Traverse City Wall Art: Up, UP and HemingWay

Paul Welch has done it again. Over the course of many decades, the patriarch of Traverse City’s art scene has been instrumental in everything from founding the art department at Northwestern Michigan College to spearheading the effort to construct the Dennos Museum. Now he is turning the exterior of downtown Traverse City’s buildings into an outdoor art gallery in a project he calls Traverse City Wall Art. Welch got the idea after he entered the ArtPrize contest in Grand Rapids with an 18-by-24-foot print of his colorful self portrait that he called “Face to Face” a piece he describes as “The world’s biggest selfie.” The huge print was made by the Traverse City company Britten Banner. When ArtPrize was over, Welch thought it was a shame to roll it up and forget about it. Which got him thinking about a quote by Donna De Salvo of the Whitney Museum of American Art: “It is always exciting to encounter art in the course of everyday.”

And that got Welch thinking about hanging art all over Traverse City. So he started pounding the pavement looking for support for his idea. He soon found it in enthusiastic building owners, from the Dennos Museum, a cadre of art supporters and–as always–Britten Banner. The most recent installation (in December 2015) is on the Radio Centre II building on Park Street. It is an enormous print of the famous Yousuf Karsh photographic portrait of Ernest Hemingway taken in 1957. It looks amazing–and very fitting given Hemingway’s roots in Northern Michigan.

We asked Traverse City Wall Art supporter Calvin Boulter (who is also a Wall Art artist and an organizer of the project) to give us a brief timeline of how the Wall Art project evolved. Here’s his rundown:

The new outdoor art display emerged in Traverse City inspired, in part, by Grand Rapids ArtPrize, and initiated by local artist Paul Welch. “The worlds biggest selfie,” is the way Welch described the 18-by-24 foot print of his self portrait collage, Face to Face. The print, first displayed at the 2013 Grand Rapids ArtPrize, was designed in collaboration with and printed and installed by Britten Banner of Traverse City, Michigan.

In 2014 Welch made a second mammoth print, Bike Collage, for ArtPrize. After ArtPrize Welch now had two canvasses he didn’t know what to do with. “They could hang on an outdoor wall,” he said, “to promote visual art to the residents and visitors of Traverse City.” Welch proceeded to promote his inspiration. Mike Anton said he’d love to have Bike Collage on the wall of his building at 310 West Front Street facing J&S Hamburg. Paul Britten graciously agreed to help and installed anchors and cable and mounted the canvass in November, 2014. Meanwhile a consortium of supporters formed to advance the idea of finding more buildings to decorate and try to find ways and means to fund the project.

Charles Murphy next agreed to have one of his watercolor pieces reproduced by Britten Banner, and in March 2015, it replaced Welch’s piece on the side wall of Lake Michigan Credit Union. While that installation was under way, van loads of school youth arrived to watch. Welch, ever the inspired arts promoter, gave an impromptu street lecture in the sunny but windy cold.

Following the Murphy installation came “A Space Time Continuum” by me, Calvin Boulter, on the Masonic Building at the corner of Front and Union and Copper Thunderbird by native Canadian artist Norval Morrisseau, from the Dennos Museum collection on the alley side of 148 E. Front (the building that houses Talbot’s). Next came “The Great Wave off Kanagawa,” a print of the famous woodblock print by the Japanese artist Hokusai.

Future exhibits are planned that will feature the works of local artists, reproductions from the Dennos museum inventory, selected works of NMC art students and famous works of international artists that are in the public domain.

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