This was an epic winter for a lot of us in the Northeastern U.S. but the Keweenaw Peninsula deserves special mention for withstanding such relentless snowstorms and unusually cold weather. Surrounded to the east and west by great expanses of Lake Superior, the exposed body of land is geographically positioned to become trapped in a cycle of winter storms. As the surface of the lake warms, condensation rises and is blown east across the Keweenaw where it cools and becomes snow. Shoveling your way out of ten foot snowbanks is to be expected during a Keweenaw winter, but this season really delivered the goods. If ever there was a fitting tune for a winter like this, here it is: Last Winter in the Copper Country, by the Michigan band Steppin’ In It. The way it is both foreboding and hopeful is beautiful.
+ Ice coverage on Lake Superior reached 95% at the end of February, exceeding all other measurements since 1979. Typically Lake Superior reaches 40-50% coverage. With all of this ice, spring sunlight hitting the surface of the lake will be bounced back into space, and it will take longer for the region to warm up this spring and summer. There are only 54 days until we set the moorings for the season and 68 until the first resident artist arrives from Berlin. Not that anyone is counting.
+ Snowfall this year is 314.5 inches and even 10 days into spring it is still coming down.
+ Approximately 65 miles to the northwest of Rabbit Island on Isle Royale National Park one of ten remaining wolves crossed the ice to mainland Minnesota. Sadly, it was discovered dead, leaving only nine wolves left on this special national park, as well as a moral conundrum over what to do if the population continues to decline. On Rabbit Island it will be interesting to see if mammals have migrated over the rare 2014 ice bridge. Perhaps we’ll have deer, coyotes or bobcats in our midst this summer.
+ Local scuttlebutt received via email detailing how some residents took advantage of the ice in mid March: “Allegedly two guys were crazy enough to leave the east side of the Keweenaw Peninsula and go the thirty miles out on Lake superior to Stannard Rock to ice fish. Crazy, EH? When they got there they were the last to arrive; 17 other idiots were already there. No report on the catch. This comes from a good and reliable source.” A fine example of Sisu if ever there was.
+ The average water temperature of Lake Superior in a typical August is approximately 60 degrees, allowing for only a few minutes of comfortable swimming. In August of 2012, water temperatures reached a record 74.8 degrees after a near iceless winter and above average summer temperatures. This summer, in light of the current 95% lake ice cover, we’re definitely on the hook for some historically refreshing dips.
+ Approximately ten miles from Rabbit Island as the crow flies is the house on S. Iroquois Street where the Rabbit Island idea was born. Here is a photo of how much snow was in front of it two weeks ago.
+ To date we have never stepped foot on Rabbit Island in winter, though are planning a trip in winter 2015… after the sauna is complete.
+ We are keeping our eye on the lake as it thaws: NOAA CoastWatch satellite images of Lake Superior are updated twice daily giving real time ice information.
+ Heikki Lunta is the embodiment of the Finnish snow god character, who originated in the United States in the mythology of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. If ever there was a time to sing the traditional song "Heikki Lunta Go Away", it is now.
+ The photos above were taken over the past three months by Jerome Johnson of Rabbit Bay. Several of these were taken in the last week of March! Many thanks, JJ.
The Newest Rabbit Island Satellite Photo
Recently Google uploaded a new satellite image of Rabbit Island. It is an amazing shot. From a camera fixed in orbit 423 miles above our planet you are able to discern features that, until recently, you needed a wetsuit and goggles to see. In amazing detail, you can see, 25 feet under Lake Superior’s surface, the island’s stone reefs. Off the northern tip you can see Moon Break (first surfed in July of 2013 by Ben Moon and Rob Gorski), a right break that forms when north winds blow from between Louis Point and Bete Gris farther up the Keweenaw Peninsula. Off the southeast point, you can see a shallow underwater sandstone ledge that creates breaking waves given an east or northeast blow greater than 20 knots. Those waves build over several hundred miles of fetch from Canada, crash over Rabbit Island, and then flatten again when the depth drops to a deeper blue. With our 13-foot Boston Whaler we’ve surfed some of those waves, too. If you look more closely in the shallows, you can see shoals that native Lake Superior Redfin Trout use for spawning. These shoals are made of layers of head-sized rocks, the result of more than ten-thousand freeze-thaw cycles splitting apart Jacobsville sandstone as it rises to form the island. According to fishermen we’ve bumped into in Calumet, on clear, calm days late in the year you can see trout spawning in these shallows, and when scared by a boat, scurrying between stones, hiding in the many nooks.
