Ask anyone to name a famous photographer, and in all likelihood, Ansel Adams will be the first name they come up with. His legendary photos, most focused on landscapes from the American West, are among the most iconic photographs in the world. Crooked Tree Arts Center is showcasing his art and more in a multi-pronged exhibit. It took four years to put it all together, but the team at Crooked Tree Arts Center managed to snag the traveling exhibit “Through the Lens: Ansel Adams—His Work, Inspiration and Legacy” showcasing some of the best images by the famed photographer.

Not content with that, the arts organization has built a summer of events around the showing, including exhibits by other photographers, lectures by those who studied with Adams, a film about him, even an orchestral presentation with images projected behind the symphony. Liz Ahrens, president of Crooked Tree Arts Center, says while the arts center typically focuses on regional or Michigan artists for its exhibitions, it does sometimes reach beyond the state’s borders. “It’s out of the ordinary for us, but every four years we go beyond our geographic reach,” she says.

Ahrens says this show is such a rarity that the decision was made to complement it with a variety of activities. “We don’t have a museum, but this is on that level. If we’re going to do a blockbuster show, we’re going to go all out. It’s not just enough to come in and see the photos. We want to leave an impression and engage people beyond a one-time visit.”

The major draw is the Adams exhibit. It includes 48 images—47 personally chosen by Adams and one of Adams himself. They are part of a selection he made late in his life to serve as a succinct representation of his life’s work. Adams felt these photographs were his best.

Running in conjunction with the Adams exhibit is “Our National Parks,” a juried photography exhibit in honor of Adams and the 100th Anniversary of our National Parks. All the photographs showcase outdoor, nature, and landscape photography from within country’s National Park System sites.

Photos by Josef Kissinger Photography


While the photos are the centerpiece, they are complemented by numerous events and activities. Among them are showings of Ansel Adams, a documentary by Ric Burns. The brother of Ken Burns, with whom he worked on the 1990 PBS series The Civil War, Ric has made several films on his own, many of which have also been shown on PBS. He’s won numerous awards, including six Emmys and two Peabody awards.

Among his projects was the 2002 documentary and biographical film tracing the life of Adams for the PBS series American Experience. The film explores the meaning and legacy of Adams’s life and work. At the center of the film are the great themes that absorbed Adams throughout his career: the beauty and fragility of “the American earth,” the inseparable bond between man and nature and the moral obligation the present owes to the future.

A special showing will take place Wednesday, June 21, with Burns himself on hand to discuss the movie. Crooked Tree Arts Center is hosting a dinner with Burns for $75, though it is sold out (call to be put on the waitlist). However, there is still room for those wishing to hear his remarks and enjoy dessert at $20 per person.

The 90-minute film will be also shown for free at the theater at Crooked Tree Arts Center on July 11 and August 9.


Another of the focal points of the celebration is the Michigan premiere of “Ansel Adams America” on July 5, part of a concert celebrating American composers at Bay View’s John M. Hall Auditorium. The piece was written by Chris and Dave Brubeck, with inspiration from and showcasing 102 striking images of or by Adams.

Chris Brubeck describes it as an orchestral tone poem. “It’s one big movement, 22 minutes long,” says the composer/trombonist/guitarist. “We try to tell his story. It was totally written to the images Ansel Adams took.”

Brubeck says he was originally approached by a patron of the arts who had run into Adams’s daughter-in-law in the powder room at a symphony show, who suggested that setting some of Adams’ photos to music would be a worthy and interesting endeavor. After what he describes as a “lengthy courtship,” Adams’s estate granted permission, and the two Brubecks began researching and writing. He and his dad would look at their coffee-table books of Adams images and craft musical passages they thought reflected the photos.

Brubeck says the composition is not particularly jazzy. “One of the first things I did was read his autobiography, and I discovered Adams was a wonderful musician who was on his way to becoming a concert pianist,” says Brubeck. “He loved Bach and classical pianists. So that (style) captures more of him.” During the performance, the 102 images selected by the Brubecks as their inspiration will be shown on the screen behind the musicians.

Chris Brubeck will not be on hand for the performance, as he will be in the recording studio working on a new Brubeck Brothers recording. Bay View Artistic Director Chris Ludwa will be conducting the program. “It’s exciting to present the Michigan premiere, especially given the tremendous talent in the Bay View faculty and conservatory students,” Ludwa says.

He says the set represents a mix of American music. “The program is a fantastically American mix of music that doesn’t just represent the names like Copland, Bernstein and Brubeck that most audiences know and love, but several others that represent the true diversity of the American culture,” he says.

The concert will feature works by photographers included in Crooked Tree Art Center’s exhibit alongside Adams, each accompanied by a different American composer. The set starts with Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to Candide. It will be followed by a movement from Amy Beach, who Ludwa notes was self-taught because her husband didn’t permit her to study composition formally. The third movement in the suite features William Grant Still, one of the few African Americans of his time to be given orchestral opportunities.

Bay View’s annual Adrian Boyer Concerto and Aria competition features two talented students each summer playing with the orchestra. This year, trumpeter Max McNutt plays a piece from John Williams’ Suite to Lincoln and Robert Erlichman sings a piece by Michigan composer William Bolcom.

Artist Heidi Marshall and her exhibit of National Parks paintings

More Activities/Events

A host of other complementary activities are planned around the exhibit. They include:

  • Free monthly lectures on Tuesdays at 10 a.m. by, for and about photographers and photography
  • Lecture and luncheon June 16 and July 13
  • Five “History of Photography” lectures Mondays at 1 p.m. beginning July 17
  • Numerous workshops
  • Discussions and tours
  • Find all of these events on the Crooked Tree Events Calendar.

While the Adams exhibit and the bulk of the ancillary activities are taking place in Petoskey, the Traverse City location (322 6th St.) is not being ignored. Monte Nagler: Visions of Light, a collection of photographic work by Michigan-based photographer Monte Nagler will be on display through August 2. Nagler is a former student of Adams, who will also be conducting classes. His photographs have won numerous awards and are found in many private, public and museum collections including the Detroit Institute of Art, the University of Michigan Museum of Art, the Grand Rapids Art Museum, the Brooklyn Museum and many corporate offices.

Also on display in Traverse City is the juried photo exhibit Northern Lights. It is being presented in collaboration with Michigan Aurora Hunters, an organization of over 1,000 Michigan residents who photograph the aurora borealis.

The events run through the summer, and the Ansel Adams exhibit goes into September. Ahrens says the reasons are twofold: It provides an opportunity for those who can’t get away during the busy summer to see the exhibit, and schools have the opportunity to expose students to the photos. “We have school tours scheduled for September. We’ve already had some calls from outside Petoskey,” says Ahrens, who also notes they will be able to provide or underwrite some transportation costs for schools.

Admission is free to all the exhibits in both Petoskey and Traverse City. There is a charge for ticketed events, such as the film showing with Ric Burns and the concert at Bay View, as well as some of the classes and lectures. For more information and a complete rundown on all the events, go to

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Photo(s) by Josef Kissinger Photography