Glen Lake Library opens community exhibit with “On the Precipice”

First exhibit post-COVID features 10 pastel paintings, 10 poems

Image: Three couples at the Iris Farm on M-72. “On the Precipice” at the Glen Lake Library features Linda Alice Dewey’s paintings together with Anne-Marie Oomen’s poems. (The new owners of the Iris Farm hope to turn it into a wedding venue.)

From staff reports

The light and inviting new Glen Lake Community Library, which opened in Empire in September 2020 during the height of the COVID pandemic, will host its first public exhibit and opening reception on Tuesday, June 29, from 6-7 p.m. for a show called “On the Precipice” which pairs 10 pastel paintings and 10 poems written in response to those paintings. The painter is Glen Arbor resident Linda Alice Dewey, and the poet is Empire resident Anne-Marie Oomen.

“We’re glad for the opportunity to welcome visitors for our first in-house special event,” said library director David Diller. “This is a big part of our vision for the new library. One of the functions we want to accommodate is to share local artwork or other exhibits related to local history or school projects.”

Last summer—the summer of the pandemic—Oomen posted on Facebook a photograph she had taken at Bay View National Forest campground, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, of children climbing a bluff near an ancient tree that had been undermined by rising waters. The roots exposed, it looked about to fall. Oomen thought: “This is what we leave them, the precipice.”  

Dewey, a visual artist, saw the photograph and asked if she could paint it. When she posted the resulting pastel painting on Facebook, Oomen was so impressed that she revised a poem she had started about the image and sent it to Dewey. Delighted with the connection, they asked themselves, could they repeat the pattern and make a thematic series based on their interactions? The two artists met at Dewey’s house on a rainy afternoon in October, masked, and selected nine images to work with more deeply, focusing on how they saw this beautiful world delicately balanced on a precarious brink. Thus began an “ekphrastic” conversation—that is, writing inspired by art to make meaning through the connections between them.

Ekphrastic poems are a practice running through Oomen’s work. The need to bring language to the visual, to open the moment of the visual experience to the narrative imagination, is spiritual and irresistible for her. Her passion springs from an urge to break the boundaries between language and image, and in that responding, the mind enlarges (at least momentarily) its capacity for connection. Instead of breakage, it melds. From that, story-making rises, by which we remember and interpret image. Ekphrasis invites all viewers to participate by making tangible the thoughts that are evoked in visual. The root of the word means to give voice to the silent

Dewey’s passion is to connect with viewers through art so that they feel its mood, sense its presence. She was new to the word, but not the practice, having long taught her pastel students to see the story in their paintings. While Oomen attempted to give voice to the silent painting, Dewey’s input made it possible to create spaces, shapes, and colors in the poems that would not have occurred otherwise.

Dewey and Oomen agreed on the following: ours is time of turmoil and change—the precipice. They agreed that climate change was approaching, if not at a point of no return. They sensed imminent change just below the surface of our daily lives and didn’t want to merely recreate lovely images and comforting sentiment. They both wished their statement to be an act of quiet resistance, and though they wanted to honor beauty, they didn’t want to veer entirely from upheaval. Instead, Dewey’s images and Oomen’s accompanying poems would nod to the mood of the world. They talked much of the threats to the environment, and how it affects people personally. Dewey voiced the concepts she endeavored to portray through her pastels; Oomen talked about how to read a “slice of life” in her poems. Thus, the collection “On the Precipice” became a way to honor an artistic as well as cultural cusp—even in the title. With this, Dewey feels reason to hope—as reflected in her vivid use of color, allowing Oomen’s poems to contrast in quiet melancholy.

Dewey and Oomen offer a pairing of 10 pastel paintings of favorite cultural places or experiences in Leelanau County coupled with poems that were built in response and conversation. The pairings are designed to enhance connection and invite insight to places positioned here at the precipice where we all now live—even here in this idyllic place.  

“On the Precipice is currently on display at the Oliver Art Center in Frankfort until June 26, and will then open at the Glen Lake Library with a reception on June 29, from 6-7 p.m.

Iris is Iris

By Anne-Marie Oomen

Iris is iris is iris 

pointing at iris

plural infamous

as in is is is


after this goddess 

walk watch walk

watch on my wrist

watching her walk

pointing at irises is

so much pluraled 

so much us as

Iris is as iris does

the watch has stopped

the path the way

is day and only now 

the basket carries

Iris’s irises 

where purple is pink is blue

is yellow is Iris 

seeing a sea of iris

and her dark glasses 

look inside each bloom 

and bloom

when she looks at me

oh iris is iris is is

bloom not tomb is womb 

pink is lavender is a blue

throat is a swallow

is sparrow is sorrow 

the iris sheared in joy

with My Iris who

points the way  

to the iris fields 

all now forever amen

(Inspired by Gertrude Stein’s “Sacred Emily,” one version from which the line A Rose is a Rose is a Rose comes.)