Artists Present Collaboration to Celebrate Community Foundation
With the foundation’s theme being the “Art of Collaboration,” a group of artists, each with a Mackinac Island connection, worked in an innovative form of the children’s game “Telephone” to depict the Island’s beauty through music, painting, film, sculpture, and poetry.
Each participant had only the work of the previous artist from which to draw inspiration, then sent their resulting artwork to the next participant, and so on. The first piece began last September and final one was finished in June. Just as in the children’s game, the artists’ goal was to see how much of the original artistic “message” about Mackinac Island survived in the end.
While the artists revealed their work to one another in June, this was the first time the public viewed the entire chain of pieces, and the artists felt the public viewing was an important final step in concluding the project.
Tess Miller, a musician, developed with the idea after trying to find a way to collaborate artistically with her sister, who is a visual artist.
“I realized that artwork requiring cross-artistic talents are the ones that are always the most engaging,” she said. “And why not use art as the phrase [in Telephone] and to honor the Mackinac Island Community Foundation?”
Each artist presented their piece, explaining what message they derived from the previous piece and how they communicated it in their own artwork. The common threads evident in all of the pieces seemed to be the influence of water and warmth on the community.
Mr. Bogan, a summer resident who lives in a cabin on the Island’s north side, recited his poem written in response to Mr. Harding’s song, “North Shore at Dusk,” to a haunting melody played by Melissa Straus on her 110-year-old double bass. He provided the audience with a hard copy of the poem on which the lines are laid out in a wave-like pattern, which, when combined with the double bass, echoed the emotions felt during Mr. Harding’s song.
Joel and Amanda Wyse interpreted his poem into two, three-dimensional paintings that formed one piece.
“After talking about the poem, we went into our box of collage stuff and pulled out things that reminded us of Mackinac Island. When we got writer’s block, we’d say ‘switch’ and start working on the other piece...We like not knowing what the finished product will be,” Ms. Wyse said.
She said that they would paint or glue on top of parts of the painting, especially at the end because they felt the piece had become too busy.
Next, Kelly Dorman looked at photographs of the paintings and created a bead and metal work, set atop a large, curved piece of driftwood she found on a Mackinac Island beach, called “Charting the Boundaries.”
“Scott started with water, and I got back to that,” Mrs. Dorman said.
In addition to focusing on the theme of water, she wanted to communicate the purpose a person must have to reach Mackinac Island.
“You don’t end up here because you take a left turn on accident instead of a right,” Mrs. Dorman said. “You must have intent. It’s not like on the mainland, but if we drift like that piece of wood, you may end up here, anyway... You have to want to be here, but sometimes, like the driftwood, something out there says you need to be here.”
The next artist was Pam Finkel, and her daughter, Jane, read her statement about the project.
“What struck me,” about Mrs. Dorman’s artwork, “was the sense of nostalgia and melancholy— a longing for times gone by,” which harkened back to how Mr. Harding described the feelings expressed in his song that initiated the game.
“Kelly included a small, oldtime compass in her piece, so I used the compass image around her representing all the roads leading away from her, but she remains in the middle, holding down the fort, with the feeling of home, sweetness, and comfort to which we may always return.”
These compass points inspired the song Grand Hotel music director
Alex Graham wrote next, which filmmaker Rob Kalmbach used to direct him while filming a six-minute, winter documentary of Mackinac Island.
Despite the icy scenes in his film, audiences were overwhelmed with the warmth emanating from the familiar faces and places featured visually and outlined by a poem written by his mother, Melissa Croghan, called “Igloo Island” and narrated by his sister, Leah.
It was these emotions Maeve Croghan used to guide her following painting. By using warm colors like gold and red, she translated the message to Julie Porter.
Ms. Porter noticed the generous tones in the painting and created a large serving platter of stoneware pottery meant to be used while sharing a meal with a group. It is decorated with trillium flowers, inspired by her childhood adventures and the previous painting.
“There is quite a bit of plant life descending from the arch in Maeve’s painting,” Ms. Porter said. “Growing up on Mackinac Island, I had a love of nature and was enchanted by the wildflowers while romping in the woods. I hope the piece shows how deeply Mackinac Island touches so many people.”
Finally, another Grand Hotel musician, Whitney Ashe, received a photograph of her pottery and composed the project’s final tune.
He said the flowers painted around the platter’s border largely inspired his piece “Last Call.”
“Also important was the way that the stems are positioned on the outer parts,” he said. “They lend a kind of spiraling, swirling motion to it so that the overall effect of the piece becomes one of something essentially serene juxtaposed against a subtle yet inconsistent motion, like the wind off the lake as it passes through a flower bed...The piece itself begins in an almost perfect stillness before being transformed through the swirl of eddying winds that lift it to its peak before allowing it to fall away at its end.”
In light of the project’s complexity, community foundation director Robin Dorman said he was impressed with the outcome.
“What struck me the most was the artists’ challenge of responding to someone else’s inspiration or piece and then having to base their work on that. The challenge was taking someone else’s art and trying to represent and interpret it, yet using your own biases toward art. To come up with the quality of projects they did, it really was amazing that it turned out as well as it did,” Mr. Dorman said.
In addition to serving as an entertaining celebration of the foundation, he said the project embodied how the foundation works to accomplish its goal of supporting the community.
“The involvement of so many artists echoed the involvement of so many people involved in our committees and board,” Mr. Dorman said. “It’s an excellent portrayal of the collaboration it takes between all the members of committees and people serving to fulfill the mission of the foundation.”
Dr. Miller hopes to organize another, similar project soon, perhaps for children.
Mr. Bogan announced his support for the idea by exclaiming, “Let’s do it again!”