Artist-in-Residence: Isle Royale National Park

I spent two weeks at Dassler Cabin on Isle Royale, an island wilderness on Lake Superior. Even as an avid camper, adjusting to no electricity or running water was a challenge, especially when expected to focus on my work as an artist. Unlike other residents, I didn't spend most of my time painting, because that would come later. I spent my two weeks exploring the island. I also spent time sketching and writing in my journal, taking photographs, and absorbing my surroundings. I also loved reading the old journal entries from past residents in front of a crackling fire or sitting on the "inspiration bench" outside the cabin just listening to the waves at the shoreline.

Sunset off Dassler Point

Sunset off Dassler Point

Isle Royale is a hidden gem in the National Park System, a park that often goes overlooked. With limited access and facilities, visitors are mostly true wilderness-types, spending time backpacking and kayaking. Even the Visitors Center is fairly small and understated compared to other parks I've visited. However, its beauty and unique location have captured the hearts of visitors, who return again and again to hike the trails and hope to spot its most famous residents-- the wolves and moose-- who have been the subjects of the longest recorded predator/prey study. Although I didn't spot either, just knowing they were lurking in the woods around me was enough to excite me, especially because the wolf has been my favorite animal since I was a child. I was fascinated by Rolf and Candy, the couple who heads up the research center on the island. They happily introduced us to their cabin and research facilities, which included a huge collection of moose skulls, a cup of hot chocolate, and truly engaging conversation. Rolf and Candy weren't the only great company on the trip. Meeting residents of the island was one of the highlights of my experience. Dick and Mary Scheibe have been helping the artists since the program began, and they are just amazing people. Along with friends Chuck and Connie, these four gave us the real inside scoop on Isle Royale, telling us the best places to visit, inviting us for delicious meals, and delving into the island's history. They have life-leases on cabins on the island, and the cabins will be claimed by the National Park Service as soon as the lease-holder passes away. Despite my constant support of National Parks and their mission of preservation, it was so sad to witness a part of this process. I saw these cabins that they have worked on with bare hands their entire lives.... and usually, once the park reclaims the cabins, they don't have the finances for upkeep and these beautiful wilderness homes get ripped to the ground. Mary told us stories of childhood summers spend on the island, showed us plenty of old photographs, and toured us through her family cabins. I was deeply touched by her stories, and wished that she could pass this history on to her own children. This is the first time I experienced the darker side of the National Park Service.
We explored the small islands and inlets around the island in a canoe, mostly in silence. Paddling around surrounded by the slight noises of nature was an unforgettable experience. We tried to track a moose with no luck and climbed on the rocky shores. We also took an overnight hike in the interior of the island, along the "ridge," which is along the middle of the island. The ridge is more sparsely wooded and also the highest point of the island, so the views were fantastic.Despite my struggle with bursitis in my shoulders, I managed to enjoy the hike and take a lot of photographs.

After reflecting on my time on Isle Royale, I think I learned more about myself than my artwork while I was there. It was a great opportunity to be immersed in nature and also embrace my independence and become more comfortable with solitude. And of course, getting engaged at the cabin was memorable! I will definitely be making an effort to return to Isle Royale in the future. For now, I revisit my experience as I paint.