For the last two weeks I’ve been effectively off the grid in the Porcupine Mountains of Michigan’s upper peninsula for an artist residency…15 miles from then nearest Verizon service. The residency is defined as the opportunity to stay in Dan’s cabin, get to know the park, then make art about the experience, either during the residency period or later. Here’s the cabin—a work of art built with historically-correct methods and hand tools of red oak and cedar. It was tucked in a little spot, not high, not low, at the corner of a creek and a river.
The weather was perfect, just post-black fly season and almost at the end of the mosquitoes (they bit, but it never itched). I took lots of walks in various areas of the park to get to know the area while I adapted to the isolated surroundings. The area was indescribably quiet. Just a little burbling of the creek nearby and the ringing in my ears…until the mouse got in and made quite a ruckus at night (got him out the door!). Light came through the tall trees, so tended to be vertical and dappled…ever-changing. One hike took me to my limits…up almost 1,500 feet in a shortish span. Coming down things seemed much steeper and I had my Bob’s shoes with NO tread. Still, it was worth it for being in this old and gorgeous forest. No bears for me (not that I wanted any on that walk, though at peek at one from the cabin window would have been fun).
It didn’t take long to realize I didn’t like painting out of doors, so I’d spend mornings gathering information, then come back to the cabin to work. The table became the studio and I had my dream home of studio/bed/kitchen. This photos shows about as much light as the table ever saw, but I got used to it and read by the window till the last bit of light allowed.
For art supplies I took water-miscible oil paints, gouache, clay, sketchbooks, and a book on writing poetry a friend had given me (“A Poet’s Companion”) that helped me work on some writing.
The artwork is pretty straightforward…capturing the feel of the environment and facts. I’ll be curious to see how new work, using the reference I have, will change when I come back to it in my home studio. I have lots of sketches for clay pieces and can’t wait to get going on those!
It was pretty amazing to be on my own and have this uninterrupted time to work. I slept more than I could even admit to…long DARK nights (so black there was no waiting till eyes adjusted!), and not much sense of time. One night I looked up and the stars were deeply layered—the smallest being brighter than our brightest. I SO wanted to get down to the beach to see the whole sky like that, but just didn’t have the nerve to head out into the woods with it that dark. I prepped to be able to do it later in the week, but the skies were never clear enough again. I’d go back just for that!
On Thursday I did a presentation (gouache demo) and got to meet several of the people who built the cabin. What a great crew! It was a real pleasure to meet them all. They are dedicated Friends of the Porkies, and supporters of the Folk School there.
From October 9-18 I’ll have the work (including subsequent related work), sketchbooks, and journals at Grove Gallery in East Lansing. On Sunday the 11th I’ll be there to talk about the experience to anyone who is curious or may want to consider applying for a residency for next year. 10% of any sales of any work will be donated to Friends of the Porkies.
Here are just a couple of pieces and a poem.
The weightless red dragonfly darts jaggedly
ahead on the dusky trail through ancient hemlocks.
This way, she beckons, then disappears
returning suddenly like an anxious child.
The wind, a constant compass, races through
treetops turning to rubber
as they sway against his stream—
here below barely a breeze.
Trust me, he whispers.
The path, like a new marshmallow
beneath my torqued arches
curls through rooted terrain
mossy, fern-flanked, and at times
barely discernible from all the rest.
So, I cede my fate to the dots.
Flat. Blue. Paint.
appearing just as confidence turns to doubt.
Gratefully I follow their lead
And wend my weary way home.
Here are a few photos to show what the park is like. I saw only a small fraction, each area as beautiful as the last, but the area around the cabin was my favorite.