Jill Pelto Kicks Off Spring Webinar Series
As we get ready to kick off our 2021 Spring Mini Webinar Series, we are ecstatic to introduce Jill Pelto as our first speaker. Jill Pelto is a climate change artist based in Portland, Maine. Pelto illustrates important scientific trends by integrating line graphs and watercolors to create works that both appeal to the audiences’ emotions and to their need for data, for “proof”.
I first came across Pelto’s work through a personal connection. I know someone who attended a conference with Pelto, and while we talked about the importance of the humanities in science communication, she dug up Pelto’s card and told me to look her up. The work on Pelto’s business card is the same as the landing page of her website, jillpelto.com, and was, is, incredibly compelling. A red line graph cuts a path through three examples of what climate scientists call “proxy data,” or clues left in nature that tell us something about what the climate used to be like in the past.
Pelto calls her work Glaciogenic Art, referring to the process that helps form glaciers and intending the name to imply that her work is meant to contribute to the process (Chandrasekaran). This mission is clear from talking to her. While Pelto can’t literally create glaciers, her work is meant to harness public awareness of environmental trends and inspire action. If people care about their environment and understand what is happening around them, they are better able to commit themselves to protect it. Then, hopefully, glaciers will have more opportunities to grow.
Pelto completed her undergraduate work at the University of Maine, where she majored in Studio Art and Earth Science. She wanted to find a way to use her art to communicate climate science more effectively, and her final project for her Studio Art courses cemented her current style: the seemingly effortless blending of data with beautiful landscapes. She then completed a Masters in Climate Science, so that she could keep up with the field and deepen her work.
Her art has since been informed by her own research, which takes her all around the world. Mostly, however, she keeps returning to the glacial mountains of Washington State, where she does fieldwork with her father. There, she sees the undeniable effects of climate change as year after year the glaciers change and the surrounding towns and cities are subject to longer fire seasons.
When I had the pleasure of interviewing her for this series, I asked her about the role she plays in bridging the gap between the hard sciences and the public. Why did she think that, even though we have so much data, the severity of the situation isn’t clicking for folks? And what does she see as her mission?
Pelto noted that despite their extensive training, scientists aren’t always well-equipped to do science communication to the public. As such, it is important that they work together with people whose job it is to make sure their work is understood, and that is part of the role she occupies. As someone engaging with science from the humanities, Pelto explains that even though there is science for the sake of science, there is also science that directly impacts the lives of people, and so it’s important for the public to understand what that means. Art, writing, and the social sciences help bridge the gap.
For Pelto, having the general public understand the science is about more than just “understanding the science.” Rather, understanding the science is about learning how to intervene in the world around them, to build real skills to solve problems. Especially for communities at higher risk from climate change, this understanding is important so that they can participate in the process of determining what to do, how to prepare themselves, or how to make their communities more resilient.
Pelto is excited to keep working with scientists to continue bridging this gap. She is also enthusiastic about teaching what she knows to others so that they too might find ways to use their skills and passions to solve real-world problems. Join us in welcoming her on February 2nd, as she shares some of her process with us!
Watch Pelto's webinar below: