New artist program will help return 'the presence of people' to Keweenaw National Historical Park

This summer, an artist’s work will put a spotlight on the lives of the workers and families who once crowded Copper Country.

The new Commissioned Artist Program at Keweenaw National Historical Park will install finished works by Kasey Koski near the Quincy Dry House ruins along U.S. 41 in Hancock. The program's goal is to use art to “return the presence of people” to these historic landscapes.

National Park ServiceThe artist, Kasey Koski, has roots in the Upper Peninsula. A native of the Upper Peninsula, Koski now lives in Washington state but will make trips to the Keweenaw Peninsula to scope out the site, create her sculptures and participate in park events and programs. In her personal work she expresses herself frequently through paint and fiber, but has also worked in metal, wood and landscape.

“To give something back to this community, that helps affirm my foundation as an artist,” she says. “I'm quite excited — and it's going to be a very interesting summer.”

What’s happening: Keweenaw National Historical Park (NHP), Keweenaw NHP Advisory Commission, and Isle Royale and Keweenaw Parks Association (IRKPA) have selected Koski, an interdisciplinary artist in Wenatchee, Washington, as the first artist to participate in the park's Commissioned Artist Program. 

Koski grew up in Baraga County. This summer, her work will capture the everyday lives of those who lived in Copper Country during its heyday of mining production a century ago. “The proposal was asking specifically to ‘repopulate the site of the Quincy Dry House,’” Koski says. Her installation will do that with steel silhouette pieces.

The back story: According to the park service, the Keweenaw Peninsula has been the site of copper extraction for more than 7,000 years. In the late 1800s, Michigan produced more than three-quarters of the nation's copper, and the mining industry employed more than 5,000 workers.

National Park ServiceBack then, the Quincy Dry House was where miners changed into their work clothes before entering the copper mine shafts. After work, they would change out of their work clothes and wash up before heading home. The site represents the transition between the domestic and industrial sides of the miners’ lives. 

Koski says that her art will be placed near the site, situated carefully to avoid impeding any archeological work that may be done there in the future. Her new art is intended to help the national park meet its root mission of conservation and enjoyment. 

What happens next: Through the summer, visitors will have the opportunity to interact with Koski and view her work on Facebook and other social media as she designs her steel installation.  She says she will travel from Washington at least twice, first to work with local fabricators and others to consult about placement of the pieces. She will also be on hand to build the art and interact during special public programs and events; dates yet to be announced.

“I do hope to have things wrapped up before the snow flies or the season changes,” she says, “so installation is going to probably take place sometime in either late August or September.” At this point, though, she is still carefully learning what needs to be done to protect the archeological potential of the grounds.

About the artist: Tricky installations such as this are nothing new to Koski. “I've done some other(s), namely one on the very top of a mountain that's owned by the Forest Service. Oh my,” she says with a laugh. “And so needless to say we kind of had to keep sort of a moving target there.” She said in that case she sought feedback and the opinions of the people caring for the land.

National Park ServiceThe artist at work. Likewise, in this case, “I'll be working with the Keweenaw National Historical Park archaeological team to define what we can put on the ground in order to help support the statues.”
Koski is no stranger to the area and its history. She grew up in Baraga County and studied art at the now-closed Finlandia University and the Kuopio Academy of Craft and Design before moving to Washington.

“Really, the entire area is relatively familiar,” Koski says. “I lived in Hancock for a couple of years while I was in college."

From 2015 to 2023, she served as exhibits curator for the Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center and is currently serving as curator for the Cashmere Museum and Pioneer Village.

In her personal work she expresses herself frequently through paint and fiber, but has also worked in metal, wood and landscape. Her work has been shown throughout Washington and Northern Michigan. 

Funding: Although the artist’s stipend has yet to be finalized, funding for the project is coming from multiple sources, the lion’s share from the Keweenaw National Historical Park Advisory Commission.

Rosemary Parker has worked as a writer and editor for more than 40 years. She is a regular contributor to Rural Innovation Exchange, UPword, and other Issue Media Group publications. 
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