Up out of the water you can see the white cobble shoreline, and inside it a dense, green forest canopy. If you look more closely, you can also see individual mature trees, including several we’ve climbed. Off the southwest point, you can see a dead and weathered deciduous tree that the island’s eagles frequently perch in. On the southern shore you can see a large white pine that toppled in 2012, and which, though partially submerged, has survived two seasons of ice and waves. We call it Big Leanie. On the northwestern shore, you can see the new shelter we began building in 2013—and you can see the roof on it, which we finished on August 10th. A quarter mile south, there’s main camp. The Rabbit Island School camped in the pines there from August 11th through the 17th, but none of their tents are in the satellite image. Four miles to the west, in Rabbit Bay, you can see the small harbor at the mouth of Lahiti Creek where Sisu, our Montauk 17, and our 13-foot Sport, rest on the southern dock. We pulled the boats out of the water on September 15th. By then, leaves were turning yellow, yet there’s no hint of yellow in the image. Taking this into account we estimate that Google shot this photo between August 18th and September 13th, 2013.
All told it is fascinating to consider how this small remote wilderness has now been archived. It is indeed an interesting time to be an environmentalist, and also an artist. Possibilities are certainly changing.
Scrolling around it is interesting to study this image of an ecosystem viewed in its geographic whole and reflect on the overarching idea that everything rising here above lake level will remain, so long as American contract law is valid, unimpeded forever. The island is 91 acres, of course—a mere speck on the scale of a region, state, country or continent—yet in the context of our culture this land and this image represent ideas that we believe are broadly relevant: intentional non-development, the assignment of value to intact watersheds, incorporation of non-financial environmental costs on balance sheets, restraint, community involvement in conservation, wise legislation, honest scientific inquiry, creative expression, the celebration of the natural rules of the game, rational reclamation, etc. The very fact that such satellite imagery of our planet exists changes the ethical fundamentals that every generation going forward must apply to land use.
Giving a voice to these ideas within our culture is one of the goals of the Rabbit Island project. Encouraging others to pursue similar projects is another. Contextualizing land to creative energy in plain terms is a third. Accordingly, it is logical to wonder whether the concept of this image—of this watershed, of those uncut trees—can ever be recreated on a larger, organized scale, and projected upon land where ecosystem integrity had previously been lost to subdivision. (A related essay exploring this can be found here.) We believe that such ideas must necessarily become part of our culture. As the ability of society to reasonably organize itself sustainably continues to progress we believe that wilderness, like art, will continually be seen as evidence of a civilized people, and, as a corollary, that a civilized people will become capable of creating the conditions necessary for sensible organization of environments on a larger scale than the individual. Wilderness, where it exists, after all, exemplifies civilization in our modern world.
Explorations. Circumnavigations. Transects. A one-to-one drawing on the landscape. Never lost; always finding the way. Taking the long way around, the long way through, and always taking the long view.
Create paths the way of a wild animal. No indiscreet cutting, no bushwhacking. The forest’s flora is the guide. The branches creating corridors, corralling wayward steps. Distinctive trees, rocks, and rare open spaces become suggestions, sentries, and signposts. Walk it once and forget. Walk it twice and remember. Every time the same way. Bring two confidants, show them the way. That is how a trail is made.
Essays and photographs from the Rabbit Island project are included in the recently released second issue of The Alpine Review, Returns. Included in the Places section are a brief piece about the Rabbit Island Residency, an interview with Rabbit Island’s founder, Rob Gorski, and lead artist in residence, Andrew Ranville, several photographs, and Rob’s essay about land use, There is no Antonym for Subdivision, exploring the cultural context of the project.
From The Alpine Review:
Beyond its interesting role as a place for artistic, social and scientific experimentation, Rabbit Island provides a strong metaphor against our obsession with intervention, which has ramifications far beyond its shorelines.
From the prologue of the second issue, Returns:
As the rate of change accelerates, many of us are devoting more and more energy to finding meaning, balance and a map that works. In pursuit of steady ground, we find ourselves looking to the past for solutions, inspiration, humility and truth. This more complete perspective allows us to weigh and measure the findings of today and yesterday, to pick what is appropriate, what works and what is real, and discard the obsolete, superfluous or absurd. Returning to first principles, original baselines and classic simplicity we take what has worked to solve what hasn’t, equipping ourselves with the wisdom of the ages as we correct and forge our path ahead.
The Alpine Review is a thoughtful 300+ page magazine published by Louis-Jacques Darveau in Montreal, Quebec. Copies can be found here.
