State - Ovid Artist to promote the environment with grant Series of Japanese woodblock prints to focus on Shiawassee River

By Julianne Mattera

The Argus Press (Owosso)

OVID, Mich. (AP) -- Linda Beeman was one of many junior high students in Owosso who celebrated their first Earth Day in 1970 by picking up truckloads of trash around the city. Since then, the memory of bags upon bags of trash that students retrieved has remained lodged in Beeman's mind.

Of course, that wasn't the only place she's found trash over the years. Growing up next to the Shiawassee River in Owosso, Beeman often saw pollution-related suds in the water and garbage floating down what she considered a piece of her backyard. And when Beeman took up geocaching as a hobby, she was disappointed to see water bottles and old plastic containers dotting otherwise beautiful natural areas.

"It really surprised me to see the irresponsibility," Beeman said. "I just thought, 'How hard is it to throw it away? Why did you have to do that?'"

Now, the Ovid resident and self-described Michigan artist has been awarded a $1,000 emerging artist grant from the Arts Council of Greater Lansing to produce and exhibit a series of Japanese woodblock prints focusing on promoting environmental awareness regarding the Shiawassee River.

Called "12 Views of the Shiawassee," the exhibition is scheduled to begin around late fall and will include Beeman demonstrating the moku hanga technique -- a Japanese form of printmaking that uses watercolor paint and carved wood to create images on paper. Additionally, Beeman will collaborate with environmental agencies such as the Friends of the Shiawassee River and the North Oakland County Headwater's Land Conservancy.

"Linda was seeking to collaborate on a project that would raise environmental awareness but also produce beautiful prints," said Katie Robiadek, program manager for the Arts Council of Greater Lansing. "Her work is very detailed and very relevant to Mid-Michigan, so I think the panel was especially pleased with her applications for those reasons."

In her daily life and with "12 Views of the Shiawassee," Beeman is a proponent of the environment who is quick to remind people that the Great Lakes are one of Michigan's greatest assets. Beeman knows she can't simply go out on a boat and hope to solve all of the state's water pollution problems, but she hopes her exhibit will inspire others to care more about the environment.

"Art has long been used for political (purposes)" and as a means to reach out to people and get a point across, Beeman said. "I was hoping by showing the river in different settings, in different places along the way and how just beautiful it is, it would entice people to care."

Beeman's prints showcase parts of the Shiawassee River from Oakland to Saginaw County. With the exception of one print, all portray the Shiawassee River weaving its way through natural or rural areas, varying from parks to a swamp.

But she did include a print that shows a point in the river behind Owosso City Hall -- alluding to the importance rivers have had in being a water source for the communities built around them.

Local environmental topics, such as the future of Corunna's dam, are also close to Beeman's heart. One of her completed woodblock prints depicts the rock rapids system that Chesaning opted for after its dam broke. And Beeman hopes Corunna chooses a similarly eco-friendly option when it fixes the dam there.

"When you don't need the dam anymore to run the mill that's no longer there, then the dam is really just aesthetic. People like it because it's pretty," Beeman said. "And I understand people who live along the river -- things will change with river levels and everything once that dam is gone, but everything is not always about humans. It's not about us, it's about the health of a water system."

But most of all, Beeman hopes her prints get people to think about the conservation of the river in its entirety, as well as the Great Lakes.

"I know people are desperate for employment. But we need to protect our state and not be swayed by things that are going to hurt us ecologically," Beeman said. "My whole thing with this is conservation of the river in its entirety. And that's what I want to get across to people from Oakland County to Saginaw. It's not just our section of river; the river flows."

Published: Tue, Jun 1, 2010