Marquette has rich art heritage

The Marquette Harbor is pictured. (Photo courtesy of the Marquette Regional History Center)

MARQUETTE — As summer finally arrives in Marquette, our city is gearing up toward Art Week June 23-29. While this festival is only in its fifth year, Marquette and the natural beauty of the surrounding region has a long history of attracting artists to the area.

Art historian, Edgar Richardson, said “Painting sprang up here in the wilderness…there was nothing to foster it- nothing but the inner urge, a need of the imagination, a thirst in the souls that demanded satisfaction and created art, by sheer force of will, while the forest trees still grew around them.” Although he was talking about painting in America in general, he could just as easily been talking about painting in Marquette.

One of the early artists whose work is found in the Marquette Regional History Center’s collection is Edwin Schrottky of Negaunee. Two of his large paintings are on display at the museum. The first, located near the elevator on the second floor, is an 1873 view of Marquette’s busy harbor- clogged with docks, boats and floating logs, all under a pall of smoke from various industries.

This is a complete contrast with his second painting of Teal Lake from 1875 which is located in the History Center’s gathering hall. It has a quiet feeling, you can see how wild the area was and almost feel alone with the sole exception of the “White House.” This house, the first summer home on the lake, was built circa 1860 by James Reynolds of Ohio and burned down in 1879. A duplicate of the Teal Lake painting is also on display at the Negaunee Public Library.

By the early 1880s Schrottky had left the area moving to Ripon, Wisconsin, although he returned to the area briefly in 1889 to paint four murals on the walls of John Johnson’s new saloon in Negaunee and again in 1893, before leaving permanently.

A more recent member of Marquette’s art community is Nita Engle. She is considered one of America’s foremost watercolor artists, exclusively painting outdoor scenes and painting nothing she has not experienced. Nita grew up in Marquette, graduating from Graveraet in 1944 and briefly attended Northern Michigan University before continuing her studies at Roosevelt University and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Nita then worked as a commercial artist and illustrator, including nine years as art director for a national advertising firm before her big break in 1967 when she entered the American Watercolor Society’s annual show in New York City. This national exposure brought Nita attention from major publications and she went on to provide illustrations for everything she says, “From Reader’s Digest to Playboy.” She eventually returned to Marquette in the late 1970s and set up a studio.

Nita was known for her experimental techniques which have now become part of the standard repertoire, including colors applied from squirt bottles and spraying the canvas with water and tilting the canvas which allows the colors to blend and spread naturally.

Regarding her work, Nita wrote, “There is so little wilderness left; we are surrounded by pavement. My goal is to take you into the landscape through my painting. I want you to actually be there, although briefly, to be as fully engaged and engrossed in the painting as you might be in a book, far away in a different land. I want to make a space where there is freedom for the mind to wander.”

Marquette’s natural beauty continues to attract numerous painters and artists of other media whose work we appreciate daily in our community. We encourage you to get out and experience Art Week, either through viewing the works of others or through trying your own hand at something new.

The Marquette Regional History Center is participating in Art Week with our Changing Hands: Heritage Crafts Exhibit and our 14th Annual Cemetery Walk. The exhibit showcases a variety of traditional crafts from our immigrant, Victorian and Native American ancestors, along with contemporary art, and is open during normal museum hours through September 26.

This year’s cemetery walk features local artists of all kinds, including painters, musicians, and photographers. The walk will be held twice, at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Tuesday, June 25 and will begin near the main gate at Park Cemetery on Seventh Street. A $5 suggested donation. For more information visit marquettehistory.org or call 906-226-3571.