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Rabbit Island pioneer

Ranville is first artist-in-residence

September 18, 2012
By RENEE PRUSI - Journal Staff Writer ( , The Mining Journal

MARQUETTE - He has worked on art projects around the globe, but for Andrew Ranville, there's something special about Rabbit Island.

"The first time you get to the island, there's the smell of the air hitting the white pines that's like coming home," Ranville said. "I have been around a lot of places, but there's nothing like Rabbit Island."

The first artist-in-residence on the small island off the coast of the Keweenaw Peninsula in Lake Superior, Ranville spoke at The DeVos Art Museum at Northern Michigan University Saturday. "No Island is a Man," an exhibit of his work on Rabbit Island, is on display at DeVos through Dec. 4.

Article Photos

Andrew Ranville, right, talks with Jo Foley of Marquette about his artwork on display at The DeVos Art Museum at Northern Michigan University in Marquette. Ranville is the first artist-in-residence on 91-acre Rabbit Island, which is located in Lake Superior off the Keweenaw Peninsula. (Journal photo by Renee Prusi)

It's the first in what's planned as an annual series of exhibits of the work of Rabbit Island artists-in-residence.

Ranville, whose base of operations is now London, England, said he has worked in many mediums including photography and wood. After earning his bachelor's from Bowling Green State, Ranville applied to the Slade School of Fine Art in London.

"I did no photography when I went to the U.K. to the distress of my professors, as I was accepted on my photography portfolio," Ranville said with a chuckle.

Instead, he did sculptures from wood that were reminiscent of his youthful interest in skateboarding and found ways to get exhibit patrons to interact with his work, like having one of his works in the elevator that was the only access to the display on the second floor.

From outdoor displays in Edinborough, Scotland, to a tree platform in Spain to a "puumaja" (tree house) in Finland, Ranville worked on a wide range of art styles in many countries, also including Morocco, China, Australia and the U.S.

His two summers - 2011 and 2012 - on Rabbit Island put the human timeline against the island's timeline, he said as he showed a photo of a view from the island that has radically changed because the wind knocked down one of the major trees featured in the shot.

Living on the island, which is located several miles into the world's largest freshwater lake, was a challenge of sustainability, taking into account things like there is no trash collection and no "quick" trip to a market, like so many people are accustomed to making.

Fishing became a main method of gaining food to eat, he said.

Back in 1893, a small wooden structure had been built on the island and had been used for three years, Ranville said.

"(The settler) had brought a bed over on a sleigh when the lake was frozen," he said.

Some pieces of this first shelter were incorporated into Ranville's work now on display at DeVos.

On the northwest side of the island, Ranville worked on an Adorondack style shelter with a nice kitchen and a library for which he built shelves.

An amphitheater - half by nature, half by man - is part of the island now as well.

"That will exist for as long as the island will let it," Ranville said. "Then the island will take it back."

Ranville walked around the island, using his GPS to help create a detailed map of what's there. That map is available for $5 for those interested in learning more about Rabbit Island.

And there are many who are interested, Ranville said, with many visitors coming to the place during this past summer even though Rabbit Island is only reachable by boat, with the closest public boat launch 7 miles away and the nearest private launch 3.82 miles distant.

So far, Ranville has not found any rabbits on the island, but has met up with mice, snakes, blue heron and a bald eagle family. He enjoyed the solitude of the experience, for the most part, but also enjoyed sharing the island with another artist who spent some time there as well.

"She is a competitive swimmer," Ranville said. "She's the first person to swim from the mainland to Rabbit Island."

About the name of the exhibit: This is what Ranville wrote for the handout being distributed at the DeVos:

"Part of the often-referenced 17th century prose states 'no man is an island entire of itself ... any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.' The artist residency on Rabbit Island takes an opposing view. It is a view of just how insignificant mankind is. Immersed in the environment of Rabbit Island - its flora and fauna - I experience no mythical spirit or ethereal presence. I experience the island as the physical, tangible, and finite place it is and always will be."

Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253.



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