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Portrait of Flathead Lake

Portrait of Flathead Lake Artwork

In the autumn of 2020, I was fortunate to be an artist-in-residence at Flathead Lake Biological Station in Montana. It was an inspirational time. Now at home, I continue to make art based on the area. Portrait of Flathead Lake is an artwork I recently finished, utilizing information I learned during my residency of factors contributing to the lake’s pristine nature. Flathead lake is one of the cleanest fresh water lakes in the world.

While discussing with the scientists the reasons why the lake is so pristine, an idea started forming in my head connecting the various factors. The result is the artwork above. Five sections create a portrait of the lake and represent factors that help keep Flathead Lake one of the cleanest fresh water lakes in the world.

Explanation of Sections

Firstly, the left section represents a small section of tree rings. Wilderness, national parks and forested areas surround the lake. The trees act as a natural filter for air and water pollutants before reaching the lake.

At the biological station, they have a large tree slice from one of the trees that used to live in the area. A small section of that tree slice is inspiration for the tree rings in the first section of the artwork.

Tree rings

Next, the second section of the artwork is inspired by a photograph I took of a rock while I was visiting Glacier National Park that showed different strata. The geology of the area contributes to the unspoiled nature of the lake. The area surrounding the lake has a low nutrient content, especially in phosphorus. Because the lake is not receiving much nutrient run-off from the geology, this means there is low productivity of aquatic life and plants in the lake. (*Note: Human activities are creating more nutrient and sediment run-off to the lake affecting the quality of the water. The lake is now listed as “impaired”.)

Then, the middle section contains an aerial view of a segment of the Flathead River, one of the tributaries that runs into Flathead Lake. The river meanders naturally with curves. This serpentine flow (as opposed to a straight channel) allows more time for the water to process more nutrients before flowing into the lake. Also, the river has much of its riparian vegetation still intact, which helps in the uptake of nutrients before reaching the lake.

A small section of topography near the lake makes up the fourth section. The area surrounding the lake is low in human population and contains mostly natural areas. Thus, pollution is low. In addition, the topography encircling the lake helps form the characteristics of the lake.

Lastly, there is a small section of bathymetric lines of the lake near the Flathead Lake Biological Station. Bathymetric lines show the depth of the lake, similar to how topographic lines show the elevation of the land. A lake’s depth and shape contribute to its ecology. Although the lines indicate different depths, the blue colors I used don’t necessarily represent the true depths. However, the lines come directly from a bathymetric map from the Flathead Lake Biological Station.


Once I had the artwork stitched together, I added a dark yarn in the seams to emphasis the lines. For me, the lines were the start of the work and what brought all these elements together.

Portrait of Flathead Lake Artwork detail

When discussing with the scientists the various factors that contributed to the pristine nature of the lake, I realized that all of them had similar linear elements. That connection led me to conceive of the artwork. Below is my black and white drawing with just the lines.

Portrait of Flathead Lake Artwork - preliminary drawing


After I had the Portrait of Flathead Lake artwork stitched together, I turned it sideways and thought I might like it better that way. For me, it works either horizontally and vertically. Therefore, I decided to sew sleeves on the back on two sides so that it could be hung in either direction. In the end, I think I like the vertical orientation best. (This art is part of my Field Studies series.)

Portrait of Flathead Lake Artwork

Portrait of Flathead Lake

hand-dyed fabrics, yarn, thread

61″ x 30-1/2″