plane onto feet-thick sea ice, she was following in the frozen footsteps of legendary Antarctic explorers such as Roald Amundsen, Capt. Robert Falcon Scott and Sir Ernest Shackleton. She was more than 8,600 miles from her home and family in Owings Mills in one the most remote and unforgiving places on earth.
“We flew in a military transport plane. There was a cargo container in the middle of the plane, and we were seated along the walls,” she said, smiling. “We had earplugs; it was really noisy.”
For seven weeks, Glazer explored the Antarctic wilds on foot and via small watercraft, snowmobile and helicopter, taking more than 4,000 photographs, some of which she later made into sculptures of the towering glaciers and strange rock formations through 3-D printing and routing technology.
“Here are these forms, and the wind has scoured them away in ways that are very surprising, to the point that it’s even blasted holes in it,” she said of the rocks in Antarctica’s Dry Valleys known as ventifacts.
Starting Wednesday, anyone can walk along with Glazer on her artistic Antarctic adventure when her solo exhibit of photos and sculptures, “Helen Glazer: Walking in Antarctica,” opens at the Goucher College Rosenberg Gallery in the Kraushaar Auditorium. The show runs through Dec. 18 with an artist’s reception and talk Nov. 14. An audio tour based on her Antarctic blog will accompany the show.
Although Glazer, now 62, was in Antarctica from November to January, it was the beginning of summer there, and temperatures were bearable with the help of the polar gear issued to her in New Zealand.
“Most of the time it was in the mid-20s, which isn’t too bad,” she said. “If the wind is blowing hard though, even 20 degrees with a stiff breeze can feel pretty cold.”
Her preconceived notions of a one-note landscape quickly dropped away with visits to scientific camps near the massive Canada Glacier; frozen Lake Bonney and Lake Hoare in the rocky, arid landscapes of the McMurdo Dry Valleys; the fairy-castle-like ice caves of Cape Evans; and the black volcanic sands of Cape Royds on Ross Island, where she observed an Adelie penguin colony hatching chicks.
“Nothing really prepared me for the scale of things,” she said. “Things are so big. There were forms and shapes that I hadn’t seen pictures of. I didn’t really know what was there.”
In order to make a 3-D sculpture from her photographs, multiple, overlapping photos of the object were needed from all sides. Glazer had experimented at home with photos of snow piles in the parking lot of Franklin Elementary School, producing a 3-D sculpture from the photos.
“I didn’t know I could make something this big,” she said of the glaciers and icebergs she encountered in Antarctica. “When I was at New Harbor we went out to this iceberg stuck in the sea ice. I went out on a snowmobile. It was huge. It took me 30 minutes to go all the way around and take photos of it. It was gigantic.”
When she returned to her laptop in her dorm room at McMurdo Station, which she shared with a volcanologist, she loaded the iceberg images into her photogrammetry software.
“I think that there is a sense, a Jewish ethic, to take care of the earth and to appreciate nature.” — Helen Glazer
“I took one side of that big glacier, maybe 40 or 50 photos. It would take hours for the computer to chug along, but it came out. When it was all done, I said, ‘This is working. Now I’m encouraged. I can do this,’” she recalled. “The technology enables me to attempt things that would be totally crazy to try to make by hand.”
Born in the Bronx, N.Y., Glazer came to Baltimore to pursue a master’s in fine arts at Maryland Institute College of Art after receiving her B.A. in art from Yale. After finishing her M.F.A., Glazer decided to stay and work in Baltimore. She lived in Charles Village for a few years, then moved with her husband to Upper Park Heights, finally landing in Owings Mills in 1994. She has two sons, age 26 and 29, who both attended Owings Mills High School.
In the comfy basement studio of her Owings Mills home, sunlight and fresh air pour in through a patio-level door that opens onto the yard. Around the studio stand her large-format prints from Antarctica in shades of white, ice-blue and black. In between are the sculptures of the glaciers and the ventifact — like visiting Antarctica in miniature.
Slender, energetic, casual and warm, Glazer talks as excitedly about her adventures in the frozen south as she does about her adventures finding and learning the technology that allowed her to make three-dimensional sculptures of the sites she visited. 3-D printing and routing technology had barely begun when she first applied to the artist-in-residence program 12 years ago, and it was cumbersome, expensive and inaccessible.
Now, her 3-D files are loaded into a router machine that sculpts the object out of high-density foam or into a 3-D printer that builds the object up with a tiny thread of melted plastic. Production of the object can take hours, or days, depending on the complexity and detail. Because the printers available to Glazer locally are only capable of printing objects up to about a foot, she has to “slice” her 3-D files into dozens of sections, which are then assembled, epoxied and painted.
Throughout her career as an artist, Glazer has moved from painting to sculpture, to huge mural projects, to photography, to her current work that begins as a photo and ends as a sculpture. But her art has always had a natural element, such as flowers, constellations and clouds. She has studied chaos theory and the movements of wind and water, so her Antarctica work seems a logical progression.
“If you want people to understand and appreciate places and preserve them, it helps if they have a visual,” she said. “It’s connected to us even though it seems very far away.”
Early in December 2015, just a couple weeks into her Antarctic adventure, Glazer celebrated Chanukah with about 10 other Jews who happened to be living at the time at McMurdo.
“We lit a candle in the dining hall on the first night of Chanukah, and then I was off to the penguin colony,” she said with a laugh.
And although Glazer doesn’t tie her art to her Jewish heritage in any explicit way, she said that her background probably influenced her penchant for depicting the natural world through her unique vision.
“I think that there is a sense, a Jewish ethic, to take care of the earth,” she said, “and to appreciate nature and perhaps the variety of creation and the mystery of creation and how varied and unfathomable it is.”