This is the last week of our exhibition, Rabbit Island: Works and Research 2010-2013, at the DeVos Art Museum. If you are in northern Michigan before November 17th—last chance—stop in and see it in person.
For those unable to visit, photos from the opening and documentation of the work on display can be found at the DeVos Art Museum Flickr.
Thank you to museum director, Melissa Matuscak, and her staff for curating and installing an amazing exhibition. Thanks also to Edwin Robert Carter for designing a brilliant catalogue. A sincere thank you to all who have come to see the exhibition in person.
Melissa reported this earlier in the week: “We’ve had groups of all ages visit (literally from kindergartners to 90+) and everyone responds to the show with awe, interpreting it in very different ways. Six hundred and ninety-five students (K-12) came through a few weeks ago. Numerous groups from the university visited—not just art and design students but english, sociology, ecology, etc. A group of nail tech students even came through because they’d heard about Lucy Engelman’s illustrations and wanted to get inspired by new ideas for nail art! (I’m looking for photos of anything that came of the visit!) Just today, a group of early-stage alzheimer patients toured with Alzheimer Association staff and the photographs triggered conversations about their time visiting or living in the Keweenaw. The way the work has provoked the imagination of visitors has been fun to watch, not to mention what it says about the experience on Rabbit Island.”
Finally, thank you to all the artists, designers, photographers, and writers who contributed such great work: Emilie Lee, Andrew Ranville, Charlotte X.C. Sullivan, Colin Curry, Cabin-Time 3 (Sarah Darnell, Ryan Greaves, Geoffrey Holstad, Isabella Martin, Miles Mattison, Colin McCarty, Mary Rothlisberger), LoT Office for Architecture (Leonidas Trampoukis & Eleni Petaloti), David Buth/Summer Journeys/Christina Mrozik, Emily Julka, Helen Lovelee, Lucy Engleman, Rob Gorski, Sara Maynard, Tony Cenicola and Will Holman.
Essay by Emilie Lee, realist painter and artist in residence on Rabbit Island in July and August, 2013, originally published by Stio in their seasonal catalog (where Emilie serves as an Ambassador). Her landscape paintings can be seen at the DeVos Art Museum as part of the Rabbit Island Works and Research 2010 - 2013 exhibit until November 17th.
It’s 5:30 AM when I open my eyes, it takes a moment for me to realize that I’m not in my own bed in Brooklyn, NY, where the air is a crushing 100 degrees. I’m in a sleeping bag and lots of layers, savoring this warmth as a cold wind drives through sparse trees around me. I can hear waves crashing, it sounds like the ocean. Rob is already yanking on his wetsuit and saying “Waves like this could sink the boat, we’d better move it before this weather gets worse!” I spring into action and grab my own suit, soon we are chest deep in the frigid waters of Lake Superior, hauling our bodies over the bucking sides of the 17 foot Boston Whaler. I wrestle with the mooring ropes as Rob starts the engine and in a minute we are riding that heaving turquoise water away from shore. It doesn’t take long for us to round the southwest point of land and suddenly the boat planes flat and we glide safely through smooth water. Protected from the wind, this scene is a world away from the one we just left – the sun is beginning to warm the day and gentle waves lap the rocks.
The shoreline feels worn thin by the constant forces of wind and water. The trees on the edge are small and wiry, the sandstone bedrock has crumbled into chunks under the summer waves and winter ice. By contrast the island interior is a riotous jungle of thick moss, impenetrable undergrowth, and sturdy old trees. No mammals larger than mice live here, so the flora has grown unchecked. A nesting pair of bald eagles watch over this rare, fragile ecosystem that is contained by the impossible expanse of the largest freshwater lake in the world.This is how I began my first morning on Rabbit Island, a ninety-one acre oasis of wilderness located three miles off the Keweenaw Peninsula in northern Michigan. The island is home to a small artist residency, one where the artists sleep in tents, cook over a campfire, and go fishing for dinner. The only shelter from the elements is a three sided cabin that serves as a communal kitchen and dining area. Residents are responsible for cooking and doing chores around camp but otherwise are free to roam the island and find inspiration in this unique environment.
And what a lake it is! It’s immensity is hard to grasp. If emptied, it would flood North and South America to a depth of one foot, it holds 10% of all the earth’s fresh water, and it’s surface area is larger than all of New England. I had been aware of these facts before, but during my two weeks as a resident artist on Rabbit Island I gained a more intimate reverence for Lake Superior.
