And Leelanau County artist Michelle Hart Jahraus is an outspoken advocate
of painting outdoors, or plein air especially near water. Capturing
the elusive qualities of light and landscapes are fascinating to her. She
even teaches classes in the classic artistic practice.
If I havent had a day near the water, I feel unfulfilled or
irresponsible, she says with a smile. I feel its sort of a
responsibility to art.
Jahraus, who lives in Maple City, specializes in compelling landscapes of
Leelanau County, ranging from the alluring shoreline of Lake Michigan to
weathered barns and flowering hillsides. Lelands Old Art Building, Empire
Bluffs and venerable Fishtown are some of her favorite places and shes
captured their charm in several works.
I like to work from a preliminary sketch, explains Jahraus. Then I use
Golden acrylics, by far the best Ive found. I never work with oils Im
DUCK TO SWAN
When shes not outside working on a landscape, Jahraus can be found
bustling around inside her studio at the Duck to Swan Gallery which she
owns and operates in downtown Cedar. She shares the quaint building with
jewelry designer Liz Saile, a talented artist in her own right.
Of course, our busiest season is the summer, says Jahraus with a laugh.
And thats when I want to be outside painting. But running the gallery is
fun, too, visiting with our customers. And weve grown every year, except
2009 when we had a cold, gray summer.
Putting all her artwork out for the public to inspect was initially a
little unnerving for Jahraus. At first I was petrified, she recalls.
Im a shy person and to put my paintings out there and hear the comments,
it was hard. Now I love what they say about my paintings.
As the gallery gained popularity, so has Jahraus whose works have
generated a handful of avid collectors. She sees the same folks coming
each summer from Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, California and the Carolinas.
They travel north to see what slices of Northern Michigan scenes Jahraus
Last year she entered one of her works This Side of the Manitou in
the ArtPrize competition in Grand Rapids. The 65-inch by 25-inch piece
captures the sunrise and sunset of life in a compelling landscape. Its
my ballad painting, she says.
Born in Pittsburgh, PA, Jahraus family goes back five generations in
Leelanau County. As a child her family would spend summers in northern
Michigan, sometimes along East Grand Traverse Bay, sometimes on Old
Mission Peninsula. At Wheaton College she double-majored in art and
geology, giving her a solid background for many of her landscape works
that involve craggy rocky shorelines or popular Petoskey stones.
Rocks are some of the most popular things we do, she says. And
lighthouses are so popular that they sell before I can even get prints
made of them.
Several of her works are available as giclee prints, making them available
for a price that is more economical than an original acrylic painting. She
works with Traverse Citys Scott Wilson to painstakingly produce the
stunning prints on canvas. The reproductions are limited to 100 prints.
Jahraus does her own framing, often using weathered barn wood to perfectly
capture the rural scenes that she depicts. Old tongue and groove works
great, she says.
So who are the artists who inspire her?
Shes a big fan of pottery maker Julie Chai and Leif Sporck, known for his
colorful, creative ceramic tiles. I love Maxwell Parrish, Monet, most of
the Impressionists, she says. And Grant Wood. People know him for
American Gothic, but he did a ton of landscapes.
Jahraus feels especially privileged to live in scenic Leelanau County.
I love to be a part of preserving it, she says. Not only do I support
efforts to safeguard our natural environment, I also portray and document
our local beauty on canvas and watercolor paper My passion is to portray
the shores, sands and scenes that God has created and make them available
for others to enjoy and remember year round.
For more information about Jahraus and her works, go to