Abington to the North Pole: Research inspires prize-winning art

Polar art

"North Pole" by Jacqueline Lanning, 2015. Etching on copper plate with digital images. 22 inches by 30 inches.

Credit: Jacqueline Lanning

ABINGTON, Pa. -- "North Pole," artwork created by a Penn State Abington student for an undergraduate research project, claimed first prize in an exhibit sponsored by The Polar Center at Penn State. Senior Jacqueline Lanning traveled to Norway and worked with international experts documenting the early exploration of the world’s northernmost archipelago, Franz Josef Land.

Lanning, two other Abington students, and a faculty member joined the team of social scientists and polar explorers in Scandinavia last summer. They presented their research findings, including "North Pole," about Franz Josef Land through the lenses of history, art, film and photography. 

“It was the experience of a lifetime,” Lanning said of the interdisciplinary course's required travel.

Lanning, an art major with an anthropology minor, said the experience resonates in her new media and printmaking work.

"I find the Arctic to be the most beautiful place on Earth: the colors, wildlife, and even the remains and memories of the men who explored and discovered Franz Josef Land," she said.

undergraduate research

Abington students Amanda Lockerby, Jacqueline Lanning, and Alejandro Cruz with Dr. P.J. Capelotti (second from left) in Olso, Norway, for research field work. 

Credit: Leah Devlin

After completing a stint in the Army after high school, Lanning was weighing her options when her parents urged her to study photography and art.

"I told them they were saying my work was really good because they are my parents,” the Louisiana native said, laughing.

But Lanning described an interesting confluence between her family, her art, and her research. Her dad traveled and explored the world as a young man.

“My father hitchhiked to Alaska," she said. "He also was a celestial polar navigator stationed in New Zealand with the Navy bringing people back from Antarctica."

His passion threaded throughout her life. 

“Even as a kid, I recall sitting on the floor reading atlases with him," she said. "I think that's why I love maps to this day.”

Visiting the polar region as an artist and field researcher dominate Lanning's post-graduation bucket list. She is actively investigating artist residencies, including one in Iceland.


The exhibit featuring Lanning's artwork, "Optics of the Poles: A Visual Expression of Polar Research at Penn State," remains open through March 6 at University Park. The Polar Center at Penn State nurtures collaboration among its members with unique expertise in the life, physical, and social sciences. 

A grant awarded to Peter J. Capelotti, professor of anthropology at Penn State Abington, from the Office of Polar Programs of the National Science Foundation, funded the Norway program.