I spent my time making small oil paintings, standing still for hours at a time, immersed in observing the water, rocks, moss, and sky. For three days in a row we endured weather that was 45 degrees and raining with waves so big that some of the artists were able to take out their surfboards and catch some rides! On these days I was cold and shivering at my canvas, but transfixed by the challenge of painting the storm. With my easel set up on the wet rocks I was just out of the water’s reach while it reared and crashed in my face. I could peer into the cold clear water while the wind whistled around my head, sensing the threatening power of the legendary lake and the safe shelter that this delicate island was offering me.
It’s October now, and I’ve been back in New York City for a couple months. My paintings from Rabbit Island have joined others on my studio wall - like little windows into my memory, I can look into each one and be transported back to the day I made it, complete with all the sounds, sights, smells, and emotions that I experienced. I’m using these small paintings as inspiration for much larger canvases, and while I’m working in my studio I can almost feel the shivering cold of those stormy days. Digging into this remembered experience on a daily basis, I’ve uncovered more than just colors, shapes, and values for my artwork. I recall the simplicity of my daily routine on the island and how little I needed to be happy. A cold dip in the lake, a hot bowl of oatmeal, and I was ready to paint all day.
Back in New York, my life has more complexity, and at times I feel like I’m fighting upstream to carve out the uninterrupted hours I need to paint. During this past month of transitioning I’ve seriously questioned my choice to live here, is it time to move on and find my nest in the woods? Weighing my options, my instincts voted unanimously to stay put. I don’t feel ready to flee the city for a more secluded life. Instead I’m thinking about ways to simplify my routine and make room for the things that matter: painting, family, friends, and time to be reminded of nature’s beauty and power. I need the opportunities to expand my mind, to continue learning, to be challenged and inspired by the rich culture of art around me.
Photos of the Rabbit Island: Works and Research 2010-2013 exhibition at the DeVos Art Museum in Marquette, Michigan. Additional photos from the opening as well as installation shots can be found on the DeVos Art Museum Flickr page.
The exhibition runs until November 17th. It is our hope that this show helps define and advance the concept that the artist has a responsibility to consider that which he/she creates from a fundamental perspective, and serves as a celebration of the idea that wilderness is, indeed, a grand symbol of civilization. Thanks again to the organizers at Northern Michigan University and all artists involved.
Press release from the DeVos Art Museum. Come join us tomorrow.
Rabbit Island: Works and Research 2010-2013
We’re very excited to announce the opening of “Rabbit Island: Works and Research 2010-2013” tonight at the DeVos Art Museum in Marquette, Michigan. The show will run from October 11th to November 17th.
The island’s residency program, in beta stage since 2010, has welcomed over 50 artists, designers, musicians, writers, chefs and other creative thinkers, yet the island has been left in its native state. As the official residency program is set to launch in 2014, this exhibition looks back on the past three years of projects inspired by and created on the island. It is both an experiment in and discourse on the intersection of creation, consumption and conservation, ideas we feel very strongly about and would like to push to the forefront of our culture.
The exhibition features works by Emilie Lee, Andrew Ranville, Charlotte X.C. Sullivan, Colin Curry, Cabin-Time 3 (Sarah Darnell, Ryan Greaves, Geoffrey Holstad, Isabella Martin, Miles Mattison, Colin McCarty, Mary Rothlisberger), LoT Office for Architecture (Leonidas Trampoukis & Eleni Petaloti), David Buth/Summer Journeys/Christina Mrozik, David Drennen, Emily Julka, Helen Lovelee, Lucy Engleman, Rob Gorski, Sara Maynard, Tony Cenicola and Will Holman. A full color, fully illustrated catalogue is available for purchase.
October 11 – November 17, 2013
The opening reception is Friday, October 11th, from 6-8pm, featuring live music by Jen Koppin and a culinary collaboration between NMU’s Chef Nathan Mileski and Chef Kelly Geary, former Rabbit Island Chef-in-Residence and Chef-Proprietor, Sweet Deliverance, NYC.
Andrew will be making a presentation about the Rabbit Island Residency tomorrow, October 1st, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He’ll be speaking about the foundation of the program and what we have in store for the future at an ArtPrize event titled “Artist-Run Michigan”. Some info from the event website:
An incomplete inventory of artist-run initiatives in Michigan, featuring Paul Amenta of SiTE:LAB, Jerome Chu of Flint Public Art Project, Jenn Schaub of Avenue for the Arts, Geoffrey Holstad of Cabin Time, Wesley Taylor of Complex Movements, and Andrew Ranville of Rabbit Island Artist Residency. Each will give a short presentation about the past and future of their projects.
The talks kick off at 7pm. For those of you in the area come on out and say hello and ask any questions. The event is free and open to the public.