When you ask an artist how they ended up being artistic, or what first inspired them, often the answer lies with family.
"I was constantly being exposed to art," says artist Laura DeNault. "Without even knowing it."
In her youth, she found inspiration in her family, where her father and oldest brother were always creating or being artistic by painting, building models, woodworking, attending art fairs, and more.
Growing up in St. Clair, she originally studied to be an architect, which included a stint at St. Clair Tech during her senior year.
To her own surprise, she ended up studying graphic design at St. Clair County Community College instead.
Now residing in Croswell, DeNault keeps busy as an artist but also completes renovations and carpentry with her husband at their rental units, owns a framing business called "You Name it, We Frame it," and a children’s artist group called Mix it UP
that she teaches out of her home.
"I wanted to give the children in our community a place to be creative on a different level than in school," she says. "Unfortunately, our local elementary schools do not have an art program. I felt like I needed to do something for the children that wish to see more artistic avenues."
DeNault focuses the classes on “character, confidence, and creativity.”
They take field trips to museums and were even featured during DeNault's last exhibit at Studio 1219.
DeNault currently sells her artwork at solo exhibits around Port Huron and in some of the local cafes and studios, such as Kate's Downtown Café, Studio 1219, and Exquisite Corpse Coffee House.
"Port Huron is a unique place for artists of all kinds," she says. "There is an artistic vibe that's been emerging in the Blue Water area for many years."
DeNault mostly works by commission and creates pieces for a specific space.
"I have a Facebook page called Impressions by Laura DeNaul
t in which people can view my recent and current work, or contact me with any questions."
Her main medium is acrylics, partially because they dry fast, and see instant results, and do not carry a strong odor. She also uses graphite to make portraits, and still draws architectural pieces, as well. DeNault also does pen and ink drawings of buildings and homes, because it allows her to still get her architectural "fix."
"These opportunities have given me confidence in displaying my work, putting myself out there for all to see," she says. "And as an artist, sometimes that takes years to overcome and/or accomplish."
Art communities growing
Jason Stier, the current principal at Riverview East High School in St. Clair, is also involved in the arts community and was inspired by family to start teaching.
Along with DeNault, he is the co-founder of Artful Allies,
a group intended for artists can network to bring more awareness to art-related events around the Blue Water Area.
"You can look for artists for commissions, share your events, share and repost events for others," says DeNault. "Artists have to stick together. We support one another 110 percent and now there is a site where everyone can go to do just that."
Stier says until recently, artists in the Port Huron area and in other communities were left in the underground, and the public would not become familiar with their community artists.
"While our region is rich with art galleries, co-ops, and arts organizations, the artists themselves are rarely seen by the public," he says. "Port Huron and the surrounding communities have recently created exciting opportunities for artists' skills to be witnessed by placing them in charge of operating gallery spaces, teaching classes and workshops, and discussing their trades during events such as Art Hop."
Stier credits the local waterways and special materials in the region that contributes to inspiration for artists, and says that the resulting artwork is a unique perspective that visitors and residents alike clamor for.
Brady Harris is one of those artists.
Harris uses his youth travels up north and to the St. Clair area as inspiration to paint memories from his past experiences,
which he says many relate to.
"My biggest reward is seeing their smiles and hearing their comments that they also shared the same memories," says Harris.
He is a self-taught artist who grew up in Southeast Michigan and who now shows his work at local art fairs and at local spaces such as Studio 1912.
He has participated in several art fairs this summer.
According to Harris, art fairs can be fun if the weather holds up. He loves to meet people and has been working on making his paintings more affordable for the masses.
"Last year we obtained a commercial printer for making realistic copies of the art," says Harris.
"The copies are printed and stretched on canvas which are hard to tell apart from the originals. The print copies make the art affordable to the public at the shows (most under $100). My wife and I make all the frames for mounting the prints, so the art is ready to hang and display. We also sell poster art copies of the originals, which are even more affordable under $50."
"Our communities have also embraced the importance of public art and are capitalizing on local talent to embellish our
outdoor spaces, add character to our communities, and create unique gathering spaces," says Stier.
One of those artists working hard to embellish outdoor spaces is Dave Fry. A stone and clay artist from Detroit, Fry was also inspired by family, by an older sister that would take him to the DIA and the Detroit Public Library.
"Just seeing those spaces and what was inside them," he says.
Fry ended up building himself a dark room before studying photography and filmmaking at Grand Valley State University, after which he worked professionally for 15 years doing commercial, industrial and documentaries.
After becoming an "empty nester" parent, Fry started taking night classes in clay at the St. Clair Art Association
, where his instructor, Carolyn Symanski introduced him to sculpting and stone carving.
"Discovering the inside beauty of a boulder or rock and seeing results from that effort is amazing to me," says Fry.
Fry has shown at various fairs in St. Clair and Oakland Counties, and he thinks Port Huron is a great place to be an artist.
"Port Huron is great," he says. "It's doers, givers, and risk-takers, both creatively and financially that make a place more interesting. It's impressive the amount of those types of people in our county."
He also thinks Port Huron is on trend for being an important place to view public art.
"One of the top reasons people go places is to see interesting or unique things. When one goes to Belle Isle or Italy, one can't help from looking at the fountains or statues--public art."
Stier says some of those places to see public art in St. Clair County, besides its numerous galleries and boutiques, include the fountain in the St. Clair Plaza park courtyard entitled "Two Ships Passing," and a mosaic fish named "Wally" on the bank of the Pine River in Rotary Park in St. Clair.
"The bottom line is, there is art everywhere you look," says Stier. "The Blue Water region is a wealth of talent and that talent is becoming more and more visible thanks to a collective spirit of creativity, collaboration, and community."