Painting scenes of Leelanau: profile on Linda Alice Dewey

From staff reports

Each week through 2022, the Glen Arbor Sun will feature a Q&A with a Leelanau County resident who shapes life in the peninsula through their business, their art, their service, their kindness, or otherwise.

We lead off the series with Linda Alice Dewey, a painter, author, occasional contributor to this newspaper, and host of the “Glen Arbor” community group on Facebook. In this interview, we talked with Linda about her paintings, which are often inspired by photographs of Leelanau County scenes.

Sun: What inspired your paintings and prints of Leelanau County? How did this project begin?

Linda Alice Dewey: I have loved Leelanau County since I was four years old. I have always wanted to live here and hated it every time I had to leave.

When I began painting in my teens, Leelanau was where I wanted to be, so it’s what I painted. You can’t surpass the beauty, mood, color, grandeur. It’s an artist’s dream. That’s why so many artists live here (like me now, thank goodness). It’s a true artists’ colony.

Sun: What makes a Linda Alice Dewey painting? What are you looking for in each scene?

Rabidoux family’s dog Fisher

Linda: A good artist knows there has to be a focal point. The eye can’t just roam all over the painting. It is led to a point, and there are good rules for composition that some of us break from time to time, but are really very helpful. The element that’s biggest for me is color. I call it “full-spectrum” color, where some form of the three primary colors (red, blue, yellow — in whatever shade) is present in every object. Some artists just paint green trees with a litle yellow or blue in them, but no pink or red or purple. Color looks flat if you don’t do that. 

Not only do I paint scenes, which is basically what you’ll find in my earlier work. I paint people and animals and structures in the scenes. I find it makes the wonderful landscapes even more interesting to have something that is not water or land in it. I’m doing this more and more. 

Sun: Can you tell us about a recent painting that was particularly rewarding to create?

Linda: Every painting is a challenge for me. Sometimes the empty easel or empty paper will be all set up for me to paint for days or even weeks because of my fear I won’t be able to do it. I rarely throw one away, so I don’t know why I fight that. But it’s there. So when  I finish a painting — it’s not done until I like it (being my own worst critic) — that in itself is a thrill. When I post it on social media and people comment or like it, it means a ton. 

Ty and Cathy Wessell

Back to your question: my paintings are all about the people who will see it, yet I have to paint to satisfy myself. Sometimes, when I paint people, like the one I did of [the Wheeler family], and I capture the essence of a person, it brings sheer joy. I had that occur with the portrait I did of Ty and Cathy Wessell sitting at an outdoor cafe. Every portrait goes through a monster stage for me, and when the real person emerges, it makes me smile. My most recent paintings are always the most thrilling. So I have to say the one I just finished of Fisher, the Rabidouxs’ beautiful golden retriever, by Fisher Lake was a thrilling project.

Siepker’s floating Christmas tree

When Barb Siepker bought the painting of the Christmas Tree Boat for her son, Frank, Jr., who puts it up every year, that was a thrill — especially since the boat I painted ended upside down in Glen Lake after that windstorm. Barb said it was his best one yet, and I captured it. Getting the effect of spilling water over your heads in your Lake Bath was fun. Capturing the light of a piece is fun. It’s all fun; it’s all challenging, and I grow through the frustration until I come out the other side to triumph. Such a journey.


Sun: How about one that has a unique backstory?

Linda: I started out by selling my matted photographs in gift shops every summer here in Leelanau County. One of them was of an old car with two guys looking under the hood. I had been driving by and had to back up and stop to take the picture. Fifteen years later, I had moved into painting big time, and thought I’d try this painting. When I finished it, I posted it, asking if anyone knew where the pic was taken. I had tried to find it for years. Bunny Lanham replied that it was Duane Newman’s car at his garage on Newman Rd. She gave me their number, and I called them and took it over to give it to them. When I walked in, the matted photograph was on the wall above their TV in the living room! Their daughter had bought it at The Secret Garden in Empire years ago. Duane remembered that day and said he always wondered what happened to me and who I was. I gave them the painting, and Mrs. Newman gave me some chocolate chip cookies and sent a thank you note later. Then I learned that the other fella in the photo and in the painting now was Glen Meteer, the next door neighbor. I learned that from their daughter, a jeweler, who was in an art show with me the next year.  Now, that’s a backstory.

Sun: I see water in many of your paintings—whether in the lake or the river, falling as snow, or washing over the heads of happy kids. What role does water play in your work?

Linda: I lived in Arizona for 16 years—taught school there—and everyone loves to go up into the mountains. I was a guest at a friend’s “cabin” in the mountains, all very pretty, but where was the water? Everyone feels it. Arizona, at that time, had more boats per capita than any other state. Fountains and manmade lakes were everywhere. It took me years to fully appreciate that beauty, and I did paint it, but most of the time, once I got back to painting in 1992, I was painting from photos of Michigan I took every summer. When I paint Michigan and its water, I was there. I was immersed. We have to have water. It’s good for the soul, as well as essential to life. It’s cleansing, purifying, and awesome in its power.

Sun: Tell us about the 2022 calendar. Are they still available to purchase?

Linda: Oooh, there are just a few here and there. I have three left I can ship. In Glen Arbor, I believe Cottage Books has a few. Nadine at Joyfull says you can call her and she’ll come down to the shop, even though it’s closed for the season. I think she has eight. Leelanau Books in Leland has four or five, and The Bookstore in Frankfort has seven. The other stores sold out. 

I had 300 made. It was a huge leap for me, and our community really convinced me to do it. I asked on Facebook, “Calendar?” The response was enormous. I had no idea how to price it, so I asked them again. They said they’d spend $25 or even $30 for a quality wall calendar. Of course, some people don’t use wall calendars at all, so I was surprised at how many supported this project all the way through. It’s been a fun project, all locally produced. The people at Copy Central in Traverse City are phenomenal. Lots of trips back and forth proofing everything to get it just right.

Sun: Tell us about your ideal winter day in Leelanau County.

Christmas in Cedar

Linda: I love winter in Leelanau. I used to say you needed to be able to play in the snow if you were going to stay for the winter, but my balance and bone density isn’t so great now, so I don’t ski or skate. But it’s so beautiful. The thing I love most is the lack of structure in winter time. Although I will teach a five-week pastel class on Thursdays in January and February, that’s about all the structure there is. This makes it possible for me to create.

Hibernation time is creation time for me. I paint a lot, and I’ll be picking out new cards (posting on FB for folks to help me choose) for this season. (I usually don’t publish cards or prints unless the original pastel painting is sold. So there’s a new slew of paintings to choose from that sold this past year.) I’ll also be looking at which paintings to include in the new calendar. I’m considering coming out with a 16-month calendar in July that will begin with September, so summer visitors can have one. I’ll run that idea up the Facebook flagpole soon. I’m also writing, working on a book about my father, an insecure kid who grew up to be a WWII Kasssel Mission war hero and later organized other veterans of the mission to bring attention to this covered-up mission (Linda wrote about her father’s WWII service in our Memorial Day 2021 edition). So my days will be all about creating. 

Sun: What are you excited about for the year ahead?

Linda: I want to finish that book, enjoy my family, see what new adventures I get into with pastels on paper — you never know who is going to come with a project you never dreamed of, and being with family and friends. Sounds like a good, exciting life, don’t you think?

Click here to visit Linda Alice Dewey’s website.