Manitou Music poster reminiscent of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”


By Katie Dunn

Sun contributor

The Manitou Music series is one of the most enduring and significant programs of the Glen Arbor Arts Center (GAAC). Each year, to commemorate the music series, the GAAC selects a painting representative of Leelanau County and the surrounding area for its annual poster. This year the honor has been bestowed upon Randi Ford, a landscape artist based in Grand Rapids.

Ford’s painting, entitled Path Through Time (2021), is a vibrant and lyrical rendition of the Arcadia Dunes and its surrounding azure waters. Ford’s love of nature—northern Michigan and Lake Michigan, in particular—is abundantly clear from her acrylic works. Ford exclusively paints landscapes. The outdoors provides deep and endless inspiration. Her intention is to capture the energy and spirit of nature, and share it with her audience.

“I think Michigan is one of the most beautiful places in the world with our fresh bodies of water, beautiful woods and wildflowers, immaculate rivers, stunning and diverse shorelines,” Ford explains.

Ford is an authentic Michigander. She was raised in Sturgis, Michigan, growing up in a barn that her father converted into their family home, and attended local public schools. Ford credits Sturgis High School with spurring and nurturing her inner artistic bent. There, the trades were very much emphasized, as well as the arts. “They had a great art program, and I took as many art classes as I could,” says Ford. She continued her studies at Grand Valley State University, receiving a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. While there, she experimented with, and immersed herself in, a plethora of media. Ultimately, Ford gravitated toward painting.

Since graduating in 2012, Ford has embarked on a career as a full-time artist. She shows her work at fine art festivals across Michigan, and several galleries have displayed Ford’s work. Presently, Ford’s paintings are on exhibit at Somebody’s Gallery in Petoskey and Synchronicity Gallery right here in Glen Arbor. Additionally, in 2015, Ford was chosen as one of several artists to display her work in a series of solo exhibitions at Lake Street Studios Center Gallery.

Ford characterizes her genre of painting as “Flow Painting,” meaning that her work is flowing from the heart—resulting in a spirit-filled, harmonic painting. There is dynamism to her paintings, as well as to the process itself. Ford often listens to music while creating her work, and its influence is readily apparent. Ford’s exaggerated, swirling, rhythmical brushstrokes bring her paintings to life. There is a palpable movement and vitality to her work as visible in Path Through Time. It is as though the painting is pulsating with nature’s spirit.

“I love music, and I paint to music so that puts me into the flow state. It’s almost like I’m creating a dance with my waves, flowing lines, and circular patterns,” says Ford.

Ford further expounds that there is a second, equally significant, component to her Flow Paintings: “When I create, I have a heart full of gratitude—being able to create paintings from the heart. My paintings are meant to be meditative scenes that connect you to the peace and beauty of nature. I hope that they can be healing to others, and bring beauty to their lives.”

That she couples her artistry with music makes the selection of Path Through Time for the 2023 Manitou Music poster that much more fitting. Essentially, Manitou Music demonstrates how the visual arts and music relate to, and sustain, one another—precisely what Ford’s work embodies.

Ford’s fluid brushwork is reminiscent of Vincent Van Gogh, the Dutch post-Impressionist painter. The execution of Path Through Time harkens to that of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” Both paintings are rendered in bold, unrestrained brushstrokes that perfectly capture the spirit and essence of nature. Like Van Gogh, Ford’s work is exceptionally expressive. Additionally, Ford shares with Van Gogh an abiding connection with, and respect for, nature.

Van Gogh believed that a power existed within the natural, and he aimed to capture that sense of nature’s power in his landscapes: “If you truly love Nature, you will find beauty everywhere,” Van Gogh extolled.

Moreover, the act of painting is a meditative one for Ford, and likewise, with Van Gogh: “If you look closely, all of Nature has its beauty…I lose myself in it. And then, as if it’s a dream, the scene just paints itself for me,” shared Van Gogh.

The history of Manitou Music (formerly the Manitou Music Festival) is a long and prominent one for the Glen Arbor community. It truly is one of the highlights of summer in Leelanau County. First started in the early 1990s, it primarily featured chamber music. Small ensembles would play classical music at a variety of venues throughout the summer. While it drew a substantial audience, after careful deliberation, the GAAC Board of Directors decided to expand its appeal.

“There was an epiphany that there was a limited audience for chamber music. Diversify was the driving idea,” according to Sarah Bearup-Neal, GAAC Gallery Manager and Chairperson of the Manitou Music Poster Competition Committee (the Committee).

