with the end of summer around the corner (sigh) and the majority of
the art galleries closed for the month, what's a Detroit art lover
to do to get their fix of local artists? It turns out we can head
north and find a place where travel plans and art intersect: the Michigan
Legacy Art Park.
The MLAP is the brainchild of sculptor David Barr
(for more in these pages on Barr click here
In 1988 he proposed creating a place that would offer a unique combination
of "art, nature, and Michigan history." Barr formed a non-profit
arts organization to make this vision a reality. The search for a
home eventually led to Crystal Mountain Resort and 30 acres
of woods nestled within its grounds. The park enjoys an independent,
yet mutual relationship with Crystal Mountain, as it is not necessary
to be a guest of the resort to enjoy the park, and resort guests get
to enjoy this park's natural and man-made beauty. (Located in Thompsonville,
Michigan (nearby to Traverse City and Cadillac) Crystal Mountain offers
golf, skiing, conference facilities, among other things. For more
information click here.)
Under Barr's artistic direction, the park has grown from a "what
if?" to a unique aesthetic experience. Meandering paths take
visitors through this outdoor wooded gallery. This natural museum
offers beautiful architecture of its own, and along those trails Barr
and over 35 artists have created works specifically for placement
in the park. Walking along the trails visitors encounter the works
of the various artists as well as "poetry rocks" - that
is large stones inscribed with poems and other writings about Michigan
history. The trails lead upwards to the "Stockade Labyrinth"
built by Barr himself. This wooden fortress harkens back to structures
built by Europeans as they made their way into the New World. Inside
the labyrinth, which true to its name is full of twists, turns, and
dead ends, Barr basically has constructed a small, but plentiful art/historical
museum. Each step brings visitors to a new exhibit of art and history
for viewers to contemplate and enjoy. Successfully navigating the
labyrinth leads to an observational platform from which to look out
upon the park and the surrounding countryside.
is responsible for many of the works in the park with perhaps one
of the most visually powerful being his "Sawpath Series."
This work consists of a straight line cut through the woods culminating
at the bottom of the hill with an elegant 16-foot tall curved sawblade
which stands. The blade's placement suggests that it had just slashed
through this stand of trees before coming to rest. Trunks left behind
in its path are strewn about not quite randomly, as Barr makes subtle
use of the Fibonacci pattern to reflect the mathematics behind nature
which is an important theme throughout his work.
Many prominent metro-Detroit artists are on hand here, bringing their
own unique visual style and perspective on Michigan history. Michael
McGillis' "Five Needles" (referring to the pine
needle clusters of our endangered state tree, the white pine) consists
of five sturdy pine trunks, all leaning off at different angles, adorned
with canvas sails. The structures have a powerful presence in the
forest, and seem to belong even as they are obviously man-made. David
Greenwood's "Secret Passion" is a boat hull resting
on the forest floor. The absurdity of its location along with a ladder
and tools as if the builder meant to "be right back" makes
for a humorous and thoughtful contribution. Martin Puryear's
untitled piece is a thatching of wood strips, at once an homage to
basket weaving and native structures. Like many of the artists' works
in the park, his has a mathematical reference as well, as depending
on one's vantage point the structure can either appear as rectangular,
triangular, or from above, circular. Sandy Osip's "Unravel"
is a graceful bronze spiral which suggests such natural forms as small
as the nautilus shell and the head of a flower, and those as large
as galaxies. John Richardson's "Ontonagon"
offers a testament to the mining history and the equipment that the
mining of ore possible. This sweeping steel, minimalistic structure
provokes philosophical and historical questions in the same moment.
artists mentioned above are but a brief introduction to all whom are
represented at the park. The current roster also includes: Bill
Allen, Lois Beardslee, Dewey Blocksma, Will Cares, Robert Caskey,
Sergio De Giusti, Patricia Innis, Gary Kulak, Jim Pallas, Martin Puryear,
Nolan Simon, Lois Teicher, and Joe Zajac. The park is a
work in progress, and so this list will continue to grow and feature
more Michigan artists.
MLAP's artistic and historical missions are complemented
by a dedication to education. The setting and works of art offer unique
jumping off points from which students can explore and learn. The
park hosts programs for students and teachers to work with artists
and a range of professionals from other disciplines for educational
enrichment not available in the classroom setting. Student works emerging
from such projects are often exhibited throughout the summer months
at the Discovery Grove, a permanent structure located near
the park entrance.
In the months of July and August visitors can also take in music
and performances in the park's Jessie Frohlich Amphitheater every
Friday. Built into a hillside near the entrance to the park, this
wooden amphitheater makes for a different sort of acoustic and environmental
experience. Past concerts have included performances by the Grand
Traverse Highlanders, Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit, Sally Rogers,
Sweetwater, and the Richard Sutton Ensemble.
As mentioned above, this park is a work in progress maintained by
the tireless efforts of Barr and other artists who volunteer their
labor and services to make this a truly special place. With the exception
of the Stockade Labyrinth, the park is open all year round, which
means visitors can make a point of observing how it changes in each
season. The Michigan Legacy Art Park is the realization
of an inspirational vision and a gem of natural and artistic beauty
that can be visited time and time again.