See Through the Eyes of Michigan Artist Gwen Frostic

See Through the Eyes of Michigan Artist Gwen Frostic
The Awesome Mitten - Gwen Frostic
“The wildness calls – and in the snow are tracks that lead us on…” -G. Frostic (photo courtesy of Cassie Bradley)

Mother Nature just dropped a foot or more of snow, and many of us are probably wondering things like, “Why do I even live in this state?” or “How many days until spring?” Well, I have two words that may help you to both appreciate winter for what it is, and to help you – even more so – to look forward to the warm weather we’re all dreaming of: Gwen Frostic.

Never heard of her? Don’t worry, I’ll catch you up. Born in Sandusky, Michigan in 1906, Gwen Frostic is a world-renowned artist famous for her hand-carved linoleum block prints depicting animals and outdoor scenes observed all over our great state. I thought about waiting until spring to feature this piece, since she has her own day for cryin’ out loud – May 23rd, established by former Michigan Governor William Milliken – but these are the times when Gwen’s uniquely magical views on the natural world can work to soften our eyes and hearts to our surroundings, no matter the season. Many of her beautiful block prints feature written excerpts of her observations on the workings of nature, the turning of the seasons. Her book To Those Who See, printed in 1965 at her own Presscraft Papers, Inc., reads as both a dedication to current nature enthusiasts, and an invitation to less outdoor-inclined folks to join in the discovery of Michigan’s natural wonder.

The Awesome Mitten - Gwen Frostic
Two-page wetland spread in “To Those Who See” (photo courtesy of Cassie Bradley)

Frostic’s studio, a Frank Lloyd Wright-esque building that seamlessly blends the outdoors with the indoors, was built in 1964 and is constructed of native stone and wood, nestled on a 100-acre wildlife sanctuary along the Betsie River in Benzonia, MI. Gwen Frostic Prints still operates within the former studio and is open for the majority of the year to visitors looking to purchase items depicting her original artwork. Seriously – you name it, you’ll probably find it there. Napkins, blankets, rubber stamps, calendars, mugs. The list goes on. I have to stress, though, that no matter how many items are added to the inventory, it never feels impersonal or kitschy. Every piece is stamped with Gwen’s famous, slanting signature, and many feature the phrase “Because you appreciate loveliness” either on the packaging or the piece itself. One of my personal favorite things about Gwen Frostic Prints is the opening to the stock catalogue, which reads (in part): “…it’s not just notepapers we are selling – nor books – nor calendars – nor cards. But a bit of the tonic of the wildness to refresh your heart and spirit.” Tired of shopping? Take a break, fix your eyes on the display room, and become entranced with the 10+ printing presses working to emblazon objects with Frostic’s legacy of prints. As a nature-lover, someone who grew up in a Frostic-friendly household, and especially, as someone who often is desperately seeking a reminder that natural beauty still exists amidst the frigid gloom that can settle at this time of year, I cannot speak more highly of Gwen Frostic and her continuing operation.

The Awesome Mitten - Gwen Frostic
Photo courtesy of Cassie Bradley

Although Gwen passed away in 2001, I feel certain that her legacy will live on for years to come. In a way, her collections kind of serve as an old-school version of The Awesome Mitten. She even has a book titled My Michigan (“…that you may feel Michigan in your heart…”)! But don’t take my word for it. Consider this your invitation to step inside her world. Visit www.gwenfrostic.com, check out the Gwen Frostic Prints facebook page, or, better yet, take a trip to Benzonia for a first-hand look! May she inspire us all to see new wonder in the world (with snow and without!).

Are you part of the Frostic fandom? If so, what are your favorite prints?

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Like many Michiganders, I have found myself continually drawn back to our great state after various explorations elsewhere (Virginia for graduate school, offshore Rhode Island for work). I just can't seem to stay away from all the awesome that the mitten has to offer. I am a proud Michigan State Spartan (Go Green!), and a nerd, plain and simple. I'm trained as a marine biologist, and have a soft spot for invertebrates (pun intended?). I love to read, bake, laugh, read, do yoga, camp, drink craft beer, and read. I'm happiest exploring the outdoors - especially the coasts of our Great Lakes! Come outside with me.