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Saugatuck / Douglas Historical Photo

The Art of Being Saugatuck/Douglas

 

Art is a way of life here...

 

 

In Saugatuck/Douglas, Michigan, art is far more than an aspect of cultural enrichment, more than a source of passive entertainment. In Saugatuck and Douglas, art is life.

Both Saugatuck and Douglas celebrate the belief of Gustave Flaubert that “Art has no other end, for people of feeling, than to conjure away the burden and bitterness.” Where else could one find public restrooms painted with post-impressionist Georges Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte?

Setting this tone is the natural environment. Saugatuck and Douglas are nestled near the shore of Lake Michigan and are defined by steep, rolling dunes to the west and lush, green orchard country to the east. The climate is blessed by the moderating effects of Lake Michigan. The lake’s cool breezes provide welcome refreshment on warm summer days, while during the winter it warms the frigid air sweeping into Michigan from the northern plains.

It was to this idyllic setting that Chicago residents started escaping in the 1900s. As they arrived, they found a village that was already entering a second life. Saugatuck, and a sister community down the Kalamazoo River called Singapore, were settled in the mid-1800s by lumber interests. For many decades they supported a thriving mix of sawmills, planing mills, barrel factories and other wood product firms. The area contributed much of the lumber used to rebuild Chicago after the Great Fire of 1871.

When the trees were gone, however, so were the lumbermen. Several mills were actually loaded aboard Great Lakes schooners to be transported elsewhere. The dearth of trees resulted in a particularly harsh fate for Saugatuck’s down-river neighbor. Without their presence as a windbreak, blowing sand gradually buried the village and today it lives on only in legend as the “Lost City of Singapore.”

Saugatuck and Douglas survived, however, and their 19th century architecture legacy forms the basis for the area’s quaint charm today. The resort trade which had begun to emerge in the 1890s took a propitious turn in 1910 when a group of Chicago artists established the Summer School of Painting on Ox-Bow Lagoon in Saugatuck.

Today, Ox-Bow is affiliated with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and offers a wide range of summer course work, including metalsmithing, printmaking, performance art, glassblowing, writing, ceramics, and of course, painting and drawing. The seed planted at Ox-Bow has flourished over the years. The area’s reputation as a sanctuary for artists is nationally known and has led to its status as the “Art Coast™ of Michigan” and one of the top twenty-five art destinations in the USA.

Saugatuck and Douglas were two of only twenty-eight communities nationwide to be awarded the “Preserve America Community” designation by the White House and the Historic Preservation Caucus of the U.S. House of Representatives. More recently, the National Trust for Historic Preservation elected Saugatuck and Douglas to its prestigious list, the “Dozen Distinctive Destinations” in the United States.

The art of relaxation, the art of recreation, the art of learning and the art of nature – these are dimensions to the art of being Saugatuck/Douglas.

 
         
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Photography by Felicia Fairchild - All Rights Reserved