NMU outdoor rec students get creative

Northern Michigan University student Noah Ballek demonstrates his lap guitar, which he crafted from driftwood. The piece was one of many created by NMU Outdoor Recreation Leadership and Management students, which were on display at a pop-up art show at the Marquette Arts and Culture Center. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

MARQUETTE — A plugged-in piece of driftwood can make the most bizarre of sounds.

Recycled bicycle parts don’t have to fill the landfill.

Rocks can look more appealing when spritzed with water.

These are just of the few nuggets of wisdom that could have been gleaned from Thursday’s artist reception for the annual pop-up art show held in conjunction with the Marquette Arts and Culture Center and Northern Michigan University’s “Leisure Through the Ages” course.

The exhibit, which was to have run through Tuesday at the MACC, featured work from students taking the course, a requirement for those earning an Outdoor Recreation Leadership and Management degree at NMU.

The professor who teaches that course, Jacquie Medina, is familiar with their artistic efforts — and, of course, the outdoor world.

“It’s a class where we look at the intersections of the humanities of art, music, dance and literature with leisure, outdoor rec and nature,” Medina said.

Yes, these supposedly disparate subjects can have something in common, and the students have been discovering this throughout the semester.

Exhibits at Thursday’s reception ranged from crocheted items to hanging painted postcards to a video — all with outdoorsy themes.

Their final projects, Medina said, involved the students creating their own products that expressed their rec-related relationships through at least one humanity.

However, not everybody is a sculptor, nor are they necessarily welders or musicians.

Showing that student diversity was one of the exhibit’s goals.

“A lot of them show art in so many different forms,” Medina said.

As with many art forms, though, it’s really about the process.

“We spend time exploring the concept of creativity and spontaneity and improvisation, and that process that you go through, so that hopefully throughout the course, they’re experiencing it in order to understand what other artists do,” Medina said. “But then by the end they realize, ‘I can do this. I can move through that process too.'”

Laura Long, one of the students who participated in the exhibit, crocheted hats — with a feminist bent.

“Mainly I wanted to explore crocheting,” Long said. “I wanted to get better at it.”

However, she pointed out that crocheting traditionally is seen as “women’s work.”

“I wanted to question what that really was, because in our field, outdoor recreation, it’s mostly dominated by white males,” she said.

So, Long decided to bring that traditional art/domestic craft into the playing field of outdoor rec and challenge the idea of so-called “women’s work.”

Keep in mind, though, that wearing hats usually is a not specific to one gender.

“It’s just like a stereotypical thing that women do, but making these hats is practical and useful in the outdoors,” Long said.

Student Noah Ballek’s creation was audio in nature but still had a rustic look.

His stringed musical instrument was made out of a piece of driftwood he found on the side of a trail at Hidden Beach.

The trail got wrecked from a recent storm, he said, which presented an opportunity.

“A lot of driftwood came there,” Ballek said.

That gave him the idea of making a lap guitar — an idea others have had too.

“Back in the Depression era, a lot of the blues musicians would make guitars like that,” Ballek said.

A musician from that time period would use one guitar string and a bottle, put some nails on a board and then wrap the string around the nails, he said.

And like today’s musicians, some tweaking was necessary.

“Sometimes they used a pickup, which projects the sound, and sometimes they didn’t,” Ballek said.

At the pop-up show, Ballek — or any visitor who wanted to — could plug in and play the lap guitar, resulting in an unusual and deep reverberating sound.

“I thought it would just be a great idea and something to get into, and why not enjoy it?” said Ballek, who plays a regular guitar as well.

Other NMU students had their own reasons for creating what they did.

In his artist’s statement, Nicholas Racette said he wanted to incorporate one of his hobbies, be it climbing, snow sports or cycling, in his project.

“After weeks of brainstorming, I landed on the thoughts of reusing some materials I had already attained over the years,” Racette wrote. “After looking through piles of gear, it became apparent that I have many bike parts to spare.”

His quest for his pop-up project was to bring “back to life” parts of his original bike, which he had rebuilt.

“I wanted to give new life and meaning to the original materials of a two wheeled machine that has helped me explore many miles of road from the Lower Peninsula to the Yoop and continues to bring me smiles when speeding down a hill with no intentions but to keep the bars straight,” Racette wrote.

The pop-up reception ran in conjunction with the reception for the Superiorland Woodturners, who are featured in the Winter LSAA Gallery Exhibit at the MACC through Dec. 30.

LSAA stands for the Lake Superior Art Association.

Visitors can view one-of-a-kind creations like a dyed cherry lidded vase, a red cedar vase with a zipper and a spotted maple oval bowl.

Norm Hefke of Harvey is one of the artists with pieces on display.

His specialty is bowls made from burls, abnormal growths found on some trees.

“I just love turning burl wood,” Hefke said.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.