PELLSTON—The University of Michigan Biological Station in northern Michigan selected three artists to explore their creative freedom away from home this summer and draw inspiration from the environment around Douglas Lake through its rustic artist residency program.
The 2023 Artist in Residence Program features environmental painter and printmaker Leslie Sobel in June, scientific researcher and artist Callie Chappell in July, and audio storyteller and podcaster Kyle Norris in August.
“Beauty is inspiring, especially in northern Michigan,” said Dr. Aimée Classen, director of the U-M Biological Station and a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutional Biology. “The work of these talented artists is truly stunning. We can’t wait to see their work come to life at our field station within our community of ecology students and scientific researchers.”
Each artist completes a live-in residency at the more than 10,000-acre research and teaching campus just south of the Mackinac Bridge in Pellston, located at 9133 Biological Rd.
The U-M Biological Station’s Artist in Residency Program, which began in 2018, is designed to introduce new artists to the region and give them the opportunity to interact with the robust scientific community on campus.
For 114 years, students, faculty and researchers from around the globe have studied and monitored the impact of environmental changes on northern Michigan ecosystems. The U-M Biological Station is one of the nation’s largest and longest continuously operating field research stations.
“We think by allying with artists and embedding them in our field station, together we can inspire deeper understanding and appreciation of local ecosystems and improve public engagement to support conservation,” Classen said.
June: Leslie Sobel
The daughter of two scientists, environmental artist Leslie Sobel of Ann Arbor is a painter and a printmaker who uses her mixed-media work to focus on climate change, water and the public’s disconnect from the natural world.
She integrates wilderness fieldwork in remote places with scientists — such as toxic algal blooms in Lake Erie and melting glaciers in the Arctic Circle — and time in the studio. She has incorporated data, satellite imaging and microscopic images of water samples into her paintings.
During her residency at the U-M Biological Station from June 4 through July 2, Sobel plans to bring several cameras, a field microscope, a sketchbook and journal and “be a sponge.” She’ll give drawing lessons to the students and scientists on excursions through the forest, as well as hold workshops in the lab to teach them how to make an art book.
“I learn so much from scientists about how the natural world works and how things are interconnected. Climate change is an existential threat to everything about human life,” Sobel said. “It’s critical to give people diverse ways to understand what is happening. Together, artists and scientists can make the information accessible to everyone. If data were enough, we’d have solved the problem 40 years ago. We aren’t changing people’s behavior with statistics and data. We change behavior though emotion. I am visually driven in my mission.”
The public is invited to Sobel’s free lecture, titled “Artist in the Wilderness: Field Work and Art Making,” from 7 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 21, at the U-M Biological Station.
After her residency, Sobel plans to go home to her studio in Ann Arbor, create a large work of art inspired by her time at Douglas Lake and curate a public exhibition.
Visit Sobel’s website.
July: Callie Chappell
Callie Chappell, Ph.D., who grew up in Traverse City, Michigan, is an ecologist and professional artist based in San Francisco, California. Their work blends stories of land, ecology and identity through a community-centered art practice.
While at the U-M Biological Station from July 16 through July 24, Chappell will host several cyanotype workshops outside where students, faculty, researchers and staff will make sun prints — blue, camera-less photographs — featuring personal items that are culturally significant to them as well as items they’ll forage during a nature walk, such as plants.
Each participant will make their own sun print on a sheet using photo-sensitive paper and two chemicals that react upon exposure to UVA radiation, and then work together as groups to make large collective tapestries that will be put on permanent display at the field station.
Participants put their items on paper and expose it to sunlight for about 10 minutes. They develop the film by washing the paper in the lake.
“Cyantotypes are the perfect example of how science and art interact to support each other,” Chappell said. “Early botanists used the photographic technique to make exact record of how plants looked. And I am taken by the blue color. Growing up in northern Michigan, you’re around a lot of lakes and inundated by blue. And Go Blue!”
The U-M alumna conducted research at the U-M Biological Station as an undergraduate student studying the chemical ecology of milkweed as well as aphids and earned their bachelor’s degree in biology in 2016 and master’s degree in molecular, cellular and development biology in 2017. Their Ph.D. in biology is from Stanford University.
Chappell is a Biosecurity Innovation and International Security Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) and Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI) at Stanford University.
The public is invited to Chappell’s free lecture from 7 to 8 p.m. Monday, July 17, at the U-M Biological Station.
Visit Chappell’s website.
August: Kyle Norris
Kyle Norris, a Michigan native who lives in Bellingham, Washington, will use his NPR skills honed over a 20-year career in public radio to make an audio profile of the bio station and help scientists and students tell powerful and clear stories about their research.
From Aug. 1 through Aug. 18, Norris will immerse himself in nature, use his microphone to record sounds of the forest and the lake, conduct interviews with researchers and students, and hold workshops to teach the field station’s scientific community how to communicate about their work so that “an everyday person” can understand them.
He’ll also share details about what it’s like to work in the worlds of podcasting and public radio. And he can talk about his behind-the-scenes production work on the top rated, true-crime podcast, “Suspect.”
Norris plans to leave the U-M Biological Station with enough recordings to make a sound-rich profile of the bio station.
“We can tell a compelling story about what we’ve learned from this place,” Norris said. “We just have to tap into emotions first to hold someone’s attention and deliver insights about why they should care. Art and science aren’t so different. We can learn from each other and incorporate each other so people like my grandma and your grandpa can understand what’s at stake when scientists present their facts and research results.”
Norris is a U-M alumnus who studied creative writing and earned a bachelor of arts degree in 1997. His career started at Michigan Radio. He now freelances as a journalist for both local and national NPR.
Visit Norris’ website.
For more information about the Artist in Residency Program or the campus in the Northwoods, visit the U-M Biological Station website.