Some Thoughts on Isle Royale by Judith Corning

Judith Corning
Judith Corning

"While I still paint every day, had an additional Artist Residency at Crater Lake, and show my work frequently, my Artist Residencies at Isle Royale, which occurred over 20 years ago, remain two of my best and favorite art related experiences. I think of them as rather separate and very different because one occurred very early in The Season and one at the very End of the Season. And that made for very different experiences. This had primarily to do with the weather and visitor numbers on the trails.

In 1993 my husband and I seemed to start The Season. Neither of us had any idea of what to expect although I grew up in Southern Wisconsin and had spent many summer weeks in Northern Wisconsin and on the Great Lakes, Isle Royale was a world unto itself. The Dassler Cabin was gloriously isolated as, of course, is the Island. It was isolation on top of isolation. Plus rudimentary facilities! And the nearest store quite a lengthy walk. Or run, depending on mosquito numbers of the day. Or maybe we could take the canoe which we were provided with and soon grew to love.

And the weather was amazing!!!!! It could change hour by hour. Or was it minute by minute? So ended my idea of plein air painting. I tried. But soon I realized my usual method, painting in my studio at home from photos taken by my husband, was going to be the order of the day(s). This left us very wonderfully free to explore the Island extensively. And we did. Camera in hand.

The exploration of the first Residency was continued on the second which, because it was the last one of that year, produced entirely different weather and light conditions. The isolation proved to be more intense as visitors grew fewer and fewer. But this didn’t stop us from ranging farther and farther in our explorations. Plus it was drier which was helpful in getting to new and interesting places and becoming more thoroughly acquainted with the Island. Even the critters were different since they were preparing for winter as were the Park personnel.

So then the question occurs…. what has weather and isolation to do with art? Or, specifically, my particular art/painting? My non-residency work is, and always essentially has been, about those wild places and equally wild circumstances, whether in Northern California where I live or the Midwest where I grew up and fell in love very early with the crazy unpredictable and ever interesting weather…. which I needed to get out into from my very earliest years. And which I continue to do today in my 70’s."


- Judith Corning, December 2018

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Last updated: December 13, 2019

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