CLEMSON — Clemson printmaking professor Todd Anderson has climbed to great heights.

Once a serious rock climber, he now explores the beauty of the natural world through his art.

Display case at The Met in NY

The artist book “The Last Glacier,” featuring prints by Todd Anderson, is on display at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York through Feb. 5.

His latest perch is atop a famed set of steps along Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. There, his work, “The Last Glacier,” is on display through Feb. 5 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Anderson’s color woodcuts form pages in a limited-edition artist book now being shown in The Robert Wood Johnson, Jr. Gallery. In the same exhibition of drawings and prints from The Met Collection are works by John Constable, Francisco Goya and Pablo Picasso.

That’s good company.

“What makes this really special and rare is that this doesn’t happen to academics, period,” Anderson said.

The Met doesn’t make a habit of collecting the work of “pure academics,” he said. Only a handful of university professors have had their artwork acquired by the grand institution.

“We don’t know of anybody – any other pure academic – who has exhibited at The Met while still alive,” Anderson said.

First-hand view

Also good company are Anderson’s collaborators on “The Last Glacier”: fellow printmaker Bruce Crownover and Ian van Coller, a professor of photography at Montana State University.

Over the course of four years, the three artists hiked the rugged terrain of Glacier National Park in Montana, observing its remaining glaciers from its valleys and mountaintops. Anderson said he has traversed more than 500 miles on foot.

“The Last Glacier” is both their powerful work of art and a document that captures the changing world at a pivotal moment in time.

It, too, is the name of a collective the artists formed in 2010 as a response to the rapid melting of ice that once blanketed the national park and other locations across the globe. “My collaborators and I have been documenting places — specific places on the planet — where we can see tangible evidence that climate change is affecting the environment,” Anderson said.

In 1850, as many as 150 glaciers covered the land now in Glacier National Park. Today, the official park website claims a mere 26 glaciers “all shrinking in size.” Within decades, even those will be gone.

Time and place

All 15 copies of “The Last Glacier” have been snapped up by individual collectors and institutions, including the Library of Congress; The New York Public Library; libraries at Clemson University, Yale and the University of Wisconsin-Madison; and the Davis Museum of Art at Wellesley College.

Todd Anderson

Todd Anderson, assistant professor of art at Clemson University, displays one of his reductive woodblock prints in “The Last Glacier.”
Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

“There’s a time element to the work. I think that’s one of the things The Met has responded to,” Anderson said. “The work has a contemporary focus that makes it have currency right now, with the assumption that this is going to be important 10,000 years from now, if we’re all around.”

“The Last Glacier” artist collective has expanded its boundaries, working with scientific collaborators on research projects that resulted in the limited-edition books “Fissure” on Iceland and “Mount Kilimanjaro.”

“We’re kind of a symbiotic relationship, where we can drive attention to something with the scientists. At the same time, scientists help people understand the artwork,” Anderson said.

The hope is that the artwork will connect on an emotional level. Or maybe the science can connect,” he said. “But it’s not all doom and gloom. That’s really an important part of the work.”

The collective’s next monumental book, “ROMO: The Last Glacier,” is scheduled for release in 2018. Again, it will pair woodcut prints by Anderson and Crownover with van Coller’s photographs, but this time documenting the last glaciers in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Journey

Close up of artist Todd Anderson's hands

To create his prints, Anderson painstakingly carves into a block of wood, leaving on its surface only what will be printed with the next layer of ink. The same block is carved again and again, printing layers of color onto paper until the final image is realized.

Anderson said his deep appreciation for nature came from his family of “outdoors people.”

“There’s this formative time in our 20s that defines us in a lot of ways,” Anderson said. “I was a rock climber and a pretty serious one. I was outside the majority of the year.”

At a certain point, he asked himself: “What am I contributing to society?”

“That’s when there was a switch,” he said. “I thought, well, there’s this art thing I like doing. And the rest is history, I suppose.”

Anderson started another climb, toward becoming an assistant professor of art. “I’m so grateful to be at a major research institution like Clemson,” he said. “This (research) is what we do here.”

Wonder

Anderson loves to see and explore the natural world and translate those experiences to the public through his art. With education — inside and outside the academy — he finds that similar principals apply.

“Art is a participatory medium, where viewers are the most important part. Printmaking allows me to disseminate my artwork through lots of places at the same time,” he said.

“We’re in this spot, this kind of moment in time in the 21st century, where the environmental outlook is bleak,” Anderson said. “We need to look at this beautiful thing, the wonder of nature, but we still have to look at the context of our moment. So, what are we going to do?”

At the same time, his art is about sharing the majesty of these places.

“I believe that beauty still exists,” he said. “Wonder still exists.”