The Artwork of

William Lathrop

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Artist in Residence - 2005
Entry Date: 09/26/2005 - Monday

Outside my cabin, on the other side of the road, down 30 feet of bluff, is the beach. There is a small birch tree, maybe 6 feet tall, growing at the very edge of the beach bluff. The root ball is totally exposed, the roots growing horizontally into the side of the bluff. It has found a way to survive against the eroding bluff; it has hope. Its struggle is also the struggle of the bluff, and that small birch tree and others like it are helping hold the bluff against further erosion.

Looking down at the beach this morning there were 4-wheeler tracks - fresh - all over the beach and through the creek flowing out into the lake. The tracks weren't there last night. At the overlook about a mile west of here, it looks like they drove up and down the beach dune - probably that is where they were unloaded. The beach bluff is eroding on its own - that small birch tree hanging on against the natural threats. I stand on this bluff at sunset, not far from my cabin, and the world seems so amazing - the natural world that is. But it is hard to resist the thought that in so many ways humanity is just a cancer upon the world.

Yesterday afternoon I found another birch to paint, they have become a dominant theme. This birch was in the Superior State Forest, down one of the many unmarked forest roads. It was growing among a field of ferns - many gone reddish brown from lack of rain. Dotted throughout this expanse were other birch clumps. I painted mine against the backdrop of a pine grove on the other side of the road. Here too I painted under the protection of my van's back door - though this rain was peaceful and comfortable, not the windy, cold rain of the morning. Sometimes a rainy day can produce wonderful color in the landscape. The warm rich tones in objects saturated by the water in much the same way as varnishing a painting brings out the intensity of the warm, dark colors.

There is a sign not far away that states this area was clear-cut in 1981 - something to do with jack pine. Along the trail, the White Birch Trail, there is a sign that states birch are among the first trees to reforest an area and the presence of a birch forest is characteristic of a fairly young forest. Birch don't live very long, about 60 years or so, and are followed by maple or pine. Along the White Birch Trail the maples and pines are starting - they are young, only a few feet tall for the most part. Buy you can see they are following.

This morning I explored the Beaver Lake area. Geologically, this is a steep bowl with a lake at the bottom; a side road takes you down into it. At the bottom, there is a small campground, but not much day use area; the campground takes up most of the available level space and it mostly surrounded by water. This would be a good point to canoe or kayak from.

Woodland trails also wind through this area and I walked for a while down one that wandered toward Beaver Lake. The woods seemed to stretch on and on before reaching the lake itself. These are deep, old-feeling woods with bigger trees. Perhaps this is old growth, not so easy to cut deep in this bowl of a landscape. I didn't see any paintings; the woods here are too thick and dark - though very interesting. I left the Beaver basin and explored the back roads of the state forest, down by Gemini Lake, this section of dirt road no worse and some better than the road through the national park.

I eventually stumbled on a small state campground that wound around a lakeshore. I painted at a campsite that had an interesting array of birch clumps - backlit by mixed sun and clouds. It would have been an interesting day to paint clouds. This was a very experimental painting - I was definitely thinking about Rutenberg as I painted this. I was looking for a more essential way of seeing my subject - deeper and more abstract.

When I noticed the wind today, which wasn't until I was driving west, it was blowing strong from the northwest. Flags were almost fully unfurled in the strong wind.

After painting in the state forest campground, I drove toward Munising on the unmarked dirt roads that wind through some of the most interesting sets of woods and savannah. This was a most beautiful drive, more so than the main road. Drive east on this road in the morning or west in the evening for the best light. These roads are on the official Lakeshore map, but only as lines, not names. Still, these roads eventually lead me to Melstrand, the town near the turnoff to the Chapel area and the main road.

I am here, late September, when there is just a hint of fall color. These woods and forests, especially the deep ones, are a difficult subject - so much green. Green is the most difficult of colors as there are so many variations to it, and for a painting to look right, all those variations have to be right compared to one another - much mixing and remixing of pigment to get the right color. These woods might make a more interesting subject with a little more color in them, in a couple weeks.

As I was driving west on these roads, I approached a small pickup with a wooden box, dragging some kind of rake along the shoulder of the road. There were dogs in the box, which was really a kennel. The driver let me pass - looked like a normal guy. I certainly wondered what they were doing.

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