Wolff, a nationally-renowned illustrator of some 20 books, and for publications such as the New York Times, Sports Illustrated and Audubon magazine, has singlehandedly defined the rustic, woodland ethos of Northern Michigan in the nation‘s consciousness over the past 15 years. His pen-and-ink drawings and watercolors capture the region‘s streams, lakes, forests and wildlife in the same spirit as Hemingway‘s early novels. If ever there was an artist who could claim the honor of laying the keystone for a Northern Michigan school of art along the same lines as the art celebrating the pueblos, desert scenes and wildlife of the American Southwest, then it is surely Glenn Wolff.
And although illustration provides Wolff‘s bread and butter as a career, he is also noted for his work as a musician, playing stand-up bass on half a dozen albums with some of Northern Michigan‘s most acclaimed artists, including Don Julin and Ron Getz. Currently, Wolff is a member of the new Neptune Quartet -- our region‘s answer to such avant garde, nationally-touring acts as the Kronos Quartet or the Turtle Island String Quartet. The Neptune Quartet is currently packing Poppycock‘s restaurant in downtown Traverse City on weekend nights, ripsawing the air with breadcutter string patterns that ring with a dense, crisp texture and power. It‘s string music on a knife‘s edge with a hammer swinging down swift and hard behind. The band performs in concert with Blue Dog this March at the Dennos, with the possibility of a national tour this summer.
AND THAT‘S NOT ALL
But if your experience with Wolff‘s art has been strictly his illustration, or of observing the quiet guy at the back of the band, then his “Midwest Twilight“ show will come as a surprise.
In this exhibit of 14-16 paintings, Wolff presents the fine art side of his creativity, which veers from his commercial work to offer a sense of personal vision.
“I sort of see this whole show as a meditation on the Midwest,“ he says. “You can ask, is it the Midwest as night falls, or are we experiencing the twilight of the Midwest with the growth of urban sprawl and shopping malls? The images here are things you see less and less.“
One such image, “Perfect Dorsal Moment,“ is that of a Michigan Grayling -- a Great Lakes fish which is now extinct. Painted in acrylics on an old piece of tongue-and-groove wood, the body of the magical fish reflects the stars and a sense of passing away.
A number of Wolff‘s paintings are on barn wood or rough surfaces from local farms. A portrait of a horse, for instance, was painted on an old barn door which still has the runners attached at the top. Another whimsical piece, “How the Midwest Was Won,“ is painted on corrugated metal and includes an attached ice fishing tip-up rig. Wolff includes meaningful passages of text in his portraits of his daughters, Lillie and Sarah, and blends metallic inks with natural objects, such as twigs and leaves embedded in his art.
“I spent a lot of time haunting Odem‘s (a home salvage company in Traverse City) for reusable material to work on,“ Wolff says. The rough old, once-familiar materials of the past lend an authentic midwestern feel to the artwork.
Although Wolff has been employed as an illustrator for the past 20 years or so and earned a degree in fine art from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in 1975, it has only been in the last five years or so that he began turning more to fine art as a form of expression.
His paintings are currently represented at the Tamarack Gallery in Leelanau County. His work is also available at a gallery in Santa Fe, and has been exhibited in a show in Minneapolis. His original work sells for $1,200 - $4,800.
Dennos Museum Curator Gene Jenneman was in Minneapolis to see Wolff‘s exhibition last spring, and the two got to talking about a show at the Traverse City museum. Wolff says he‘s especially pleased with the local attention, because it reminds him of the culture of Europe, where small town museums showcase local artists.
As part of the exhibit, which runs through March 9, Wolff led a workshop of 25 participants to create a Watershed Suite collaborative work of art over Thanksgiving week. The work will be auctioned off during the course of the exhibition, with funds going to support the Watershed Suite Project, which introduces local students to an appreciation of conservation through the arts.
Beyond its midwestern theme, Wolff says his show is “inspired by the state of imperfect clarity that exists between daylight and darkness, including meditations on family, landscape, creatures, and sky...“ See for yourself at Dennos Museum Center this winter.