Tag Archives: Upper Peninsula

Lautner Pilgrimage

MidgaardJohn Lautner grew up with ancient rock under his feet and towering pines above his head. His mother painted the walls and ceilings of their house with flowers and clouds, and his dad filled it with learning. From the family’s log cabin high on a bluff, you can see miles of Lake Superior water and Michigan forest. Midgaard lives up to its Norse name, meaning between heaven and earth.

Keepsake

Keepsake

I’ve written before about my obsession with Lautner, the mid-century modernist maverick architect and native Yooper. Sunday, I got to walk in his footsteps. Thanks to the generous time of his daughter Karol Peterson Lautner, I visited Keepsake, the house he grew up in, and Midgaard, the camp he helped his parents build in the 1920s. We even kayaked to see Midgaard from the lake. It was a last-minute visit to Marquette and a highlight of the trip, right up there with the eagle.
Midgaard Ceiling
Keepsake and Midgaard are both based on European styles, German and Norse. Lautner’s professor dad was of German descent, his artist mother Irish. And yet in their use of native wood (cedar and pine), anchoring to the rock (boulders lead underfoot up to Midgaard’s door), and fervent embrace of their landscape, these are thoroughly American homes — the America of optimistic embrace and progressive ideas. Marquette may be an obscure outpost in a remote region, but it’s also a university town. John’s parents were well-traveled bohemians, cosmopolitans in the American woods. They picked the site for Midgaard — perched among rocky spines atop a cliff — because it reminded them of the Alps.
Midgaard Fireplace
One can see the imprint his UP upbringing left on Lautner as he went on to Taliesin to study and work with Frank Lloyd Wright, then founded his own company in Los Angeles, building such landmark homes as the Chemosphere and Pearlman Mountain Cabin. For one, those boulders reappear — he uses them as furniture in houses he built in Malibu. Lautner wasn’t the first American architect to make a fusion of indoor and outdoor spaces central to his work — he learned it from Wright, for one. But I think he took it further than anyone else. There’s a spectacular, spiritual quality of the environment up here in Michigan that’s indelible, that shapes your outlook. It’s why Lautner embedded glasses in the ceiling of the Sheats-Goldstein house, to recreate the dappled light of the forest. It’s why at the Arango house in Acapulco, he embraced the same kind of limitless horizon you get on the widow’s walk at Midgaard. It’s why I return to the Upper Peninsula ever summer, this eternal quest for an Edenic restart.
Migaard Plaque
We also visited Bud’s brother Bob and Bob’s wife Kelly in Marquette. Cole jumped into their pool over and over, dancing and shouting, “I’m happy!” Kelly took him for spins around the water on her air mattress. He got mad when she dumped him but forgave her, and they sat on her front porch talking about pets. Cole doesn’t see his aunts and uncles all that often, but he’s been getting some quality time on this trip.Midgaard view

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The Porkies

PorkiesThis year we’re staying on the beach in Michigan. Last year, we were in the woods. I was an artist in residence in the Porcupine Mountains. Here’s an edited version of the journal I kept — yes, journal not a blog.We didn’t even have running water, let alone Internet — that was part of the Walden-esque story. I donated this text to the Friends of the Porkies, the organization that runs the AIRP. Though I keep thinking I should try to get it published — suggestions?

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Porch and Shore

Coles-houseI may hate camping, but I love the sound of Lake Superior waves hitting the shore mere yards from my bed. This spot of land in the Upper Peninsula — barely half an acre, no house, a dirt road, but 97 feet of beach frontage — is the place to which I feel most connected. It’s where I’ve spent summers since I was younger than Cole (though at least we had a trailer). Bud was born and raised in this neck of the woods (literally), as were his daughters. And Cole, too, comes into himself when his feet hit that sand.

Our days in Waupaca were restricted by rain. That allowed us to fully enjoy the addition and renovation to John and Judy’s “cabin,” which is bigger than most houses. Particularly lovely was the screened-in porch. Screened porches are one of the finer things in the world, and if Bud and I ever do build here — which I swear we will — a screened porch we will have. The best part of the trip was playing “Oh Hell.” Cole’s number smartness makes him good at cards. He loves playing with his uncles. As soon as they arrived, Cole grabbed Paul’s hand and led him down to the pond. Otis, the otter-dog, saw the water and promptly jumped in, not realizing it was green muck. My brother helped my son excavate dinosaur bones out of plaster and then assemble the T. Rex; I remember Brett patiently gluing together models when we were kids.
Paleontologists
Waupaca’s turning into a cool little town, with nice, if a bit pricey, stores on Main Street. I coveted many items at a place called Panache, settled on some hip socks (damn travel budget). Gotta love a downtown centered around a library with farmers selling fresh produce on the weekends. We bought lots of meat — summer sausage, kielbasa, even oxtail — at Niemuth’s, the German meat shop that’s packed Saturday mornings. We celebrated both Judy’s and JohnWaupaca’s birthdays. Congrats on the first three quarters of the century, Dad.

I feel lucky that my parents are doing relatively well healthwise. For the first time I can recall, our old, close childhood friends the Von Eschens are not at their Lake cabin this summer. Liz is in the late stages of a cancer she has battled for two years. They are like a second family for me, and I’m heartbroken for them. So while the lake water is about the warmest I ever remember it being and sparkling clear, a bald eagle flew past yesterday, and the wild raspberries are ripe, this stay feels all wrong, like the fabric of my life here has been irreparably torn.Superior home

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