Friday, 24 May 2019 09:00

Arms Wide Open: Century-old art school welcomes public for open studio nights and workshops

Written by  Marla R. Miller
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Ox-Bow School of Art. Ox-Bow School of Art. Courtesy Photo

A natural oasis for summer art students, Ox-Bow School of Art’s secluded campus on the shores of Lake Michigan has drawn artists for a century.

The 115-acre campus is tucked away in the woods, across the Kalamazoo River from Saugatuck, making it a little hard to find. But that’s part of the appeal, especially for Chicago art students and faculty looking to escape the city hustle for solitude and limited Wi-Fi.

On special open studio nights, the public is invited to see what the art school is all about. Ox-Bow also offers Art on the Meadow workshops for children, teens and adults in a variety of media and diverse subjects. This summer, the schedule includes cooking classes and family workshops to engage the whole family in artmaking for one price.

Many local and regional residents don’t realize Ox-Bow’s diverse offerings or that classes are open to the public. The art school hosts and houses about 300 students and faculty over the course of the summer, said Campus Director Claire Arctander.

“Oxbow feels really strongly about engaging the community, even though we do have a closed campus,” she said. “It’s a way to let everyone know what kind of amazing art is being made here on campus.”

Since its founding in 1910, Ox-Bow’s mission has been to serve as a refuge where creative inspiration can flourish through instruction, creation and collaboration. The campus provides a place to focus on quiet and uninterrupted artmaking in a peaceful and natural setting.

Ox-Bow’s affiliation with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago allows students to take courses for credit, but it also welcomes art students and practicing artists from across the country. Students and even members of the public can enroll in one- and two-week courses for credit and non-credit for beginning, intermediate and advanced levels.

Ox-Bow also offers summer fellowships and residency programs for faculty and MFA students. The school hosts visiting artists and five-week residencies for working artists and writers in the fall.

Open studio nights are fun and casual evenings, with food and drink for purchase, that allow visitors to see the actual work students and faculty have made throughout the week, Arctander said. Visitors can meet students, fellows and faculty artists in residence and take a look into their studios.

It’s a chance to see live metal casting, paper making and glassblowing demonstrations, while mingling with fellow art admirers and exploring the grounds.

“We also have an auction and people can buy work from students, faculty and staff members,” Arctander said. “That’s a nice thing, everyone here at Oxbow is an artist. All of our staff members are practicing artists.”

The live auction begins at 8 p.m. and supports maintaining the studios and scholarships. Plus, people can take home an original work of art with unique ties to the region. In the Inn, the Ox-Bow Gallery features a current show by the Ox-Bow staff and fellows.

Art on the Meadow workshops are another offering that give children, teens and adults the chance to work in a variety of media and experience the campus firsthand. They don’t include overnight accommodations and are geared toward West Michigan residents, seasonal visitors and even vacationers. Most workshops are held on one evening or over one to three days.

“For people living locally, Art on the Meadow is a bit less intensive, not as long, more affordable, but still really fun,” Arctander said. “It’s really lovely here.”

A few course samplings this summer include: basket weaving, cooking fresh seafood, landscape painting, Kimchi and Korean food, a cyanotype workshop for families, glass beadmaking, and brewing beer the all-grain way. On Aug. 3, an Ox-Bow Walkabout workshop gives participants a guided sketching tour of the campus, and a Still-Life Scavenger Hunt encourages families to explore and collect natural and found objects on campus to create 2D artwork.

For a complete listing, visit

Friday Night Open Studios
Ox-Bow School of Art
3435 Rupprecht Way, Saugatuck
June 14 and 28, July 26, Aug. 9
7:30-10 p.m.
Parking at Ox-Bow is limited. Guests can carpool or ride the free shuttle to campus from St. Peter’s Church, 100 St Peter’s Drive, Douglas. Runs continuously from 7:15-10:15 p.m.

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