Plein Air Preservation

Historic structures, old farmhouses, and beaches catch the keen eye of this oil painter // Photography by Carly Lynne Visuals
All’s serene in “Opening Day at Cottage.”

On any given summer morning, you might find artist Wendy McWhorter packing up her Volkswagen Beetle convertible to head down the road to capture the morning light against the lush backdrop of northwest Michigan. She’s always ready to catch nature’s ephemeral beauty and the area’s history in her signature countryside paintings.

A refreshing dip in the lake (Torch Lake and Lake Michigan are among her favorites) will be her post-lunch reward after a morning spent painting. McWhorter, who lives in Kewadin, north of Elk Rapids, is a former elementary and middle school art teacher. Her impressionistic oil paintings are gaining renown in her community and beyond for their focus on preservation.

“Lady Lightkeeper Summer Garden” showcases lightkeeper quarters on North Manitou Island.

McWhorter’s favorite subjects are the barns of Antrim, Charlevoix, and Leelanau counties, once part of homesteaders’ property on which they built a new life for their families. Following her career as an art teacher, McWhorter found a passion for painting historic farms and the flora that would have surrounded them. Coneflowers, lilacs, daffodils, irises, and forget-me-nots, which were popular in northwest Michigan at the turn of the 20th century, often pop up in her work. She also likes to tuck a slice of Lake Michigan in the background of many paintings — it’s a nod to the beautiful views many of the farms once had.

Painter Wendy McWhorter says “I love the mixing of the colors and I like how juicy the colors become.”

“I’ve painted many of the houses and farmsteads in historic Port Oneida,” McWhorter says, referring to part of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore that features a large collection of preserved farms that are typical of the turn-of-the-century farms found throughout the Midwest. (Learn more at the Port Oneida Farms Heritage Center or attend the Port Oneida Fair Aug. 9-10.)

McWhorter seeks inspiration from some of the great impressionist painters, like Monet.

“I liked how they followed the light,” the artist muses. She’s also influenced by the late artist Wolf Kahn and Franklin, Mich., artist Peggy Hawley.

McWhorter likes to capture the fleeting beauty of nature through thick brushstrokes that impart intensity, vibrant paints, and harmonious color pairings. “I love the mixing of the colors and I like how juicy the colors become,” she says.

The former teacher also loves to pour herself into her community through her work with intellectually and physically challenged young adults, and says she enjoys teaching workshops at Interlochen. In the warmer months, McWhorter likes to paint en plein air, and can often be found at plein air events in Leland, Glen Arbor, and Petoskey.

”May Blossoms” captures the refreshing light of the spring season.

Once she finds (or returns to) a worthy subject, McWhorter reimagines its surroundings. Dilapidated farmhouses seem to come back to life amid the backdrop of McWhorter’s sparkling blue lakes.

“This whole area, northwest Michigan, is integral to my subjects,” McWhorter says, while preparing for a show at the Botanic Garden at Historic Barns Park in Traverse City (the show runs through June 20).

The artist paints along a favorite shoreline. “Fresh water is crucial to my well-being as an artist,” she says.

She explains that she prepares to paint each piece she undertakes by creating a color study in her preferred high-key (lighter end of the value scale) palette, always pulling in complementary and analogous colors; greens and violets rank high on her list of shades. Then, she dives in, painting on birch panels. She easily gets lost in the process, inspired by the area’s natural beauty — and her efforts aren’t going unnoticed. She was selected as the Port Oneida Fair 2023 poster winner for Forgotten Coneflowers at Burfiend Farm, and garnered local attention for the places she hopes to preserve.

Although McWhorter’s work often focuses on local history, water is what keeps her anchored here. “Fresh water is crucial to my well-being as an artist,” McWhorter says. Whether she’s painting along Grand Traverse Bay, taking a dip in Torch Lake, or reimagining a farmhouse’s view, the water is never forgotten. “It’s why I’ve always come back to Michigan. Michigan is home because that’s where the water is.”

“Path to Beach,” portraying Sleeping Bear Bay near Glen Haven, inspires viewers’ eyes to take a pleasant “walk” to the beach.


Wendy McWhorter’s artwork “Bayview” was chosen as part of a public art exhibit called “Unique Art of Antrim County” and will be displayed in downtown Bellaire June-October. To see more of her work, visit or follow her on Instagram @wendypaintswithoil.


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