The Artwork of

William Lathrop

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Artist in Residence - 2005
Entry Date: 09/23/2005 - Friday

I explored east today, starting with "Log Slide" -great dunes of sand piled high along the shore - I guess the prevailing northern winds help keep it there. This sand is far steeper than you would expect of 300-foot high dunes. "Log Slide" was so named because during the height of logging the crews would slide logs down this hill to waiting freighters in the lake. Further east the dunes are more pronounced, the "Grand Sable Dunes."

Back from the dunes runs a deep woods; I walked through these woods. I really felt like the only person for miles. The woods here - the deep ones - have such a fairy tale quality, like what you might expect of the forest from The Hobbit. Though the light was good this morning, I didn't really see anything begging to be painted, so I traveled on.

Back on the road, I pulled off at the overlook of Grand Sable Lake, the view that became this morning's painting. There was a nice birch clump overlooking the lake and its far shores, a nice composition that required very little rearranging on my part. It was a cloudless, clear morning so the blues were very intense. The birch tree was nicely formed and the view featured nice design elements. There were small hints of fall color here in there along the shore of the lake - nice color notes.

After painting, I continued east, now on paved road, to Grand Marais; a cute little town. I continued further east along the Superior coastline, the road returning to gravel shortly beyond Grand Marais. I eventually came to an area where the beach resembled the area around my cabin, so I turned around and returned home.

After a short walk and maybe a short nap on my beach, I wandered through the woods surrounding my cabin. A creek flows just to the east, my yard bordering on the small gorge it flows through. Except for the "Lakeshore Trail", which follows the coastline through the park, there are no real trails through these woods. Gregg mentioned a small lake that is somewhere upstream on this creek, but without a trail, my curiosity gave out after a couple hundred yards of crawling through the brush along the banks. Again, these woods had that fairy tale feeling.

For my afternoon painting, I settled on some nicely formed birch trees by the storage shed. Today was birch tree day. The painting started somewhat experimentally, with a very loose background - only the trees were well defined. I struggled a little getting the color temperature of the trees just right - they wouldn't sit in the painting - but I think I finally got it. Very minor temperature differences made the big difference.

So, today the refrigerator has kicked in gear - everything perishable is mostly frozen. That thing took forever to get cold, but when it did, watch out. I made spaghetti for dinner with cooked broccoli (which had frozen but turned out ok).

Tomorrow I plan to head back to Chapel Basin for a long hike and a painting. To lighten my pack load as much as possible, I have emptied my paint box of all but essential items. I checked the weather at the ranger station in Grand Marais - tomorrow to be partly cloudy for the most part with a chance of rain on Sunday. I have everything in the van ready to go - including water and snacks. I'll start early.

I had no real adversity to overcome today - nothing to make me feel strong - and I didn't have any meaningful human interactions -that leaves me feeling a little homesick and lonely tonight. Tomorrow is a weekend day and I will be in a busier part of the park. Lately, just for company, I've been listening to Headline News off the satellite - that's enough to depress a soul: an approaching new hurricane on the gulf coast, a bus-full of old people escaping the storm killed when their bus catches fire, $5 gas - much to give one the worries.

In the evenings, I've been reading about Tom Thomson, Canadian painter, prominent member of the Group of 7. I purchased the book on his work, The Best of Tom Thomson by Joan Murray, late this summer to help prepare for this trip. I first discovered his work on a trip to Canada in 1996 and bought a small reproduction back then. Interesting guy, he died young in a mysterious accident at the height of his ability. His paintings - mostly of the north woods - are beautiful and powerful. In some ways his work is reminiscent of Van Gogh, thick paint applied with expressive brushwork - but also strikingly accurate color, not as much the heightened palette that Van Gogh used. I see how he could have influenced Brian Rutenberg. Brian Rutenberg is a South Carolina artist who's work I discovered at Art Chicago several years ago. He is a major painter of our time, painting powerful abstract landscapes.

I found two primary books in my research for this residency. I read the biography of Thomas Moran. He did pencil sketches here in 1860 - 145 years ago. He eventually painted much of the West and is given some of the credit in creating the demand to preserve wild places, leading to the creation of the National Parks. His paintings of Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon and many western mountain scenes are stunning; beautiful color pervades his work. He was fairly early in his career when he painted in this area.

I imagine the character of this forest is significantly different from 145 years ago. The old growth is gone and second growth is kept thin in many places. At any rate, one of Moran's sketches of Pictured Rocks is duplicated in the book. It looks to have been done just east of Chapel Rock, looking west with Grand Portal in the distance. This is the hike destination I have planned for tomorrow - three miles in with the pack. Moran's sketch is fascinating - almost out of this world. Interesting that this view doesn't come to mind as particularly overdone, not cliché, perhaps a new interpretation might not be so cliché either.

Craig Blacklock's book, The Lake Superior Images, in which he circumnavigates the lake with his photographs, was my other primary reference. I have already seen some of the places around here that he shot. Many of his shots, however, are close-ups of the rock along the shore from a kayak. I probably won't get those views. Even if I had brought a kayak, the lake has been much too rough most days to paddle along a rock cliff. In fact, most of the photography of Pictured Rocks, especially what I found on the Internet, is predominantly of the cliffs as seen from the Lake.

It just occurred to me that I haven't seen or heard a jet plane. Even in the wilderness, almost anywhere south of here you would hear an occasional jet plane or see a vapor trail in the sky. I haven't seen one in the several days I've been here. That seems amazing - both because it seems unusual not to see air traffic, but also sad that there are precious few place to escape completely from civilization.

All Materials Copyright © William Lathrop, 2007
Last Modified on June 05, 2007