Land To River: a collaboration with the Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy

Land To River: A collaboration with the Saginaw Basin Land Concervancy

March 25 – May 15, 2021 This invitational exhibit explores the role of artists as communicators, explorers, and environmentalists as they bring awareness to preserving and protecting our natural surroundings.

Check out these two new events just added to the calendar for this exhibit:

Zoom Workshop/Facebook Live Artists’ Practices to Protect Our Environment with Curator Valerie Allen, May 8, 2021 at 1pm. Click here for more information.

Land to River Family and Friends Public Reception, Saturday, May 8, 2021, 3pm – 5pm. Click here for more information. 

Land to River is a collaboration between Studio 23/The Arts Center and the Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy (SBLC) and is sponsored by Waste Management. This invitational exhibit explores the role of artists as communicators, explorers, and environmentalists. Each artist brings a unique interpretation to Studio 23, ranging from capturing nature visually in paintings and carvings to heightening awareness of our environment through art installations, the use of reclaimed materials, and photojournalism.

“The idea of connecting an artist’s creative process with a message that brings awareness of our earth and natural resources has been a curatorial goal of mine for our grass-roots nonprofit visual art center. Collaborating with Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy has been a natural and effortless fit for Land to River,” states Valerie Allen, curator at Studio 23. Allen invited eight artists from the Midwest region to exhibit their artwork. The invited artists are Mark BleshenskiZachary BraniganAlex Gilford, Frits HoendervangerErwin LewandowskiAlan MaciagJohn Sabraw, and Larry VanSteenhouse.

The exhibit will have a visual identity that weaves the message of the exhibit with a unique logo and printed program. Trevor Edmonds, director of land protection at the SBLC, explains, “I’ve been fascinated by the intersection of nature and graphic design for a long time. The development and use of iconography that helps people access, interpret, connect with, and enjoy natural spaces and the means to protect them is one of the key reasons I wound up doing the work I love with the SBLC. Interpreting the complex aspects of nature with art and design has been a great way for me to continue learning about the environment we live in. I can’t help but think that would be the case for others.”

Each artist brings a unique vision to Land to River.

  • Mark Bleshenski, from Bay City, Michigan, will be exhibiting his installation Plumbum (Flint Water Crisis). Bleshenski uses his role as an artist to raise awareness of the impact of this crisis. This piece was first shown at ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
  • As an artist and stewardship volunteer for a wildlife refuge, Detroit, Michigan, artist Alex Gilford connects with the environment through painting and storytelling with his visual narratives.
  • Frits Hoendervanger, of Detroit, Michigan, is exhibiting original artwork based on the flora and fauna of northern Michigan. His largest oil painting in the exhibit, Life, Death, and Transformation, captures the forest floor with exquisite detailing.
  • Wood carver Larry VanSteenhouse, of Unionville, Michigan, crafts birds and animals of the Midwest that are rendered with gesture, movement, and personality. These carvings connect the viewer to the subject on a very personal level.
  • Painting in nature almost daily, Midland, Michigan, artist Alan Maciag creates plein air oil paintings that pay tribute to his surroundings as he uses light, color, and brushstrokes to capture Michigan’s landscapes in their full glory.
  • Erwin Lewandowski lives on the shore of Lake Huron, and from this viewpoint he is inspired by the rhythm and patterns of waterscapes. Working in colored pencil, he composes drawings of cascading streams and flowing rivers that show the abstraction in realism.
  • Ohio University professor and artist John Sabraw is an activist and environmentalist who produces artwork in an eco-conscious manner. His ongoing collaboration involves creating paint and paintings from iron oxide extracted in the process of remediating polluted streams.
  • Photographer Zachary Branigan of Bay City, Michigan, has documented environmental images for the Land to River Branigan understands the powerful effect of images on a community. As the executive director of the Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy, he is also part of the collaborative team for this exhibit. On the relevance of Land to River, Branigan states, “Art inspires action. I believe that being an artist and a conservationist allows me to think of new and creative ways to bring attention to the issues facing our natural world and encourage others to respect nature. Art can allow us to fall in love, and we protect and honor things we love. I have enjoyed using art to grow the relationship between people and nature.” 

Land to River will open on Thursday, March 25, 2021, 5–7 p.m., at Studio 23/The Arts Center. At 6 p.m. that evening, a 30-minute virtual tour with curator Valerie Allen will be presented on Facebook Live. In addition to the reception, events and workshops will be scheduled throughout the exhibit to cover topics such as nature photography, conservation of art materials for the artist, and interviews with the exhibiting artists. This exhibit is the highlight for the spring season at Studio 23. Tara Welch, executive director of Studio 23, states, “We are honored to be collaborating with the Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy. We feel our community is a place where creativity flows, and through this collaboration with SBLC we are bringing awareness of our environment.”

Land to River will be on exhibit at Studio 23/The Arts Center, located at 901 N. Water Street in Bay City, Michigan, from March 25–May 15, 2021. Gallery hours are Tuesday–Saturday, 11 a.m.–5 p.m. For more information, contact Valerie Allen, curator, at 989-894-2323 or email