Bushey’s piece at Art­Prize was called ‘Prayers for the Great Lakes.’ | Courtesy Barbara Bushey

Barbara Bushey, pro­fessor of art, draws inspi­ration from the beau­tiful scapes of Michigan where she grew up. But her art has more than one purpose: Bushey draws attention not only to the beauty of but also threats to the envi­ronment.

Bushey’s latest project is ‘Prayers for the Great Lakes,’ a series of five hand-dyed and hand-stitched quilts. Its mission is more political than her past three quilt projects, Bushey said.

“Water is life, and it’s our great resource,” Bushey said. “There’s a number of problems that are affecting the Great Lakes. I wanted to call attention to an ever increasing problem, whether it’s species that gets there that shouldn’t be there, junk that we put in the lake, or taking the water away from the lake.”

Bushey dyed the quilts to portray various wave pat­terns on silk organza fabric. Each one reflects a dif­ferent problem impacting the Lakes. While one quilt has a picture of zebra mussels invading the lakes, another has a picture of blue green algae that pollute the water. She sewed water bottles on another. She began the project in January while on sab­batical, and worked for months, fin­ishing in Sep­tember.

Bushey sub­mitted her quilts for 10th annual Art­Prize in Grand Rapids, Michigan, as did Douglas Coon, pho­tog­rapher and lec­turer in art, who sub­mitted a pho­to­graph. Art­Prize offers over 200 dif­ferent venues for artists to feature their work. Bushey sub­mitted ‘Prayers for the Great Lakes,’ to the Water Treatment Building.

Art­Prize is an “inde­pen­dently-run inter­na­tional art com­pe­tition which takes place for 19 days every other fall in Grand Rapids,” according to its website. Coon noted that Art­Prize is like nothing he’s seen before.

“I just thought it was the coolest thing I ever saw,” he said. “There’s just stuff all over town. You see highbrow modern con­tem­porary art and then you see the cheesiest folk art and any­thing in between. I couldn’t com­prehend how this all came together.”

Bushey’s artist statement is a prayer for the lakes to be saved from the five major dangers indi­cated in each quilt. Senior Sam Gal­lipeau, art major and student of Bushey, attended Art­Prize and said he found Bushey’s work “quite refreshing.”

“I am glad that Dr. Bushey’s work addressed the problem that we have plastic pol­lution in our Great Lakes,” Gal­lipeau said in an email. “Keeping plastic out of our lakes and ocean are really important to me, being from Rhode Island.”

Sophomore Heidi Yacoubian, art major and student of Bushey, related this piece to Bushey’s char­acter and per­son­ality.

“I think Pro­fessor Bushey has the ability to give a lot of per­spective,” Yacoubian said. “She is able to make sense of the impact art has on society and how it will reflect society as a whole. These quilts reflect her per­son­ality, very col­orful and very lively, but have a lot of depth and meaning to them.”

Coon sub­mitted pho­tog­raphy from his trip to New Mexico. | Courtesy Doug Coon.

Coon’s pho­to­graph he sub­mitted is from his visit to New Mexico in 2017. Choosing a pho­to­graph of the San Fran­cisco Assisi Mission Church with canaries flying in the air, he sought a con­tem­porary-style photo.

“It is one of the oldest pueblo-style churches in the country,” Coon said. “I got there early enough when there weren’t mobs of tourists floating around. The reason I took this image has mostly to do with the birds. I watched these pigeons and they just kept cycling.”

Coon inten­tionally set the shutter speed so that he could capture a blurry shot of the birds. A pole in the image is casting a shadow, reflecting his desire for a “con­tem­porary feel.”

At first, Coon did not plan to submit this piece to Art­Prize.

“I very seldom think about what I’m going to do with an image when I’m taking a photo of it,” Coon said. “Then when Art­Prize rolls around, gen­erally, I’m more inter­ested in the more recent things I’ve done.”

When asked about the meaning of the piece, Coon laughed.

“I don’t really like doing these very per­sonal art state­ments, you start to go off-the-rails a little bit,” Coon said. “I’m much more inter­ested in what someone takes away from my artwork.”

Senior Christian Yiu, student of Coon, com­mented on Coon’s style.

“I think he has a very good eye for dif­ferent color schemes as well as com­po­sition,” Yiu said. “The way that he com­poses his shots are quite breath­taking. You see cre­ativity and orig­i­nality in them.”

Coon said that there is def­i­nitely some­thing about art that makes someone human. It just seems to be a desire of human beings to express how they view the world, he said.

“There’s an old saying that says, ‘Artists are canaries in a coal mine for society,’” Bushey said. “We bring up problems before other people notice them.”

Coon remarked that art had been around from the time people began inhab­iting the world.

“I like the fact that art doesn’t have a purpose beyond itself,” Coon said. “Humans seems to create stuff just for the joy of making it and wit­nessing it.”