Ox-Bow continues to lure artists and students

February 17, 2009
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Ox-Bow School of Art and Artists’ Residency in Saugatuck Township has been undergoing a bit of a building boom with the addition last summer of the two-structure, 4,200-square-foot Metternich Lodge artists residence and the 2,200-square-foot Janie House, a nine-bed residence for art students. Now under construction at the summer arts camp is a new $750,000 print studio: the Works on Paper Studio.

When the new print studio opens this spring, it will accommodate all traditional print processes, allow the studio to offer letterpress courses for the first time and provide clean space for new media drawing and works, according to Ox-Bow.

The building spurt has been made possible through a $4 million, five-year capital campaign that Ox-Bow kicked off in 2007. To date, $1.7 million has been raised, said Sarah Workneh, associate director and director of maketing for Ox-Bow. Of the total fund, $1.5 million will go to an endowment for student scholarships, campus preservation and stewardship of Ox-Bow land, Workneh noted.

Each year Ox-Bow awards sholarships to 13 students from competitive art schools and departments all over the nation.

Up until summer 2008, the most recent building projects on campus were an addition to the school’s glass studio in 2002, an addition to the Ox-Bow Inn in 2006, and that same year, construction of the nine-bedroom Marshall student housing facility, Workneh said.

Over nearly a century of operation, the five-week summer art camp has served artists from all backgrounds and levels of experience. Some 40 to 45 Ox-Bow faculty members give instruction in six areas: ceramics, glass, painting and drawing, papermaking, print and metals.

In order to reach as many artists as possible, Ox-Bow offers instruction through two main programs: its core residency program and its Art on the Meadow program. The core program offers one- and two-week courses from June through August each year for credit- and non-credit-seeking beginning, intermediate, and advanced art students.

Three years ago, the school introduced residential three-credit core courses during the first two weeks of January. The new Metternich Lodge and Janie House are winterized, which makes it more convenient now for Ox-Bow to offer courses in the off-season. Some 28 students attended the winter session in January.

From June through August, Ox-Bow’s Art in the Meadow program offers one- and two-week courses for kids, teens and adults living or vacationing in the Saugatuck area. Between 80 and 100 people participate in Art on the Meadow during the course of a summer.

Workneh said about 420 students attend Ox-Bow’s core progam each summer. The majority of them are degree-seeking students, and they receive credit from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, with which Ox-Bow has been affiliated since its inception. In 1987, SAIC assumed responsibility for Ox-Bow’s academic program, and in 1995 Ox-Bow and SAIC formalized a sponsorship agreement. A large contingent of students come from SAIC, but Ox-Bow also attracts students from art schools across the nation, Workneh said.

Ox-Bow usually has some 15 artists-in-residence living on campus during any given week of the summer session, but rather than instruction, they offer an additional perspective on the overall arts community, Workneh said. Ox-Bow executive director Jason Kalajainen said approximately 60 artists-in-residence visit Ox-Bow throughout the year. They come to Ox-Bow to prepare for an exhibit or to work on a new project, and Ox-Bow gives them “that space, that time and that removal” they need to move forward on a body of work, he said.

The fact that students reside on campus while taking core program courses in the summer and the two-week session in the winter is a big part of the whole experience, Workneh said.

“It gives students a little bit of a divorce from the rest of their life and the time to engage the artistic environment,” she noted. 

Ox-Bow has been a refuge for visual artists for 99 years. Artists Frederick Fursman and Walter Marshall Clute from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago founded Ox-Bow in 1910. Its location on 115 acres of natural forests, dunes, meadows and a lagoon was selected to provide professional and emerging artists the time and solitude to pursue their work “in an inspirational setting free from the expectations of commercial and academic demands.”

The founders believed that Ox-Bow’s rural location would give artists respite from the “industrializing havoc” of Chicago, according to Ox-Bow history. The nearly century-old summer school for the arts has hosted many of the Midwest’s most prominent artists over the years.

Kalajainen said he thinks it’s a combination of things that continues to attract art students to Ox-Bow after all these years: the synthesis of the “spectacular” natural environment and the chance to get away from the “dailyness” of  the world. Furthermore, there are very few distractions on campus: There are no clocks, no cable TV, and cell phones don’t work well because of its rural location.

“I think that really frees artists up to be creative and explore different ideas that they might not have an opportunity to in their ongoing artistic practice,” Kalajainen said. “When you’re at Ox-Bow, you really feel that you’re  in a different world.

“There is a real community that forms at Ox-Bow: You’re interacting with really amazing artists, art students and art appreciatiors from all over and from a variety of backgrounds, and I think that’s really energizing to a lot of folks that come to Ox-Bow.”

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