Posted by: Kath Usitalo | August 5, 2011

Museum Art Interprets Mackinac Island

Ruby glass etched with "Eight in our party - Mackinac Island" and the names of the pals on vacation, August 20, 1896

It was a drizzly day on Mackinac Island, a perfect time to head indoors to check out the art museum, the newest addition to the system of Mackinac Historic State Parks.

Raindrops on my camera blur the sign for the new museum, which is worth a visit even on a sunny day

Named for its major benefactors, The Richard & Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum is housed in the Indian Dormitory, an early example of Government Good Intentions.

The handsome white building was constructed in 1838 to house tribal members who came to the island to receive annual payments for the 15 million acres of northern Michigan land they had sold to the U.S. in the 1836 Treaty of Washington.

But it seems that most of the Indians preferred to camp out near the harbor on their annual visits. The would-be dormitory became an administrative building, customs house, and then the island’s schoolhouse; it also served as a museum from 1966-2002. Its three floors were renovated from top to bottom and it reopened as the art museum in 2010.

The museum is dedicated to art related to the island, the historic site in the Straits of Mackinac between Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas.

Kara, a Girl Scout guide and museum greeter

Much to my surprise, hundreds of miles from home, I was greeted at the museum entrance by a familiar face: Kara, a high school classmate of Paige’s, was on the island for her sixth season with her Girl Scout troop. She was serving a week-long tour of duty with the Governor’s Honor Guard, a volunteer program for Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts that started in 1929 when future President Gerald R. Ford served as an Eagle Scout.

Once inside the museum I was intrigued by the wall of maps of the Great Lakes, and companion touch-screen video.

The eclectic collection includes Native American traditional crafts, vintage photographs, souvenir china and modern interpretations of the local scene.

A large oil, “Fairy Arch, Mackinac Island” (1874) by Henry Chapman Ford (1828-1894) is an example of luminism, a style related to the Hudson River school of landscape paintings.

Visitors admire paintings of Mackinac Island scenes; "Fairy Arch" is at far left

I liked two paintings by Marion V. Loud (1880-1933): a sweet portrait of Emma Early working on a quilt, and a small painting of hollyhocks against a Fort Mackinac wall. The Detroit art teacher and artist was a summertime lodger at the Early family’s island boarding house.

“Building the Bridge–Mackinac Straits” (1956) is a fantastic etching by Reynold H. Weidenaar of Grand Rapids (1915-1985).

Other pieces range from intricate Indian beadwork to a vintage poster promoting a visit to Mackinac, the “island of romance.” One display showcases souvenir pictorial china with scenes of island landmarks, and ruby stained glasses etched with names and dates commemorating a Mackinac holiday.

A gallery is dedicated to the hand tinted photographs of the island by William H. Gardiner, who operated a studio on the island from 1896-1935.

Photographs by contemporary artists are now on display in a juried show that runs through October 9 when the season closes.

Maggie Nelson tries to convince me I can learn to draw

Kids and adults are invited to get creative in the art studio on the lower level of the building. When I dropped in a family was picking up a school of colorful paper fish they had made earlier in the day.

Museum staffer Maggie Nelson convinced me that she could teach me to draw, so I sat down to prove her wrong.

Two other visitors joined in and Maggie, a college art student, walked us through the basics of sketching a turtle. It was a fun time spent with delightful ladies…but my pencil drawing will never hang on the wall of the Mackinac Art Museum.

My turtle munches a chunk of Mackinac Island fudge









Here’s a twist on drawing life models:

Separate from the museum programs, the Mackinac Arts Council is offering drop in drawing sessions for adults featuring a live model in historic costume.
Classes are 7-9 p.m. August 9, 16, and 23; fee is $5 per class.

The MAC is also offering a drop in art class for kids, 6-7 p.m. Wednesday, August 10.

Class sizes are limited. Phone 517-243-1255

Visiting the Museum

Admission is charged. See the Mackinac State Historic Parks site for individual and package admission prices.

Visitor Info Clicks:

Mackinac Art Museum

Mackinac State Historic Parks

Mackinac Island

Pure Michigan 



  1. Based on what I can see your turtle drawing looks pretty darn good!

  2. Thanks…but Pixar has nothing to worry about!

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