Art & Artists by John Coyle Steinbrunner

July 14th, 2010

The Ox-Bow, Incidentally

This past weekend I was fortunate enough to stumble into an invitation to the 100th anniversary gala for Ox-Bow school of art and artists’ residencies in that greatest of Chicago suburbs: Michigan. Located ‘round the horn in Saugatuck, Ox-Bow was founded by artists Frederick Fursman and Walter M. Clute of the Art Institute of Chicago and has remained a refuge from our city’s mania ever since.

The evening was lovely: expensive cheeses, lots of turtles and a vast tent strung with tree limbs wrapped in lights framed a silent auction of paintings and sculpture and words of thanks from executive director Jason Kalajainen and board chairman Todd Warnock. More important than the art, at least for me this evening, was the magic of the place itself.

An ox-bow lake is a stretch of river that bends back on itself (in this case the Kalamazoo) that can become stranded when the waterway changes course. It’s a perfectly apt metaphor: cabins and studios, each with a storied history, scattered amongst the woods, cut off – but not far from – the flow of daily life. I was struck by how isolated and peaceful it was such a short drive from town, which is to say woodsy-crunchy-bugsy, saturated with OFF!® and a serious studio vibe. It’s like a daytrip to Camp Crystal Lake except Jason Voorhees is armed with nothing more threatening a #10 Kolinsky sable and really fetching blown-glass vase.

In all seriousness, it’s a serious art place accredited through SAIC and offering course hours in painting, sculpture, printmaking, glass, ceramics and drawing among others. Artists such as Claes Olenburg, Richard Haas, Leon Golub, Jim Henson, Ed Paschke, Nick Cave and a zillion others have put in time at Ox-Bow. After an evening there, that seemed like a good use of it. It’s nice to find pockets of calm not far from your door with the express purpose of making you make things. I, for one, plan to apply. Check it out, or one of their bi-annual fundraisers. (And when you make it to Saugatuck, breakfast at the Elbo Room is a must.)

– John Coyle Steinbrunner

J.C. is a painter in Chicago. He also founded and hosts The Salon Series to bring audiences and creatives together over dinner for an evening of discussion. He prefers Mexican lagers, Gibson guitars and the window seat. More about his art and work can be found at

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