2009-12-12 / Top News

Art Will Portray Story of Island

Museum To Open Next Summer
By Karen Gould

At left: Using a microscope, artist and conservator Jennifer Lis works on restoring a 1935 painting by Island artist Marion Loud. The oil paint is peeling off the artwork and in some spots already gone. The painting is one of several that will be on display in the new art museum. At left: Using a microscope, artist and conservator Jennifer Lis works on restoring a 1935 painting by Island artist Marion Loud. The oil paint is peeling off the artwork and in some spots already gone. The painting is one of several that will be on display in the new art museum. Oil on canvas, glass plate negatives, and birch bark boxes decorated with porcupine quills will tell the story of the beauty of Mackinac Island as captured by artists for more than 200 years. Paintings, photographs, sculptures, baskets, and souvenir glassware have been selected from the collection of Mackinac State Historic Parks for the new Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum at the old Indian Dormitory next to Marquette Park.

The fur trade-era building and one-time schoolhouse is scheduled to open as a fine arts museum in mid-July.

The displays will begin with the earliest items, native Indian pottery found on the Island, including a fragment of a pot rim dated between 800 and 1,000 A. D., discovered behind the building last summer.

The former Indian Dormitory building and one-time Island school is being converted into the Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum and is scheduled to open in mid-July. The former Indian Dormitory building and one-time Island school is being converted into the Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum and is scheduled to open in mid-July. Construction of an addition to house a stairway and elevator continues this winter at the same time park staff is developing an interpretive plan, acquiring new pieces, and restoring artwork .

"A lot of things are going on at once," said Mr. Porter .

Jennifer Lis is responsible for refurbishing paintings and some of the pieces for display.

"I think it is a great project because it is highlighting every part of our collection." said Ms. , a conservator. "It will be a very rich experience for the visitor to see how art has been part of every type of subject matter on the Island."

At left: Exhibit designer Dave Kronberg is working on the interior architectural design, audiovisual exhibits, and interactive displays. At left: Exhibit designer Dave Kronberg is working on the interior architectural design, audiovisual exhibits, and interactive displays. A specialist in painting conservation, she is immersed in restoring a 74-year-old Marion Loud portrait depicting an unknown Island woman sewing a quilt with a wedding ring pattern .

The oil paint failed to adhere to the base paint on the canvas and is flaking. In some areas, the canvas is bare, and it also has become distorted.

To restore the oil paint, Ms. Lis uses a microscope and surgically precise tools. Working in small areas at a time, she adds a layer of glue made from the bladder of sturgeon, then covers it with Japanese tissue, adds a silky Mylar material , and heats it. The process glues the flaking paint back into place.

Later, she will stretch the canvas, remove a layer of yellowed varnish that the artist added, and begin filling in all of the areas where the paint has fallen off, a tedious and difficult process.

"I love working on this painting," she said.

Across the room is a table filled with Native American artifacts chosen for display, including baskets, quill boxes, and a ceremonial rattle. Most pieces will receive a light surface cleaning and Ms. Lis will reattach loose porcupine quills on the boxes.

She has sought the advice of specialists in Native American objects, including those from the Smithsonian Institution and Arizona State Museum.

"For me, it's been a very interesting project because I've been trained in paintings conservation and now I'm opened up to a whole new world with the objects and ethnographic materials," she said. "This is a whole new world for me. It's been very rewarding and it is a very important part of our collection."

Dave Kronberg, an exhibit designer, is busy planning the interior to create an atmosphere that will showcase the artwork. He is planning audio and visual presentations for some of the exhibits and an interactive exhibit will highlight changes in maps of the Straits region from 1656 through the early 19th century.

"Although those aren't really Mackinac images, Mackinac is included in this collection to show the evolution of the mapping of the Great Lakes throughout the centuries," said Chief Curator Steve Brisson.

Initially the maps were hand drawn by a cartographer, engraved, and then printed in Europe as large folios as maps of the new world.

"They are works of art, the engraver's art, and often done with great flourishes and color and little cartouches in the bottom with little pictures," he said.

Working on gallery designs for the 4,000-foot building, said Mr. Kronberg, has been a departure from his traditional assignments at Mackinac State Historic Parks.

