This year's new exhibit at the Saugatuck-Douglas Historical Society Museum, open from Memorial Day through October, recalls the origins and evolution of the lakeside art colony that has become synonymous with Saugatuck during the past 100 years.
Titled "A Place Called Ox-Bow: 100 Years Of Connecting Art, Nature And People", the exhibit reveals how an old harbor and lighthouse, obscure fishing settlements and an abandoned lumber town buried by shifting sand dunes became paradise to rebellious artists who broke away from the dictates of traditional technique and gained fame moving American art in new directions. ."
The story is told in nine "chapters", each documenting key stages in Ox-Bow's century of development, starting with a band of Chicago art teachers and students who studied in "Victorian"-era France, fell in love with the renegade impressionist style and returned hungry to pursue it here. Seeking a place of inspiring natural beauty for impressionism's "plein-air" method of painting outdoors to capture everyday scenes and people in true natural light, they found the Saugatuck duneland and its final riverbend their ideal spot.
From those beginnings in 1910 the colony grew in keeping with its rebellious spirit and became a working laboratory for artists experimenting with new art concepts including abstract impressionism, abstract expressionism, pop and cartoon art, imagism, minimalism and others. Along the way, more art forms emerged with crafts such as metalworking, pottery, weaving, glassblowing, and with theatrical costumes, maskmaking and performance art.
Says exhibit curator and writer Jim Schmiechen, "this exhibit is more about the people who made Ox-Bow the world-class art school it is today, rather than about the art itself. It's about how this place has nurtured both the making and the teaching of art, and drawn hundreds of America's best-known artists here to study, teach and work."
Highlighting the new exhibit is a total of more than 500 images visualizing the people and experiences of Ox-Bow, some projected onto an 8' by 20' curved screen, others shown more intimately in three mini-video displays. For its young visitors, the exhibit also includes an "interactive station" with large mirrors, inviting children to explore painting or drawing self portraits.
Continuing the Museum's tradition of offering relevant books to accompany exhibits, this year's exhibit will offer three: "Painting The Town -- A History Of Art In Saugatuck And Douglas", written by Saugatuck's Kit Lane, one of West Michigan's best-known historian/authors; "A Portrait Of Ox-Bow: Architecture - Art - Artists" by Douglas artist/author Judy Bowman Anthrop; and "The Saugatuck Dunes: Artists Respond To A Freshwater Landscape", published by the Saugatuck Coastal Alliance.
Augmenting the Society's exhibit is an outdoor display created by the Saugatuck High School students of art teacher Christa Wise, in which colorful "art poles" created of individual ceramic figures mounted in vertical stacks will greet visitors along the garden walkway leading to the Museum. This project was inspired by the totem poles built by Ox-Box students in the 1920s and 1930s to commemorate the ceremonial traditions of Native Americans who inhabited the area earlier. Click HERE for more details on the art poles
The Museum's south gallery also features the recently added "SuperMap" -- a 6-foot high, 12-foot wide illustrated color wall map of the Saugatuck-Douglas area with an interactive computer display to provide a virtual tour through these historic villages, highlighting significant people, places and current of both past and present. Map artwork, created by Holland artist-cartographer Mark Cook based on Historical Society research, recalls the entertaining illustration/poster maps of the 1940-50 era, combining street layouts with stylized sketches and notes.
The map offers Museum visitors an engaging way to soak up the story of the Saugatuck-Douglas area. As many as 70 map-highlighted references are keyed by number to let visitors select and learn about sites of interest by calling up information, narratives and images using several video/interactive touch-screen terminals near the map. The screens also offer topical "interactive programs" such as History of Hotels/Boarding Houses; History of Boatbuilding and Boat Builders; Buildings and Architecture; Artists and Painting; Local Biographies; History of Saugatuck-Douglas Schools; 13 Tales of the Villages and A Video History of Saugatuck and Douglas.
In addition, the computers allow public access to the Historical Society's digitized archives of historical photos, pages of The Commercial Record dating back to 1868, the Saugatuck-Douglas Building Survey and more.
Founded in 1992, the Saugatuck-Douglas Historical Society Museum occupies the historic Saugatuck Pump House at 735 Park Street, along the west shore of the Kalamazoo River at Mt. Baldhead Park, a short walk north from the Saugatuck Chain Ferry landing. The Museum is open Noon to 4pm daily from May 30 through August, then Saturdays/Sundays in September and October. Admission and parking are free. Tel: (269) 857-7900.