Back to the old school

Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve Nature School hosts traditional arts gathering

Jan Zender is pictured at the Marquette Regional History Center during a presentation on birch bark canoe construction Wednesday. Zender is one of many traditional artisans who will be at The Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve Nature School’s three-day Traditional Arts Gathering on the Yellow Dog River from Thursday to Saturday. Thursday and Friday are reserved for school groups, but Saturday from 9 a.m to 4 p.m is open to the public for $25. Pre-registration is required. To register, contact YDWP program administrator Rochelle Dale at rochelle@yellowdogwatershed.org. (Journal photo by Corey Kelly)

BIG BAY– Genuine artisans in this modern world, filled to the brim with mass-produced items, may start to become hard to find.

However thanks to a $4,000 grant from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, The Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve will host a three-day Traditional Arts Gathering on the Yellow Dog River from Thursday through Saturday, which will bring attention to local and regional artisans in Big Bay. Thursday and Friday are reserved for school groups, but Saturday from 9 a.m to 4 p.m is open to the public for $25. Pre-registration is required, to do so, contact YDWP program administrator Rochelle Dale at rochelle@yellowdogwatershed.org

“The great thing about the traditional arts is that it’s all natural materials,” Dale said. “So we are going to be working with materials that we can get from the woods or our natural environment.”

The event will place take off of Marquette County Road 510 just passed the Yellow Dog River bridge near Big Bay. Dale said that there will be signage along the road to direct attendees.

Traditional arts demonstrations include split ash basketry from Dan Nye, pottery from Sarah Goodman, blacksmithing from Gordon Gearhart, hide tanning by the YDWP, birch bark canoe construction from Jan Zender, hand made drum construction from John Jungwirth, wild ricing techniques from Roger LaBine of Lac Vieux Desert, and primitive fire making from Adam Jones and Sarah Heuer.

“I don’t like to say dying arts — craftsmen who are making stuff — because we are still alive and doing this; but it seems to be a diminishing number of people who have those kinds of skills, and most of the world was built that sort of thing, people capable of doing something,” Zender said.

Zender, who became interested in 18th-century lifestyles in his youth, has established himself as a traditional crafter of silver, wood and leather. He and Dale, who are partners and live off the grid in the Big Bay area, often work together educating the public about sustainable lifestyles and traditional skills.

“Part of the nature school idea is to get people out into the woods into the wilderness and get people to learn to love the river and the woods, because if we learn to love our place, then we take of it,” Dale said. “That’s our hope; that’s our goal.”

On Thursday students from Marquette Alternative High School will attend the arts gathering and on Friday Powell Township School students are scheduled to arrive. Dale hopes that these demonstrations will give young and old a chance to interact and make connections to the natural world in new ways.

“I think that with technology advancing and advancing it’s causing a disconnect with nature and I think it’s showing negatively in our young people and older people too, so if we can reduce that gap in some way I think it will make us all a healthier community,” Dale said.

Students will be divided into groups and given hands-on demonstrations by each artisan. Then after a break, students will have free time to interact with the craftsmen based on their interest.

“If young people can find something in nature that draws them in, so if it’s art, or building canoes, or sitting on the river bank writing poetry, whatever it is, if they can be exposed to these different ideas and find little niche for them that would be really great thing and we could feel like, ‘Oh we did something good today,'” Dale said.

On Saturday lunch will be available for purchase with basic amenities available, such as a composting toilet, along with some light refreshments such as coffee and tea. There will be a screened-in kitchen area. However, Dale encourages attendees to dress for the weather and bug appropriate.

“It is a primitive setting and you will have to walk a little bit,” said Zender.

All proceeds from this event go towards the Yellow Dog Water Preserve’s education fund. For more information call 906-345-9223, visit www.yellowdogwatershed.org or at Dale at rochelle@yellowdogwatershed.org.

Corey Kelly can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 243.