Welcome to the Keweenaw Interactive Art Walk (KIAW) held on the last Saturday of each September. The idea is to engage people with art and nature, and to expand creativity through collaboration. The interactive element happens when writers from around the world craft 99-word stories to pieces painted in the Keweenaw, and when participants at the live or virtual walk respond to the art, stories, poems, and nature.

Hancock, Michigan is World Headquarters to Carrot Ranch Literary Community, located on the Keweenaw Peninsula, surrounded by the waters of Lake Superior. Red Rabbit Art Studio, located in remote, pristine Rabbit Bay, is also on the peninsula. The region is part of 1842 Ceded Territory of the Chippewa Indians of the Mississippi and Lake Superior, ancestral lands to the modern Keweenaw Bay Indian Community. Here, water is regarded as life.

When Charli Mills (Carrot Ranch Lead Buckaroo) and Tammy “TOJ” Gajewski (Primary Artist at Red Rabbit) met, they knew one day they’d collaborate.

Collaboration is an expansion of art. It’s the acknowledgement that life is bigger than the individual, that humans are an expression of nature; and through (and to) nature we are connected to the collective unconscious. When we collaborate, we learn that creativity unfolds endlessly. We feel closer to nature, closer to each other. There is a peace and an adventure in creating with each other and seeking inspiration from nature.

This is the heart of the KIAW: get outside, get inspired, and get together to create.

Highlights from the 2023 KIAW: Let’s Get Outside!

Beneath a canopy of North Woods, a sandy trail begins. To get to the KIAW, you must drive 25 miles from Hancock, passing the Mason House (featured in T. Marie’s breakout memoir) and skirting Torch Lake. Here, the leaves transform into a palette of autumn crimsons and gold. The closer you drive to Rabbit Bay, the crisper the air becomes. You can smell the Great Lake our Indigenous neighbors call Gichigami. The Tribal Lands are not far; about 30 miles as a crow or boat cruises. On your way here, you must turn by Dreamland, one of the walk’s sponsors and the only restaurant this way. Your tires will hit gravel at this point. Continue until you cross Rabbit Bay Road; turn and head to the big lake. When you see the sign for parking, turn left and park along the forested road.

Ready?

We are about to start the walk through the woods where paired paintings and 99-word stories and verse hang in a natural art galley. Quick, let us show you the path…(videos on the October 2: 99-word Story Challenge).

The art and featured writing that hangs in the trees invites participants to respond with a haiku, 1-word, 5-word, or 99-word response to the painting, title(s), story/verse, or all. You can join, responding to the featured paintings and 99-word stories or verse in the comments below (be sure to read the call to collaborate below). Following the gallery are eight painting and writing art activities to do yourself. You can post photos your creations on the KIAW Facebook page.

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Carrot Ranchers also responded with different stories to the single painting “Southwest Pumpkins.” You can read the Collection here.

DIY ART ACTIVITIES

At the KIAW, tables are set up where participants can paint rocks, driftwood, and other surfaces. Artists, I’m discovering from hanging out with TOJ, collect surfaces the way literary artists collect stories. Artists apply paint and writers apply words. One of the art activities tables will feature Carrot Ranch Literary Community and invite participants to try their pen at writing 99-words. For the virtual version, you can consider these activities for do it yourself where you are.

#1 Art Activity: Paint a Rock

Any smooth river or beach-worn rock will do. Acrylic paint works best, and you can find acrylic pens. Even a sharpie works. Make sure your rock is clean and dry. Start with a base layer and build a design from there. You can paint a flower or dot the contours of the rock. Wait for paint to dry before building layers. It’s not necessary, but you can spray an acrylic sealer to seal and gloss the colors of your paint.

#2 Art Activity: Paint Driftwood

Driftwood is water-worn bits of branches, trunks, and lumber. It’s smooth, as if nature polished the wood herself. If you do not have access to driftwood, you can make it yourself. Go out in the woods or beneath the closest tree or shrub and collect a few pieces of twigs or small branches. Use sandpaper to polish the bits into smooth surfaces. You can use the same acrylic paints, or spray paint. How can the shape of the wood inform your design? Consider the first art piece in the Gallery, “Vikings,” where TOJ used a cut of trunk as her canvas.

#3 Art Activity: Paint the World

Careful, this activity might become a lifetime passion! Go for a walk and look for things that make you say, “I’d paint that.” You do not need to acquire supplies; this activity requires imagination. When you see something interesting to paint, pause. Imagine the colors you’d apply. What image starts to take shape in your mind’s eye? How would you paint or decorate a tree, a cloud, an entire hillside? Does nature help you in this activity? Do birds carry your designs?

#4 Art Activity: Paint Discards

Many discards around the world are plastics. Some people comb beaches, waterways, woods, and along highways for what we call “trash.” Indeed, trash mars our natural environments because plastics are harmful to birds, fish, animals and insects. What if we collected these bits for art projects? Milk jugs can become garden lanterns and bottle caps a chain of daisies. Start looking for the artistic potential in what we throw away. Plastic is a great smooth surface for paint.

#5 Art Activity: Write an Imitation

One of the best ways to deepen an understanding for a writer’s work is to take a few sentences or a paragraph and rewrite some, most or all of the words. This is an activity of syntax, like creating your own Mad Libs. Notice if a writer uses a short Subject-Verb-Object construction or long, winding sentences. Apply your own ideas or have fun with words, while also studying the structures published or classic authors use(d).

#6 Art Activity: Write a 99-word Reflection

99-words is the hallmark constraint used at Carrot Ranch for weekly Challenges (see the most recent challenge under the blog tab). The featured writers and Southwest Pumpkins Collection writers participated in the KIAW through their 99-word stories and verse. Taking inspiration from them, write a 99-word response to any (or all) paintings featured above. You can write a story or verse and post it in the comments below.

#7 Art Activity: Write a 99-word Memoir

Now take your reflection within. Consider a memory and how you could express it in 99-words. Sometimes, writers at Carrot Ranch will craft 99-words based on a true story (BOTS). What is the tone of your memory — happy, sad, excited? How can you distill the story into a word constraint? What can be left out? Go for a walk or get outside and ponder your idea while you move and write when you come back inside.

#8 Art Activity: Write a 99-word Bird Report

Pay attention to the birds throughout your day. Go outside first thing in the morning. Who do you see or hear. Return outside midday and at dusk. Did the bird environment change? Were the sounds and sightings different throughout the day? Write your report (and your responses to the encounters) in 99-words.

Want to Partake in Community Collaboration?

This page will remain through December of 2023. Gitty Up Press will release a commemorative book(let) in 2024. If you want your reflections from the comments to be considered for the book(let) under “A Community Responds to Art,” indicate your agreement in the collaboration along with your response. If you do not indicate your agreement, we will not include your reflections. All writers retain their copyright. Any proceeds from the book directly supports the continuation of the Keweenaw Interactive Art Walk. We hope you enjoy this project!

We’d like to thank our neighbors, The Queen of Canning, and gracious sponsors for supporting our event: