Jennifer Williams (Artist-in-Residence, 1998)

Isle Royale Reflection

"The experience as an artist-in-residence at Isle Royale profoundly affected my work. Continuing to develop work based on this experience has fulfilled a need—the need to return to the island often. I am sure to return to the place physically someday, but in the meantime, simply painting an image of the place doesn’t come close to recreating the encounter. It is necessary instead to return to the island in spirit, to recall the experience as completely as possible, with a deeper recollection than images alone can provide. In order for me to do this in my painting I must surround myself not only with photographs of the island but also with my journal, and with the watercolors and drawings I made there. It is most important to activate an awareness of everything the experience meant, an awareness that is best informed by memory.

I was fortunate to share my residency with another artist and friend of mine, Joyce Koskenmaki. We found our sources of inspiration to be similar in many ways, while our visual recording of our experiences reflected our own unique visions. Both of us felt drawn to the enigmatic presence of the distant islands in Tobin Harbor, and it has been interesting to compare our interpretations.

Orange circular lichens stuck to a large rock
Lichen at Isle Royale

NPS/Michele Devlin

The relationship between realism and abstraction has always intrigued me, and I found a natural synthesis of the two in the study of lichen patterns on the rocks at Isle Royale. These paintings were important links to paintings I had begun before I ever went to the island and are in many ways the most tactile and experiential works I continue to produce. I think of the surface not as a representation of landscape but as landscape itself, even though I am using the traditional medium of oil paint. I conceive of the surface as both map and terrain, full of pattern and texture, and full of the memory of walking the trail.

While I may not continually make paintings that represent Isle Royale directly, my experience of the place will be reflected in my work for a very long time. What has always been present in my work is the suggestion of a deep sense of longing, a human connection to landscape. After all, how can one remember Isle Royale without a profound sense of longing?"

- Jennifer Williams Terpstra*


About the Artist*

Jennifer Williams was an Isle Royale Artist-in-Residence from July 28th to August 8th, 1998. She is a faculty member of the art department at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, where she teaches painting. She earned her MFA in Painting and Printmaking from Rhode Island School of Design and a BFA in Painting from Indiana University.

Williams began five oil paintings on the island, and returned to her studio to complete them. The properties of oil enable her to “re-experience” the place throughout the working process, allowing the blended hues of landscape to emerge over time.

Easily portable watercolors were a preferred way of capturing the light of a given moment in the several color sketches that Williams worked on at Isle Royale. Still another inspiration was the wonder of the aurora borealis seen for the very first time while on the island; “it was difficult to resist the challenge to express this astounding spectacle of light and mystery.” Both watercolor and pastel works fueled by this experience served as studies for larger oils completed later in the studio. View Jennifer's work on her personal webpage.

*[Source for all Jennifer's page content: Root, Robert and Jill Burkland, editors. (2000). The Island Within Us. Houghton, MI: Isle Royale Natural History Association. p 130. Print.]

Next Artist-in-Residence by Date
Return to the Artist-in-Residence Exhibit


Last updated: December 13, 2019

Park footer

Contact Info

Mailing Address:

800 East Lakeshore Drive
Houghton, MI 49931


906 482-0984

Contact Us