by Ben Shine
For 15 years I have made the trek to the northwest corner of Michigan. On the eastern edge of spring-fed Crystal Lake (not the one in Friday the 13th films) lies Beulah, Michigan. Not exactly a tourist mecca, but it's a really beautiful spot close to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. And it's where you can find sellers of all manner of lake fish -- smoked, fried, sautéed and delicious. Beulah isn't the only place I go on vacation, but it's the one I go to most often, including just last week.
That trip has made me realize that I approach getaway destinations similarly as how I approach my own town. That is, I enjoy it more when I can take the time to find its hidden gems, gather as much information about the real culture of a space and just exist in that space. It's better when you know the best place for pie, the best spot for handmade sausage and the authentic, homegrown art tucked away down a winding road.
In Benzie County (home of Beulah), Gwen Frostic's studio and shop has been selling nature-inspired work for half a century. Born in 1901, Frostic began making art while still in high school and turned to linoleum printing during World War II, when metal was in short supply.
By 1950 she had set up shop in Frankfort, Michigan (which is on the other side of Crystal Lake and a great place to get smoked fish), selling stationery goods and prints through her Presscraft Prints business. In 1960, she bought 40 acres and began construction on a distinctive home and studio. Frostic passed away in 2001, and locals purchased the shop to preserve her legacy.
Besides a lot of glorious woods, some sandy beaches and great "up-North" dining spots, there's not a ton to do in Beulah. That's part of the charm. On a rainy day when a beach trip or long hike in the woods is out of the question, the ideal outing is a visit to Frostic's shop.
The building has seen better days (its rehabilitation is the focus of a fundraising effort), but the artist's dedication to living in and being inspired by nature is evident throughout. There are windows everywhere, and a fountain or two inside the building. Sculptures of woodland creatures are stashed in nearly every corner. Her personal study overlooks a marshy pond. You can imagine that a hobbit would be perfectly happy here, ideally if he loved making prints.
Her art, though, is the real attraction. She made the natural world her primary subject, and she captured it in lovely block prints. From columbine and fiddlehead ferns to herons and frogs, the beautiful inhabitants of the Michigan woods are depicted in her work.
In the shop you can purchase the prints primarily on notecards, which can be readily cut down into frame-ready pieces of art. The shop makes annual calendars, notebooks and crosspoint needlework patterns. We may have picked up a baseball tee embroidered with an adorable raccoon on our recent visit. More than a lovely place to shop, the studio makes for a unique destination for anyone who appreciates printmaking. It houses the largest collection of Heidelberg presses in the country, which are always on view from the shop and in action four days a week.
I'm writing this with my fingers crossed that not everyone starts heading to Beulah each year. Selfishly I don't want it to change all that much. But I would love it if more people had the chance to explore Frostic's art in particular. Hers is a testament to what I love about that corner of the world: It hasn't changed much in a long time, and it is deeply connected and reliant on nature in a way that my flatland home is not.
There's a purity to that connection that's just as exciting as the truly glorious pie that you can get in Beulah. (Pro tip: Both the Cherry Hut and the Market Basket are must-stops for pie, and they are conveniently right next to each other on the edge of town). Happily, you don't have to visit Benzie County to see Frostic's work — most of it is available online.