Studying Art in an Artist's Paradise
Beaver Island and its unique landscape has always captured my
imagination and spirit. Somehow it just gets my creative juices
flowing. My background in the arts has included dance, graphic
arts, painting, pottery, sculpture, creative writing, sewing,
and also teaching art (full-time during the school year.) So when
I had the time and chance to take an art class here last summer,
I was overjoyed. Two weeks to completely immerse myself in the
arts! I signed up for the Sculptural Papermaking class CMU offered,
taught by Sally Rose. Let me tell you how the Island influenced,
and continues to influence, my work.
The class was intense and energizing. We learned what natural
fibers make up paper, and mixed up dyes, fiber and mordant to
put into the vats we would pull our paper from. Sally Rose inspired
us in many ways, challenging us to do our best. Her own work was
awe-inspiring as well; primal and vibrant. We were encouraged
to experiment and pull ideas from around us in the environment.
As I wandered, I beachcombed, starting to form ideas. I found
items on various shores, sometimes after storms had blown through
and whipped grasses into small fibers and threads. The materials
gave me ideas for embellishments for my paper sculptures. Creating
stick cradles from gray, silvery sticks of driftwood, I would
then form the wet paper over forms created from window screen
or other materials turned into organic shapes.
I collected what would be considered worthless debris and turned
it into something of value. As the class went on, I became more
and more influenced by the Island, and gave myself up to its wonders.
I fabricated a beach book by casting a collection of objects laid
on the sand (as I found them.) From this plaster casting, I pressed
layers of wet paper together to create a sculptured piece that
became the book cover. Onto this I attached rusty nails a friend
found for me while out painting. The cover included three-dimensional
pieces like shells, beach glass, feathers, stones, small pieces
of driftwood and other found objects. Inside I bound a sample
of each paper I had pulled, including some with pieces of embedded
One day on a field trip Dr. Gillingham showed us a vireo nest
built in a tree on the CMU grounds. Woven into it were small pieces
and strands of birch bark. It was the most exquisitely built nest
I had ever seen. I patterned my own nest after this model, weaving
in fibers and birch bark, leaving the original nest for the bird
(it's against the law to collect bird nests.)
And still the ideas came. I walked the woods, fields, and beaches
for inspiration. I dredged up old memories of the Island and places
I'd been. The ancient oak forest, the apple trees of Barney's
Lake, the big birch, the music of the Island, making rock sculptures
on my grandmother's porch as a child, swimming at the back beach,
the tree-house we built, the rope swing on and on, like
a living tapestry.
The leaves on the forest floor inspired cocoon-like constructions
of paper. The water and waves brought about a boat-like craft
in a stick cradle. The nest piece belonged to the air and the
sky. The class was absolutely incredible. All of us seemed to
bond and help each other out a lot with ideas as we shared our
stories. I only wish I could take another class this year.
Since the class last summer, I have continued to work on pieces
influenced by the Island. I just finished a painting of the big
birch that I started here in early June. I've done several watercolors
of the shoreline on my side, at Wilderness State Forest and up
by the Mackinaw Straits. I am working on a quilt idea that will
have the big birch done in fabric, and other subjects from nature
(leaves, bird nests.) My clay sculptures and writing reflect on
Beaver Island as well as the woods I live in and the shores I'm
near. I plan to do several more paintings on the Island over the
late summer and fall.
The clay classes I'm teaching this summer are all nature-related.
Bowls shaped like leaves, or pressed from the shapes of rocks.
Tiles with leaves pressed into them, or animal and plant designs
in relief, animals and their habitat, etc. All these interests
were nurtured from seeds planted on Beaver Island as a child.
Now I'm harvesting what has grown.
Not too long ago I received a call for entries for a Beaver Island
Retrospective show to be held this fall at CMU. They are looking
for work inspired by Beaver Island that was done here or afterwards.
I will have a hard time picking which pieces to send on slides.
And I just got some more great ideas when riding on the beautiful
new bike path out Donegal Bay Road!
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