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The Art Of Austin

Carina Hume - April 21st, 2008
When David K. Austin left Marquette in 1994 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Northern Michigan University in hand, he was searching for snow. An avid cross country skier, he wanted to live where he could pursue both of his passions. Petoskey was his compromise, and he’s built a career in art along the way.
“At the time, I was skiing heavily – cross country skiing,” says Austin, who ran the Boyne Highlands Cross Country Ski Program for five seasons. “It was the closest I could get to the sculptures I was doing in southern Michigan, but still ski.”

LARGE-SCALE ART
Today, Austin’s main focus locally is operating Muddypaw, LLC, a sculpture and pond business he owns with his wife, Leslie.
“We’re probably one of the largest pond-building companies in Northern Michigan,” he says. “We’ve been operating in the area for 10 years; it’s run locally, but we operate all over the state.”
“The pond-building started off of the public art projects we were doing in southern Michigan. I worked primarily with the ceramic medium to create free-standing sculpture, some representative, some more abstract; many had water features.”
As people began looking for more natural, subtle features in their ponds, Austin became skilled at making something look like it really belonged.
“That’s where my art training and background comes in,” he says, noting the changes in the company, since its inception.
“We were doing big landscape projects, but now our focus is really trying to cater to the fine residential projects. We scaled back to be more unique and custom-oriented. We’re kind of virtual now – we don’t have the retail store – but we have a moveable pond store. For the clients, we can deliver supplies directly to their door.”
The company has done many projects in Northern Michigan, both private and public, including water features at Bay Bluffs in Harbor Springs and at the Quiet Moose and Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Petoskey.

ARTSY FAMILY
Growing up in Battle Creek, Austin’s mother was an art teacher and his father was a professional photographer. Their artistic talent rubbed off on him, and he began his college studies in graphic design. A major setback caused him to explore other artistic options.
“I ended up trying a bunch of different media work – painting, sculpture, ceramics, figuring I’d choose whatever drew me the most.”
He received his degree in ceramics, but Austin continues to create in multiple media.
“I work in paintings, pottery, some photography…,” he says. “Whatever medium I need to use to tell the story that I’m telling. I’m more interested in the narrative than the medium.”
Austin paints with acrylics – an eight foot canvas is his project at the moment. He also continues to pursue ceramics – a variety of his eclectic teapots and affordable cups are available at Petoskey’s Northern Michigan Artists Market, a business he helped form in 2003. His sculpture and pond work can be seen in cities around the state.

TEACHER AT HEART
Sharing his knowl-edge is important to Austin, who has apprenticed several potters through the years, given lectures on his craft, and taught water-feature workshops and ceramics classes in his community, a trend he continues out of his gallery today.
The gallery, What Is That, LLC, located in Ypsilanti, owned by Austin and his wife, represents local, regional and national artists. “It’s multimedia,” he says. “We’re very eclectic in representing the artists.” Splitting their time between two cities gives the couple the opportunity to better serve their clients.
“A lot of our clients from Northern Michigan had houses in the southeast Michigan area,” says Austin. “We wanted to be closer to our clients – at both homes.”
Now that both businesses are well-established, Austin is happy to be getting back to his art. “I always seem to be more ambitious than times allows,” he says with a laugh. “I’m always working on something.”
Inspiration comes to him from anything – people, nature, concepts and politics. “Everyone around you gives you inspiration, and being in that creative zone is most rewarding,” Austin admits. “One of the things I most enjoy is seeing people’s reactions to the piece. I hope to have some influence on people, but for me, the process is more important than the piece.”

To contact David K. Austin, call him at Muddypaw at 231-439-0067 or 231-330-7993, visit his website at www.muddypaw.net or e-mail, muddypaw@charter.net.

 
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