Upper Peninsula artists catch Second Wave's eye at Escanaba show

Two Upper Peninsula artists were recently honored with a Media Award at the Northern Exposure XIX art show at the William Bonifas Fine Arts Center in Escanaba.

Pen and ink artist Sara Bagley of Garden and photographer Dennis Staffne of Marquette were both chosen by Upper Peninsula's Second Wave for this award, one of several chosen by area media outlets.

Sara Bagley

Sara Bagley's home studio sits on the shore of Lake Michigan and is surrounded by wooded areas, a backdrop that lent itself to the inspiration for her award-winning Illusions, which she created on and off over the years, she says.

Bagley's pen and ink drawing at first glance shows a path through a wooded area, much like what is found throughout the U.P. At closer look, one will see multitudes of faces, so many that Bagley lost track. These faces climbs the tree trunks and sprinkle the forest floor. They represent many aspects of life and their features are based both on true life and fictional beings, she says.

"We are the trees, the sky, the rocks, and they are us; all a big, powerful coexistence of yesterday, today and tomorrow. But more simplistically for me, I just seem to see faces and figures everywhere.  I can't stop it. Perhaps it's my imagination or something deeper," she says. "Also, what great props for a story as they group together dancing, whispering and singing or making fun of us or even shunning us."

When Bagley found out she was the winner of the Media Award, she was ecstatic; she says she even danced her way home. It was the first time she entered this particular piece in a show, but not the first time she had won an award at a Bonifas show.

Bagley's talents range beyond pen and ink and extend into watercolor, oil and sculpture. For as long as she can remember, she has been involved in the arts.

A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has a degree in art education and continues to learn as well as teach. She has gained inspiration and technique through her travels to Europe, South America and Japan and has taught in many venues including 20 years of public school teaching. She is now retired in the U.P.

"I told my friends that I would never stop teaching even if it meant that I would teach to the trees," she says. "It seems that that is exactly what has happened. What a grand place for my life as an artist and friend."

Bagley currently teaches at the Village Artisans and will soon be teaching at Bonifas. Her work can be found in three U.P. galleries and has been seen in gallery shows across the Midwest.

"My greatest award, however, is all that I have learned from my students," she says.

Dennis Staffne

Dennis Staffne, of Marquette, won the Media Award and Purchase Prize for his photograph Snow Blower, as well as the Chamber of Commerce Award for Number 3, at Northern Exposure XIX. He entered the show because taking part in regional shows is important to him.

"I was not expecting any awards. So when I won three awards for the two prints I had on display I was quite pleased," he says.

Created to have a similar effect as a more traditional silver print, this digital photograph is of a historic rail snow blower which is on display at the Museum of Transportation in St. Louis.

This particular snow blower trumps the average personal snow blower; it was used to create paths on railroads through the mountains of the west. It could cut through snow almost as tall as an average one-story house and had to be pushed by as many as three locomotives, Staffne says.

He shot this photograph using a tripod in August and chose this machine as a subject due to its geometric aspects and its relation to the industrial age. His training in graphic design also had an influence.

"That involvement certainly affected my visual sensibilities toward shape relationships and typography," he says. "Two years of drawing classes as an undergraduate student were an important foundation to my approach and understanding of visual composition."

Although Snow Blower is not part of a specific series, Staffne says he has taken an interest in train photography for many years and enjoys visiting rail museums.

Staffne prints his photographs on his home Canon printer and often creates a sepia or warm-tone finish on them. He chooses to still use film while also embracing digital photography in his work.

"I continue to use a diverse approach to photographic methodology," he says. "I recognize the importance of traditional processes that have influenced my approach to digital techniques."

Photography has been in Staffne's life since he was in high school. At age 18, he created his first photo essay Forest Park 1969, which recently was shown as a solo exhibit at the SOHA Gallery in St. Louis. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fine arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

In the past four years he has shown his work in 30 exhibits and teaches photography at the School of Art and Design at Northern Michigan University, which is something he enjoys doing.

"I totally enjoy photography and feel more engaged with the medium than ever before...It gets you out and in contact with people, places and events," he says. "It is great for being creatively engaged with the world around you."

Living in the Upper Peninsula has proved to be a positive aspect of his photography career.

"The U.P. is a great place to explore with the camera. Winter weather makes outdoor photography more difficult but just turn my efforts to different directions," he says.

Snow Blower is now on display at the DeVos Art Museum at Northern Michigan University for the Art and Design Faculty Exhibit until Feb. 17. Staffne's work also can be viewed on his website.

Julia Woehrer is a freelance writer, photographer and social media coordinator. She attended the School of Art and Design at Northern Michigan University where she concentrated in photography and minored in journalism. She volunteers at a local no-kill cat shelter and enjoys spending time with her cats, Bella and Macy.
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