Urban, industrial architecture in Glen Arbor

By Jacob Wheeler
Sun editor

The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore may be the “most beautiful place in America”, but artist Kristin Hurlin doesn’t necessarily think that Glen Arbor deserves that title — at least not its buildings.

“Glen Arbor architecture is lacking, to put it mildly, said Hurlin, who is known for her detailed ink drawings of local landscapes. “The Park is beautiful, but not the town. It’s mostly cinderblocks and flat roofs; it’s a strip town.”

“We wanted a building that was beautiful and functional, but fairly simple. We wanted to lift up Glen Arbor’s architectural image.”

Glen Arbor Artisans gallery opened on July 5 to feature her and husband Paul May’s art. The building, across M-22 from the Lakeshore Inn and kitty-corner from the tennis courts, is sleek, industrial and striking. Like the new M-22 store on the east end of town, the Artisans gallery features a board and batten exterior that leads the eye on a vertical path, not a horizontal one. “It makes you feel taller,” said Hurlin.

Their son Keenan May, a University of Michigan-educated architect who now works in San Francisco, designed the building. (Ironically, May and Hurlin left the Bay Area and moved to Glen Arbor in 1983 to raise Keenan and his older sister Liana.) The spacious, 800-square-foot interior features 13-foot-high ceilings, state-of-the-art LED track lighting to illuminate Hurlin’s paintings on the north wall and May’s photographs on the south wall, and a full glass garage door, which opens toward M-22 on hot days when Hurlin and May want to invite pedestrians off the street.

May also plans to display his custom furniture in the gallery. He is a wood-worker by trade, though thousands follow, and 11,000 have “liked”, his stellar photography on the Glen Arbor Facebook page. May crafted the display surfaces and countertops from an oak tree that was felled to make way for the gallery. A white pine also on the property became the trim and the black wall.

Hurlin and May have long known they needed to build a larger space to display their work. For more than 30 years they have lived in the white house next door and operated a gallery in an old carriage house shrouded by trees in the backyard. The location was difficult to find, to say the least. “It was a great impediment to our retail business to have an invisible gallery,” laughed Hurlin.

Four years ago, while backpacking deep in the wilderness in the Wind River Range in Wyoming, they concluded that they needed to build a new gallery. “We were away from Glen Arbor, and that allowed us to look back at our lives with some perspective,” said Hurlin. “From far away, we saw that we had to do something different. It just wasn’t working in the backyard.”

Still, the oak tree and white pine tug at Hurlin’s heartstrings. She’s an environmentalist, a tree hugger who once protested the felling of a tree elsewhere in Glen Arbor. Paul and Keenan wanted to build the gallery in their place, but she wouldn’t let them — not until the “snowpocalypse” storm in March 2013 that dropped three feet of what she called “cement snow” and broke thousands of trees throughout Leelanau County, including the oak and white pine in her backyard.

“The trees were broken and I thought, ‘we can take them down now’.”

The original version of this story, and the print version, misspelled the name of May and Hurlin’s daughter Liana. We regret the error.