Meet Alaska-based Artist & Archaeologist: Jill Richie

Posted on 14 June 2021

Jill Richie: artist by night, archaeologist by day, new mom somewhere in-between.


Meet Jill Richie

Jill's lifestyle, career, and growing art practice are shaped by human interactions with the environment, both past and present, in her home state of Alaska. From the backyard to backcountry, she uses art as a tool for observation, recreation, and environmental and social advocacy. Her practice is grounded in plein air field sketching, where she uses watercolor and pen to document the natural and cultural environments she depends on, learns from, and celebrates, turning ephemeral experiences into creative exercises and tangible artworks.



On Life in Alaska:

"For much of my life, I found more inspiration in capturing moments away from home. I'd regularly sketch while traveling, admiring new surroundings with any medium I could harness. Back in Alaska I often took for granted the endless natural beauty, grounded communities, and resourceful lifestyles that I knew well. By dedicating more time to art, I've been able to engage with my home through a new lens, and appreciate the beauty from the backyard to the backcountry. Art has allowed me to connect with, share, and support places, people, and ideas that are closest to my heart – and my home.

"Alaska is known for having three seasons – winter, break up, and construction. But there's a brief window – we're talking days, maybe weeks – between winter and break up that offers long, sunny days and some of the finest skiing of the year. On the best of days, you can skinny ski across miles of crust in the morning, skin up to cold powder high in the mountains, and ski corn for an afternoon snack."

"Flower Bed" by Jill Richie
"Flower Bed" is a piece from Jill's 2020 Re/Creations Gallery: Restructured paintings of Alaska's best dreamscapes – simultaneously grounded in the familiar and lost in whimsy.


On Field Sketching:

"Despite being a place-based artist who prefers to create en plein air, I joke that I paint about one minute for each hour spent in nature. With a nearly two year old daughter and a 9-5 job, most of my art practice takes place between 3-30 minutes at a time. I try not to be too precious about my supplies or resulting artworks – a little frozen watercolor, a squished mosquito, or dirt in my palette – all adds character! The result is a tangible collection of memories, honored for their sentimental value over their aesthetics."

Jill Richie Art | Canwell Glacier
Scene from a sketchbook: the Canwell Glacier in the spring of 2020.

On Place Names & Art:

"Learning the names and histories (human and natural!) of the places I paint is part of my responsibility – and joy – of being an artist. While many of the landscapes I engage with may appear unpeopled at a first glance, these environments are filled with story, knowledge, memory and opportunity.

"I recently kicked off a project called "Alaska Place Names Illustrated" where I share, to the best of my ability, cultural context and references for both Indigenous and colonial naming practices associated with the scenes I paint. The process of painting prompts an intimate observation of an environment's physical attributes, while research into naming histories promote a deeper understanding of – and respect for – Alaska's cultural landscapes.

"This ongoing project was created in solidarity with those working to help Indigenous languages, traditions, and lifestyles thrive. It is an opportunity for inquiry, discussion, and consideration of the significance of place names in Alaska and beyond."

Jill Richie Art: K'ats'l Tl'aadi
"K'ats'l Tl'aadi is the Ahtna place name for Mt. Blackburn meaning "the one at cold waters."

Jill Richie Art: Denali
Denali, a derivative of the Koyukon Athabaskan "Deenaalee" meaning "the high one" in Koyukan Athabaskan. North America's highest peak is known by dozens of names, spanning many languages and cultural groups across Alaska.

Jill Richie Art: Ch'eno'
Ch'eno', the Tanana Athabaskan name for the Chena River, translates to "river of something (game)" a reference to the nearby caribou herds.

On Detail & Inspiration:

"Art encourages an intimate relationship with your subject. I'm constantly posed with decisions – how to capture this color, translate that line, recreate this shape. I love diving into the patterns and designs within nature – the best artist I know."

Jill Richie Art: Kobuk River
Flowing details along the frozen Kobuk River.

You can see more of Jill Richie's art on her website or follow along with her Alaskan adventures and art via Instagram.

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