Saugatuck Summer Art School

when i was compiling yesterday’s post about art appreciation i came upon these photos taken by Wallace Kirkland for Life magazine. the photo essay shows scenes from a summer art school in 1948, and after a bit of googling i discovered that the school in question still exists! OxBow is situated in the Saugatuck area of Michigan, and was established over a century ago.

Founded by Frederick Fursman and Walter Marshall Clute, artists from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Ox-Bow was to serve as a respite for artists from the industrializing havoc of Chicago. Today, Ox-Bow’s longevity is due to the strength of this mission and the artists who have held true to it.

it all looks like a dream to me – hanging out, drawing and screenprinting and making ceramics and taking boats across the lake to do plein air painting… a dream! and man were these girls in the 40s awesome. i love their rolled up jeans and casual white shirts. saugatuck summer art school looks pretty damn cool.

this last photo was taken by Loomis Dean in 1949. “Nude Model Doris Fischer smoking cigarette as she takes a 5 minute break fr. posing for a half hour for students at Oxbow, The Art Institute of Chicago’s summer school.”

edit: i received an email from Professor Tony Jones, who is the Chancellor & President-emeritus of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago telling me a bit more about the school…

Hello Diana in Capetown, South Africa, this is Tony Jones in Chicago, USA, sending to say a big Thank You for the story you posted about the Oxbow Summer School of Painting in Saugatuck, Michigan, USA.

You are most perceptive (as are those who left comments) – Oxbow is indeed an idyllic place, almost a dream-definition of what a summer art camp of the beach would look like in a fantasy. But fantasy not – it’s real, and if you saw it today, the years between 2013 and year when these photographs were taken, 1948, would melt away. Oxbow is a flourishing haven for artists, and is run by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (which is 150 miles away on the other side of Lake Michigan – Oxbow is on the west coast of Michigan – what is called “The Sunset Coast”). In the photograph showing the model atop a dune, being painted by a group of students, it shows the big lake in the background – but the pictures of students in canoes is the Oxbow Lagoon (now, how romantic is that ? – a private freshwater lagoon, with no powerboats, no jet-skis, and partly covered with flowering water-lilies, just like Monet’s gardens at Giverny. Artists mount easels on the canoes and paddle out into the lily-fields to paint directly from nature).

And speaking of models – yes, we still teach a class called The Figure in the Landscape, and you’d find a model posing (wearing only bug-spray) and students painting her … along with classes in sculpture, printmaking, bronze-casting, wrought-iron, ceramics, textiles, papermaking, and glassblowing … in a wonderful open-air hot-glass studio right on the edge of the lagoon.

Oxbow is now over 100 years old and we still run it as it always was – an escape from busy downtown Chicago to a silent, calm, rustic retreat of about 150 acres, set on the lagoon, surrounded by thick woodlands, several herds of deer, with no cars, no streetlights, just studio and very basic cabins for sleeping, beautiful workshops and The Inn, the gathering place where we provide all meals (the belltower chimes and you come back from wherever you are and eat en famille – then go back to your work. At Oxbow you come just to work, there are no distractions, you are there at your own speed to draw or dream). Oxbow is a very special place, deeply loved by all who attended or taught there, and we keep it that way – and the list of alumni is quite extraordinary : imagine the summer when one of the students, short of cash, but with a culinary talent that matched his art ability, agreed to be the paid cook … and returned the following summer from his Art Institute studies in sculpture to work in the Oxbow studios – he is Claes Oldenburg, founder of the Pop Art movement in New York, and one of America’s leading and most influential artists (and Oxbow alumni !).

This article from LIFE is really a joy – and quite a number of the people in the photographs have been identified, some still alive and recalling the period well. I’m contacting LIFE to see of they still have the originals and the out-takes that never made it to the magazine – I am currently writing about the School of the Art Institute and it’s various off-site art-camps (in Colorado, Wisconsin, Michigan and even Mexico), so your link came to me with great delight – thanks thanks and thanks again.

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25 Responses to Saugatuck Summer Art School

  1. Frances Wednesday 10 April, 2013 at 12:12 pm #

    Love this series of dreamy photos!
    They’re inspiring and beautiful and free-spirited and in a way- golden.
    Thank you Miss Moss x

  2. Marie Wednesday 10 April, 2013 at 12:19 pm #

    My grandmother was an artist and she attended a similar art school (on the other side of Michigan) around the late-40’s. This helps me imagine how she spent her days – very cool!

  3. thecitygourmand Wednesday 10 April, 2013 at 1:00 pm #

    The beach pictures are surely the best!

  4. Sarah Wednesday 10 April, 2013 at 1:01 pm #

    wow i love this! what beautiful photos, what style and what an amazing place!