Through the 1990s, the Manitou Music Festival evolved, and ultimately was rebranded the Manitou Music series. The music represented in the decades thereafter has been quite varied: everything from Americana to Delta Blues to jazz, as well as performances by well-known local musicians, like Claudia Schmidt.

The idea of the accompanying Manitou Music with a poster featuring a painting of an iconic scene from the locality began percolating in the early 1990s. That idea was very much borne out of the need for funding to sustain the annual music festival. “The poster was a fundraising tool,” explains Bearup-Neal.

The first year that a painting was selected to promote the event was in 1994. Suzanne Wilson, an historic and venerated local artist—also a Glen Arbor Art Association founder—was the first to have her work enshrined in the annual Manitou Music poster. (As an aside, my mother, Kathleen Dunn, was the fourth artist to hold that same honor, back in 1997.)

Since 1994, the GAAC has held the Manitou Music poster competition. (While there was no music programing in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions, the tradition of the Manitou Music poster competition continued, featuring a beach scene by gouache and watercolor painter, Salle Wille.) Artwork for each year’s poster is selected by the Committee after a month-long call-for-entry process. The winning poster art is traditionally announced in late winter.

Bearup-Neal shared why Ford’s painting resonated so much with the Committee that it warranted its place in the pantheon of Manitou Music posters: “Randi Ford’s painting was selected because it is a glorious, stylized depiction of the Lake Michigan shoreline and dunes country. She saw a scene that is quintessentially Northern Michigan, and made it her own—through her color choices, her line and brushwork. What comes out of Randi’s brain isn’t usual. The scene may be familiar, but Randi is somehow able to make the familiar feel new, fresh, and entirely original.”

Ultimately, Ford plans to move closer to the Glen Arbor area. She and her partner, Benjamin Ripley, recently purchased a barn in the Beulah area. With the support of Ford’s parents, they intend to renovate and repurpose the barn into a dual use facility: part home, part gallery. Ford will display her paintings, while Ripley will offer his work (he is a hand-engraver and jeweler). Until then, Ford will continue to make the journey from Grand Rapids to the Leelanau County area to gain further inspiration.

This year’s Manitou Music poster is available for purchase at the GAAC and at local stores around Glen Arbor.


Manitou Music Series announces 2023 lineup

A much-anticipated northern Michigan tradition, the Manitou Music Series, is about to embark on its 2023 season. A project of the Glen Arbor Arts Center, the Manitou Music Series offers a diverse program of open air concerts and performances. The 2023 lineup brings everything from drums to ballet to taiko and more. All concerts except the Traverse City Dance Project performance are free.

Saturday, April 29: Raion Taiko

Feel the heartbeat of the drums pulsing with the moving spirit of the Midwest Taiko arts ensemble Raion Taiko’s “sound of thunder drummers,” embracing the rhythms of rain and energy of light to create a song on the soundscapes of Japanese Taiko Drumming. 7 pm in the Glen Lake School Auditorium.

June 12-25: Manitou Music Musicians-in-Residence The PULSE Saxophone Quartet

As Manitou Music’s 2023 Musicians-in-residence, PULSE will be performing in Glen Arbor in off-stage places creating intimate experiences that close the gap between audiences and classical musicians. Free performances: June 12-25 (various off-stage locations). First concert: Friday, June 16, 7 pm at the Glen Arbor Arts Center front porch. Final concert: Thursday, June 22, 7 pm at the Leelanau School Beach.

Friday, July 7: B-side Growlers

The B-Side Growlers are an acoustic trio from Grand Rapids who focus on what’s become their tagline: “Tradition inspired, toe-tapping fired, vintage acoustic blues, jazz, and country.” This allows them to create a musical experience with a rich history, a festive atmosphere, and a wide variety of song styles. 5 pm on the Glen Arbor Arts Center front porch. Free.

Saturday, July 29: The Traverse City Dance Project returns to Glen Arbor as part of their 2023 summer tour. This outdoor performance features original choreography, live music, and professional dancers from around the country. 7 pm at Nash Road Red Barn, 9805 Nash Road, Maple City. $35 GAAC members, $40 non-members.

Saturday, August 19: Drummunity

Percussionist Lori Fithian brings her collection of hand drums and percussion instruments to the Glen Arbor Arts Center. 1-3 pm.

Thursday, August 24: New Music Detroit

New Music Detroit (NMD) is a collective of musicians dedicated to performing groundbreaking musical works from the late 20th century to the present day. NMD performs new and adventurous classical music in various settings for various people. 7 pm in the Glen Lake School Auditorium.

For more information and to reserve tickets for these concerts, visit