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This week was spent on the shore of Lake Michigan, somewhere between Manistee and Traverse City, basking in these last moments of summer that will feel so distant in just a few short months. I honestly felt like I was living in a Pure Michigan commercial, fresh local blueberry muffins for breakfast, Michigan microbrews around the beach campfire, the breeze coming off the big lake, and shopping in quaint Up North towns… why would we ever want to live anywhere else?
Although our time was all about tech-free time relaxing with the family, I hoped for just one afternoon of venturing out from our secluded beach house, and much to my delight, we were able to sneak away 35 minutes north to Benzonia. There really is not much there, a few antique shops dotting the scenic M22 drive, a winery or two, but tucked away on River Rd., just west of 31, is Gwen Frostic’s studio. It may be sacrilege to admit, but I had not heard of this Michigan artist until we began selling her stationery at 6.25 Paper in Grand Rapids. I cannot tell you how many people came in and gushed over her block prints of trees, flowers, and birds. One woman’s nostalgia actually brought her to tears as she told me about how her mother had taken her to Frostic’s studio when she was young. That was all it took. I had to find out what all the hype was about.
Gwen’s work is inspired by the nature of her home, Northwestern Michigan’s coastal woods. She meticulously carved natural scenes into linoleum blocks that were printed using 19th century Heidelberg presses that are still in use in the studio today. She overcame childhood polio, with a diagnosis that she’d never walk, talk, or write, to become an acclaimed artist, continuing her craft into her 90’s and was eventually inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame.
The entire experience of visiting her studio feels like a holistic retreat. Tucked away under a green roof are countless prints, from her personal poetry books, to notebooks, stationery, and postcards, each item feeling personally crafted. To top it all off, the prices are fantastic and each purchase is carefully gift-wrapped with a piece of pine being affixed to each package, reconnecting the customer with nature, the inspiration of Frostic’s life work.
Inspiration comes in all forms, but there is something significant about the serene, reflective beauty of nature that enlivens the mind and renews the spirit. If we’re not careful, we can so easily neglect opportunities to engage with art and the natural world in favor of the superficial. Frostic’s work speaks of a life lived with eyes wide open.