Artists in Residence flock to the north country

Over the years, the Glen Arbor Sun has featured plenty of artists in residence living in our midst while hosted by organizations such as the Glen Arbor Art Association and the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Their work ranges from essays (Jan Shoemaker, 2009) to mixed media drawings (Steven Matthew Brown, 2004). And the art they generate truly enriches our rural community. published a wonderful story on Sunday by our friend Kim Schneider, titled “State, national parks offer programs for artists”, which highlights what the local branch of the National Park service has contributed to our thriving local art scene:

The yearning to steal away to an isolated, untouched place of beauty to write poetry or or paint or dance, is so universal it’s almost become cliche.

But those who have managed to do these activities say they can’t recommend enough the chance to be immersed in nature, to capture slight changes in the light on the landscape, perhaps even witness the birth of a baby moose.

An affordable place to be creative is offered through artist-in-residency programs at many state and national parks.

Some 30 national and many state parks, including several in Michigan, offer residencies that supply free lodging for selected artists, some for a few days and others for several weeks. The term “artist” is broadly defined to include visual artists, writers, performers, composers, photographers, filmmakers and dancers. Mount Rushmore only accepts applications from sculptors who can carve in stone (ability to capture presidential likenesses not specified).

In Michigan, opportunities in two of four parks offering the program remain this year, while the year’s application deadline has passed for the others. The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Empire is taking applications through April 15 for two-dimensional visual artists, photographers, sculptors, writers and composers for the two-to-three week residency stays in September or October in a park cabin.

The program at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in the western Upper Peninsula is accepting applications until the end of March. There, artist selection is based on both ability to relate the park to others through an art medium and ability to reside in a wilderness environment (ie: pumping your own water and using a pit toilet). Most programs require the donation of a piece of completed artwork to the park and at least one public presentation.

Interacting with the public was a residency highlight for Kaye Krapohl, a Traverse City-based landscape painter and former artist-in-residence who focused her work on capturing patterns and light on the diverse landscape of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Krapohl says she would bring an extra sketchpad along when she painted on beautiful overlooks so that anyone so inspired could join her and keep a visual journal of their travels. She remembers the little girl who painted with her while her parents hiked, “I’d say listen to the trees,” Krapohl said, and she would say, “‘It does sound like yellow!’”

Artists often get the chance to witness beauty and miracles. During his stay on Isle Royale in 1994, for example, artist Gendron Jensen came upon a moose giving birth to a cinnamon-colored calf. His resulting work went on to tour at exhibits in Minneapolis, Sante Fe, N.M., and Bar Harbor, Maine.

The way he became connected to the natural world surprised Bill Lathrop, a former artist-in-residence at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Lathrop shares his residency-inspired paintings and also the journal he wrote while painting at Pictured Rocks on his website:

“My senses became more attuned, my perception clearer,” he wrote, “and I developed a deep sense of wonder and amazement at the small and large miracles around me. How large boulders came to rest where they lay, how a birch woods evolves into hardwood, or how certain mushrooms catch rainwater.”

Lathrop completed 20 plein air paintings during his residency, but he also saw the work as a way to support the National Park Service and the preservation of the natural world. The work of visual artists was given much of the credit for the initial creation of the National Park system, said Gregg Bruff, chief of heritage education at Pictured Rocks. Among those credited for creating demand to preserve wild places was artist Thomas Moran, who made sketches of the Pictured Rocks region in 1860, long before it was a park, he said.

Those who don’t qualify for a fellowship but want to see what art the park stays have inspired can find galleries of work by former artists in residence at the headquarters building in Pictured Rocks and in visitors centers there, on a rotating basis. The book “The Island Within Us,” compiles the work of 34 former artists-in-residence at Isle Royale, each piece reflecting the ability to deal with solitude, simplicity and wild beauty.

Those who want to be hands-on in capturing nature visually, but are more novice than expert, can start by taking a class in a Michigan state or national park.

The photography team of Mark Carlson and Bob Grzesiak offers a Spring Dunes Eco-Photo Tour, based at the Homestead Resort in Glen Arbor but featuring the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, May 6-8. A three-day “Superior Spring” eco-photo tour is May 18-22 in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore area in Munising. For more information, go to, or e-mail the photographers at

Those looking to use paint as a medium should check out the classes offered by the Glen Arbor Art Association. This summer’s lineup includes several on-site painting classes within the National Lakeshore, including plein air painting, journal drawing and capturing the emotion of a scene. For more, visit, or call (231) 334-6112.

To find a list of national park residency offerings, go to: Applicants for the Sleeping Bear Dunes program can visit, call (231) 326-5134 or e-mail Lisa Myers at More information on 2011 spring, summer, fall and 2012 winter residencies in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park can be found at