Gwen Frostic (1906 – 2001) is one of Michigan’s most successful artists and businesswomen. Her hand carved block prints illuminate nature, depicting the landscapes and the native flora and fauna of Michigan. Frostic founded her own printmaking business in Benzonia, Michigan, which continues to produce work using her original printing blocks. Colorful prints, stationery, and books written and illustrated by Frostic form the core of this exhibition. This show celebrates Gwen Frostic’s love of nature and situates her pioneering work within the larger history of women artists.
Collaboration between Ferris State University and the Big Rapids and Michigan art communities made this exhibition possible. Special thanks go to all of the community members who loaned works of art from their collections and shared their stories about visiting Gwen Frostic’s studio. An Academic Service-Learning Grant from Ferris State University helped to fund this project.
On one of our earliest trips “up North” (Traverse City area, sometime in mid-1970s), my husband and I picked up a copy of the “Art Trails” brochure. Over the years, we enjoyed finding some of the wonderful art venues listed and met a number of artists who became favorites and friends along the way. One of those artists was Gwen Frostic, at her studio a few miles outside of Benzonia. We fell in love with Gwen’s woodcut art in her books and paper products, purchasing different items for both our personal use and for gifts. I think of the chickadee as my “totem bird,” so I fell in love with Gwen’s chickadee note/letter paper. Her raccoon so resembled my husband holding forth in front of his CMU classrooms that it became his note/letter paper—and I found a large stash of them after he died....
On maybe our second or third trip to Gwen’s studio, our young son was with us. If I remember correctly, this was the summer he turned 5 and not long before he started kindergarten.
We had learned that Gwen rarely visited with those who came to her studio, but on this very quiet day there, Gwen sat down with our son on the edge of the indoor pool. She read one of her books to him and they had quite a chat, then she signed that book and gave it to him.
A couple of summers later, we were heading back to Oregon for a visit. My husband had both a high school class reunion and a professional conference, plus we would make overnight stays at homes of family members and friends in Wyoming, Oregon and Washington. This was the first time our son (then 7 turning 8 during the trip) would meet some of his uncles, aunts, and cousins. We wanted to take some type of Michigan-made gift to leave at each stop along the way. Immediately, we chose an array Gwen Frostic items—place mats and napkins, coasters, note cards, letter paper/writing pads, books. As we presented these gifts, our son happily shared a story about his personal visit with Gwen.
The last time I got to visit with Gwen was sometime in the late 1980s-early 1990s when we were both on the program for a daylong retreat for Home Extension Unit participants at the Michigan 4-H Foundation’s Kettunen Center near Tustin. I presented one of the breakout sessions, while Gwen was the luncheon keynote speaker. As we were being seated for the luncheon, I was guided to the “presenter’s table” where I was both delighted and honored to be seated beside Gwen. When I mentioned her visit with our young son (then a decade or a few years more later), she remembered him and shared her surprise at how much she had enjoyed a child with whom she could have such an interesting conversation. She and I had a lovely, but brief conversation as we ate. Then, it was time for her keynote address. Although the times our paths crossed with Gwen Frostic in person were few, our visits to her studio were many over the years and her artwork still remains a part of my life through the wonderful books and paper products she created. I treasure that my husband, our son and I had the privilege of meeting Gwen Frostic and getting to spend a bit of time with her.
— C Joanne Grabinski
“A while back I was visiting a friend in the Beulah area and asked if we could do a drive-by just to see if Gwen’s gallery was still there. My sisters and I have fond memories of visiting her studio when we were on our girls’ weekends. You knew you were entering something special as soon as you walked up. It almost felt like we were on an adult field trip as we wondered the studio. Gwen’s unique style of artwork expressed her love of nature.“
“I believe it was 1988 and I was working as the retreat coordinator at Spring Hill Camps in Evart, MI. The entire camp was rented out by the Michigan Environmental Conservancy for a weekend
retreat. There was standing room only as Gwen, the keynote speaker, a tiny woman wound her
way through the crowd and quietly took the stage. She spoke softly and passionately about her
love of nature and the importance of protecting it. I had never heard of her or her deep body of
work as I had grown up in Indiana....
It was a meaningful encounter and one which inspired my interest to learn more about her and to purpose to engage more fully with the beauty of nature all around us. Ten years later I would read the biography The Life and Wisdom of Gwen Frostic by Sheryl James and visit her Benzonia studio. I have been collecting her books throughout the years and steal quiet moments for reflection and inspiration.“
— Ruth Vermeer
“I met [Gwen Frostic] several times briefly in her workshop. Once about 1963 and again about 1986. She was very congenial and welcoming.“
“My mother was a big fan of Gwen Frostic and visited her shop in 1982 with a couple of her
friends and purchased The Infinite Destiny and then one of her friends gifted my mother Wisps of
Mist in 1983. These women were all elementary teachers in Reed City and loved
adventures/travel involving literature, poetry, and art. When my mother passed away 6 years ago,
I ended up with the books....
I actually visited the shop a couple of years ago, pre-Covid time, because I had seen a segment on the TV show “Under the Radar.” This prompted my memory of the books I had from my mother so I then read them and I admit, I was pretty taken with the artwork, poetry, and Gwen Frostic's story. Entering the shop felt like going into a hobbit's den and also smelled a bit musty, but then when I looked around, I lost myself in the surroundings. So much to look at with the old printing presses, her sketches of nature, and the abundance of notecards and books. It was a wonderful experience and after my visit I understood my mother's appreciation for Gwen Frostic.“
— Carla Erlewine
Ferris State Fine Art Gallery
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Community Partners: Artworks in Big Rapids, Community Art Collectors
Art Donors: Jean Iwema, Karen Kitsen, Ruth Vermeer, Carrie Weis, Carla Erlewine, Jason Daday, Lori Daday, Susan Behler, Diane Fleming, Rachel Foulk, Bette Hartig, Cindy Warner, Elaine Stewart
Production: Pat Klarecki, Liz Kamphuis, Christina Bregg
Design: Professor Alison Popp and Design 320 (Branding Design): Megan James, Kyle Strong, Christina Tartaglia
Curation: Gallery Director Carrie Weis, Dr. Rachel Foulk, And Art History 325 (Women & Art): Julia Antolak, Gypsy Bates, Yareli Beltran, Germaine Brooks, Jeneiah Canales, Hailey D. Castor, Kendal Coggins, Tia S. Drilling, A'Niya Durrah, Paiten Frey, Taya J. Hayes, Evan M. Hibbard, Sydney N. Hodgins, Andrea Hoffman, Mim H. Jeppesen, Emma Juergens, Laci McAdow, Jacob D. Miller, Sarah A. Miller, Brooke R. Prosch, Kay Reed, Natalie J. Reid, Max Sheerin, Leilani R. Sigsbey, Sophie J. Skoczek, Julie Spohn, Charlotte Tetsworth, Benjamin J. Totten, Gracie Weigold, Yinuo Xu
@2023 Ferris State University Fine Art Gallery, Design Program College of Business