GEORGES SEURAT IN SAUGATUCK:
SOME MORE RAISING THE ROOF
by James Schmiechen
Well, almost.One of the most eccentric (and most observed) buildings in Saugatuck is thepublic restroom building at the riverside in Wicks Park.What makes it eccentric is that its exterior is covered by a reproduction ofthe famous painting "Sunday Afternoon on the lie de La Grande-Jatte" by Georges Seurat(1859-91). The well-known French painter never visited Saugatuck but his famouspainting (done pointillistic style with flicks, ordots) has come to symbolize a stroll in the park for millions of his admirers.The original hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago.
One story hasit that the painting "just appeared one morning" on the walls of therest room in the park. Not so. The answer of how this Saugatuck replica cameabout was revealed in a recent conversation at the Museum.
The"Saugatuck Seurat" was painted by artistCarol Miron of Hollandin 1977. The idea came from Frank Pluta who was thehead of the Parks for the three local units, Douglas, Saugatuck and Saugatuck Township, at that time and who laid outthe park. He suggested that Carol, who studied at the School of the ArtInstitute of Chicago, go to Chicago and study the painting and reproduce it onthe building that was being refurbished. The park layout was financed withFederal CETA program funds, with considerable local support from Bob Gardner.The land had been purchased many years earlier, but it was leased to privateparties until 1975 when the Village of Saugatuck beganturning it into a proper park.
Carol nowlives in Colorado, but her parents still live in Holland. About ten years ago when she washome for a visit she agreed to refurbish the image to give many more seasons ofvisitors a surprise in art history! What kind of paint did she use? Frankthinks it was acrylic.
The City of Saugatuck, having constructednew restroom facilities on the Village Square, wanted to demolish the buildingin the spring of 1999, but responded to public outcry and preserved the paintedstructure, even remodeling and improving the facilities it contains. Thepainting was retouched again this spring by the advanced art students of Saugatuck High School under the direction ofteacher Christa Wise. The Pillage of Douglas, not to be outdone, commissionedhigh school art students Aron Lowe and Ali Jakobson to paint Seurat's"Bathing, Asnieres" on the pump house inthe village park on the Kalamazoo River at the foot ofCenter Street. It was completed in July of 1999.
Letter Discusses Former Residents Of the Ames-Morrison House
One of the oldest housesdiscovered in the recent architectural survey is located at 334 Main Street, Saugatuck. It is the homeoccupied by Stephen A. Morrison, who took over the Saugatuck tannery in 1834.It was where he was living when he married the first school teacher, MaryElizabeth Peckham, until the couple built an eleganthome on the southeast corner of Butlerand Culver Streets in downtown Saugatuck. (Later known asLeland Lodge, this large home burned in 1978.) The Barry Johnson family now own the Main Street house and had a recent visit from some Ames relatives who sentthem an old picture of the structure along with copies of biographical materialand the following letter:
Enclosed issome biographical material about my great-grandparents, Captain and Mrs.Richard Ames, who lived in your house from 1857 to 1893. Also enclosed isinformation on Stephen Morrison from whom the Ames family purchased the home. They moved toa farm in 1893.
After mygreat-grandfather died his daughter, Rena, re-purchased the house and itremained in the family until the mid-1930's when mygrandmother, Alice Ames Byron, sold it to Fritz Walz, a local butcher, who rented it after 1929.
My Aunt Delta,a daughter of Alice Byron, lives in Lansing gave me a picture of the housetaken about 1915 with four people in front: a friend of Mrs. Ames', Alice AmesByron, Mary Ellen Byron (daughter of Alice) and Mary Ames (mother of Alice andwife of Captain Richard Ames who bought the house in 1857).
Of the five Ames children, only Levane is not buried in the Saugatuck cemetery. He was apoliceman in Detroit.Roy was a cook on a boat; Richard was a frail child who diedearly; Rena was the principal of an elementary school in Hammond, Indiana.She spent summer in the Main Street house and relatives cared for her mother,Mary Ames, during the winter. One of those relatives was my mother, Rena Byron,whom my father, Peter Hamelink, courted on the porchof that house. My husband and I moved from Illinoisto care for my father in his house in Hollandafter his wife died.
Three of us,Peter Hamelink, and Fred and Shirley Porter, live in Holland. I have anotheraunt who lives in Floridawho is shown at age 6 in the picture. She may be able to answer some of yourquestions.
-- Shirley Porter