A TRIO OF HIGH SCHOOL students puff up the path that winds through towering maples, past a white sculpture shaped like a tilted bonnet. Around another corner, a visiting artist is hanging colorful whirligigs. In the park’s center, a parked car draped with a red tarp invites students to “add something positive” to the tarp mural, and they did — bright-colored hearts and swirls, phrases like “Be nice” and “We are equal” and the particularly honest, “taco.”
Patricia Innis, the education director of the Michigan Legacy Art Park in Thompsonville, waits to steer another student group past the 50 sculptures and assorted poetry stones tucked cleverly amid the 30 acres of leased land on property owned by Crystal Mountain Resort. She knows them well, having created several.
At popular “Hemingway Haunts,” walnut dye on tree trunks brings to life in shadows characters like young Hemingway and the lead character of “Old Man and the Sea.” Innis was inspired by working on a Kalkaska area pond where Hemingway once fished and found story inspiration, and as she tells it, the author “reached across time” and collaborated on the idea.
Hemingway makes an appearance elsewhere, too. Park founder, the late artist David Barr, placed stones to suggest a river and lined it with outtakes from the author’s short story, “Big Two-Hearted River.” It’s just an example of the way artists have shared themes from Michigan history and culture since Barr conceived the park in 1995 to teach through experiences beyond pictures and dioramas, said Troy DeShano, the park’s special projects and communications director.
Visitors contemplate the impact of the lumber era through “Five Needles” and the way it resembles both trees and the sails involved with shipping Michigan forests to the world, and the differing ways the region’s settlers viewed relationships with the land and each other. In two sculptures, an open frame serves as a portal to nature as art itself.
The forest also changes the experience as foliage changes; mounds shaped like birds or serpents expand or contract, and shadows cast lines across pieces differently throughout the day. Even the giggles of students or sound of the wind become part of the experience, as does a surprise like a bald eagle soaring above the pavilion that hosts popular Friday night concerts in the woods.
Most visitors wander the 2-mile wooded trail network on their own with a trail map and guide booklet, but this year’s themed tours will include one led by a storyteller, another by a yoga instructor who incorporates the popular new concept of forest bathing, DeShano said.
Admission is $5 for adults. For more on upcoming events and concerts, visit michlegacyartpark.org.
Photography Courtesy Troy DeShano