  5. Yolanda Wednesday 10 April, 2013 at 2:49 pm #

    OxBow is a special place. Not much has changed since the late 40s.

  6. Sara Wednesday 10 April, 2013 at 2:55 pm #

    really inspiring :)

  7. Emma Wednesday 10 April, 2013 at 3:51 pm #

    wow–these are really incredible. i wish i had a time machine so i could join in that first picture–it looks so idyllic.

    -Emma from littlemotley.blogspot.com

  8. pao Wednesday 10 April, 2013 at 4:06 pm #

    Ohh, I used to go there every summer. It’s just like that still. I have such special memories of the place. deep sigh. And I have great pictures too…

  9. Lisa Wednesday 10 April, 2013 at 4:40 pm #

    Such inspiring photos! If only I could spend my summer days this way – full of creativity.
    Thanks for the inspiration

    -Lisa

  10. Rackk & Ruin Wednesday 10 April, 2013 at 6:18 pm #

    These are so fantastic!! I want to LIVE there!!

  11. ellie Wednesday 10 April, 2013 at 6:29 pm #

    i love these – thank you for posting them : )

  12. Kelly Rae Wednesday 10 April, 2013 at 10:23 pm #

    You are making me nostalgic. I went there during the summer of 2008. I agree with Yolanda. The photos really capture the amazing aura that exists in that place. <3 <3 <3 I also want that life magazine!

  13. caitlin Thursday 11 April, 2013 at 1:51 am #

    yes! that area, in fact several spots along that side of Lake Michigan, have drawn artists for years and years! It was also a destination for families to go during the hot summers, leaving their husbands often behind. these photos are great! I will have to look for Oxbow when I find myself by the lake this summer!

  14. JR Thursday 11 April, 2013 at 5:23 pm #

    Thank you so much for posting about us! It’s so wonderful to see old photos of Ox-Bow. And, even more so to have you share how great our alumni are.

    We think you’re pretty cool, too. You’re more than welcome to stay with us! The lagoon, dunes, forest and beaches await you.

    -JR for Ox-Bow

  15. Christina Marie Friday 12 April, 2013 at 8:59 pm #

    Amazing photos!

    xx
    http://www.naturally-christina.blogspot.com

  16. Amy Friday 12 April, 2013 at 9:43 pm #

    My summers at the Chautauqua Institute in New York state and Interlochen Center for the Arts in Northern Michigan have felt a bit like this. Thanks for sharing these!

  17. lisa Saturday 13 April, 2013 at 3:44 am #

    I love the “-JR for Ox-Bow” comment/invitation! You gotta go now mm!

  18. Frances Saturday 13 April, 2013 at 11:36 pm #

    Wow! Love these photos – and love all the comments from the OxBow related people too. It sounds like it’s still a wonderful place.

  19. Sue Sommers Monday 15 April, 2013 at 3:42 pm #

    Thank you so much for doing this. Makes me feel the timeless quality of Ox-Bow.

  20. Anna of Green Gable Monday 15 April, 2013 at 7:42 pm #

    Very “Moonrise Kingdom”!

    xo green gable

  21. christine Thursday 18 April, 2013 at 6:03 pm #

    Yes! Saugatuck is my hometown and it is still exactly like this. I attended Ox-Bow as not only a local resident but also as a student when I attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and it is the most magical and wonderful place. I was there pre-cell phones, and at least at the time (not sure if this is still true) there was only one pay phone, no newspapers, no television, no laptops, and no outside exterior lighting. It was you and nature, making art. A truly amazing place that I am so lucky to call home.

  22. Sue Monday 6 May, 2013 at 6:27 am #

    Being a kid at ox-bow in the 50’s and 60’s was a real treat. Following my mom around while she had her painting and jewelry classes. What an education I got!

    Thank you for posting these amazing pictures!

  23. David Rosenak Tuesday 7 May, 2013 at 6:10 am #

    That’s my mother the late Carol (Soderberg) Rosenak seated in the 4th photo and with her arms folded in the 12th. Carol went on to become a very accomplished and successful (and wonderful) artist, and loved the time she spent at Ox Bow courtesy of her cousins the Deams who owned (and still own) adjoining property around the lagoon. Thank you so much for posting these evocative photos!

  24. David Rosenak Tuesday 7 May, 2013 at 7:33 am #

    (seated in the lower right corner of the 4th photo, I should have said)

  25. Kate Sunday 12 October, 2014 at 8:31 pm #

    I also grew up in Saugatuck, and remember Ox Bow as the most magical and enchanting place. Thank you for this post. I would love to see Tony Jones’ book someday.
    :))))

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