"The really neat thing about this project is it's not another historically important building or site that we're interrupting," he said. "It is an old building and it has a neat story, but what we're interpreting are all these various beautiful objects that we're bringing into this building to show. In this case, the emphasis is on the collection. That's a real charge. Dealing with a big wide open space is challenging. The building interior is really plain. We want to create an interesting interior so we're adding things to the interior that weren't in the original building. That's a big change from what we usually do. We won't [usually] add inaccurate architectural details to a historic building, but in this case, we are."

The exterior of the building will reflect its historic past, but the interior will be transformed into a more modern gallery.

To add warmth to the interior, Mr. Kronberg has chosen a crown molding and warm, rich wall colors .

The building is climate controlled to protect the artwork, and the floors will be carpeted to absorb sound. The windows are covered to protect pieces from natural light that can fade and discolor objects, and special lighting will highlight the works of art.

Nothing is being removed from the building, however, said Mr. Brisson.

"Everything is being carefully preserved," he said. "Those elements that are covered by carpeting or wall panels are being preserved behind them. Everything could be reversed if we needed to. In 50 years, if the park wanted to restore the Indian Dormitory back to its 1830s appearance, we could remove these elements we've added and the original building would be there."

The Indian Dormitory was constructed in 1838 as a dormitory for Indians visiting the Island to collect their annual Treaty of Washington payments from the United States. It was used as Mackinac Island's public school for nearly a century until 1961, and, in the 1940s, the building also housed the Mackinac Summer Art School, where artists offered classes to sumer residents and visitors. One of the teachers was painter Stanley Bielecky, whose work will be on display in the new museum.

After the city's new school building opened in 1961, the Mackinac Island State Park Commission restored the building in 1966 as one of its downtown interpretive museums. It was closed in 2002, the victim of budget cuts, and has been vacant since.

"We had this need to display this fine and decorative art relating to Mackinac, that we've been collecting for decades, and a building that needed to be restored," said Mr. Porter of the idea to turn the Indian Dormitory into an art museum.

Mackinac Island State Park Commissioner Richard Manoogian and his wife, Jane, liked the idea and, through the Richard and Jane Manoogian Foundation, donated $827,000 to create it.

More difficult, said Mr. Porter, was getting the Manoogians to agree to name the museum after them. The Manoogian name is well respected in the world of art, said Mr. Porter. Mr. Manoogian is a serious collector, especially of American art, and his pieces are on loan at museums throughout the world.

"It is a benefit to us to have the Manoogian name associated with the museum to attract audiences and artists," said Mr. Porter.

Four of the new museum's five galleries will focus on the the Mackinac Island State Park Commission's permanent collection. A contemporary gallery likely will change annually and focus on current artists.

The largest gallery, on the west side of the main floor, will include about a dozen paintings, sketches, and drawings dating from the 1810s to the 1970s. The regional maps will be in this gallery.

Also on the main floor will be a Marshall Fredrick sculpture, a base relief of Dr. William Beaumont, souvenir china and glassware, and decorative arts from the cottages showing how the cottages were furnished.

In the Native American Gallery, a variety of items, mainly from the 19th century with a few 20th century pieces.

Upstairs, a gallery will include work from photographer William H. Gardiner of hand-tinted prints and large murals created from his original glass plate collection. Other Island photographers will be represented. Another secondfloor gallery will display the contemporary artwork.

Early in the planning of the museum, the park established a small committee of Island artists, including Bill Murcko, Marta Olson, and Mimi Cunningham, to work with park staff in developing ideas for the annual contemporary exhibits.

Mackinac Island artists will be featured this summer, their works to be included by invitation.

"The idea is to limit this first year to residents on Mackinac Island so visitors can see what residents are doing in terms of creating and being inspired by Mackinac for artistic creation," he said. "We hope to have jewelry, sculpture, photography, painting, and all kinds of things, and we're excited about that."

Pieces submitted will be judged by an outside professional jurist who will choose the artwork to be exhibited in 2010. The judge also will choose a best in show and a gold medal will be awarded to that artist opening night. A plaque in the gallery will list annual winners.

"We're real excited about creating tradition," said Mr. Porter. "Hopefully we will inspire people to create art."

"There have been efforts over the years to develop the arts on Mackinac," said Mr. Brisson. "It's a place of beauty and it does inspire artists. Maybe this museum will begin a whole new phase of art on Mackinac. Again, a lot of this exhibit is focusing on art of the past, but as we develop this venue of art of the past, it might spark something that from then on, and we'll look back in 100 years and see that this was a benchmark in art at Mackinac. That from this, we will see Mackinac as a center of artistic creativity. That would be very exciting to see. "

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