For many the image of a cabin inspires a sense of escape; it’s a home away from home and a remote destination for respite. Unplugging from daily life is oftentimes the biggest draw incubating relaxing conversation by a fire or finding focus in enjoyable chores like chopping wood. This summer the organizers at Cabin Time, a roaming art collective, took that idea a step further and hosted a creative sojourn in upper Michigan at Bogus Lake. Participants were not only destined to form new friendships but also draft off the creative freedom one can only find in the woods. Artist Lucy Engelman shares her experience.
How did a program like Cabin Time come together?
Cabin time is the brainchild of Geoffrey Holstad, an illustrator from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Together with his friends Ryan Greaves (designer/photographer) and Colin McCarthy (photographer) also from Grand Rapids, Cabin Time was born out of a desire to go on outdoor adventures and create a cooperative environment for makers in remote places. Since the first residency to the Porcupine Mountains in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan made up of only Michigan-based artists, the program has grown into a roaming creative residency that invites makers from all over the world to create site specific work inspired by week-long exploration.
Cabin Time 2 on Bogus Lake in Grand Marais, Minnesota brought the addition of an artist well versed in residencies, Mary Rothlisberger from Palouse Washington to the staff, contributing to the continuing growth and fine tuning of the project. Following each trip, there is an exhibition in Grand Rapids, where the CT team is based, usually as part of a larger event called Art Prize.
Spending time in the woods—let alone a cabin—is a pretty intimate affair that was certain to incubate some lofty ideas. Care to share any standout moments?
I personally had the opportunity to attend Cabin Time 2 on Bogus Lake in Grand Marais, Minnesota and after more than 16 hours in the car, you begin to give in to getting to know each other. Never in my life have I spent that much time telling stories and laughing so hard.
Ryan Greeves was creating a hoaxes series of photographs and had Geoff swim out to the middle of the lake with a silhouette of the Loch Ness monster while the rest of us looked on from the shore. There was a giant beaver damn on Greg Hennes of Antler & Co.’s property where we were staying where the water was dyed sepia tones and giant trees were toppled over by the beavers. It looked like a scene from prehistoric times. Ian from the North Folk School in Grand Marais came and taught us how to harvest birch and spruce roots to make baskets out of which was way harder than it looked. There was a lot of exploring, lots of hanging around the fire, lots of making and a little tattooing. Saying it was inspiring is an understatement.
I assume your routine was anything but typical. Can you walk me through a day in the life of an artist at Cabin Time?
Anyone who has been camping knows that it’s almost impossible to sleep in too late because the world around you is ready to go and you should be too. Most of us would be up around 7:30am and breakfast would be made usually by two girls, Laura and Mary inside Greg’s one room cabin and usually consisting of potatoes and eggs. Some days we had plans such as visiting Lake Superior or a visit from a neighbor. If there wasn’t an activity planned, there was still plenty to do from swimming, canoeing, or working on whatever project you had brewing to exploring the area and meeting the eccentric neighbors living in the unruly wild of Minnesota. Greg spent the day building and repairing and there were always people hanging out in the cabin. He has a very extensive library and just by chance, everyday there was a reading of some kind, usually Billy Collins.
We usually swam at least once a day and you could always find someone to go exploring with or help you out with your newest creation. Dinner was a communal effort as well, usually before dark and would end with everyone sitting around the fire, the jam box playing the cassette of the day, and a round robin of stories being passed around. The majority of us were set up on the lake in a mossy area, a few people sleeping in hammocks and others in tents. It rained a few nights and the photographers stayed up all night to document the lightning storm. The greatest part was that everyone there was just as excited as you were about being there and making things. You really can’t ever be bored in the wild.
Dare I ask the dreaded “desert island” question? Was there a soundtrack for the experience?
Yes there was actually! Mary who I mentioned earlier brought a portable tape player so there was constantly tunes in the background, including a tape found at the Grand Marais thrift store in town called “Wolf Talk” that was literally just wolf and night nature noises. The tape that got the most playing time was one that Mary made herself that consisted of a “thirty song lo-fi super-set from the jukebox at the tavern in Palouse, Washington. 100 minutes of never-ending memory-making jukebox favorites, the perfect soundtrack to the time of your life”. It definitely became the soundtrack of the trip. And it is for sale on Etsy.
What did you take away from this time in Michigan as part of this roaming collective?
There is really no way of putting into words what this trip meant to me as an artist and a human being. I am a complete workaholic. I don’t make a lot of time for life and nature and Cabin Time was the perfect balance of all of those things. I got to meet people that like me love to make things and also love to be outside—what a niche. It has showed me how I can balance my time with people and work as well as appreciate the raw inspiration camping provides. Since the end of the residency, we have gone on many more camping trips and continue to make work inspired by our time away from the daily grind. Cabin Time has also brought something new and exciting to Grand Rapids, inversely bringing people into the city and all it has to offer. This residency is a great opportunity for any maker who loves adventuring in the outdoors and enjoys the solitude the wild allows. It’s also a great way to meet other artists with similar interests and make connections both personally and professionally.
Cabin Time 3 will be venturing off to the remote island of Rabbit Island August 23-27 with a smaller group of six makers. This residency is smaller than usual because the group can only get to the island via a small fishing boat that fits six. It will be not only an opportunity to make site-based work but also to work with the young program on Rabbit Island to further their development as well as that of Cabin Time. CT4 will be announced soon and again will consist of an open call with new parameters, new adventures, and new work to be made.
Photos courtesy of Cabin Time, Geoffrey Holstad, Ryan Greaves, Lucy Engelman and Colin McCarthy.