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’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.”