By Kate Flynn
HANCOCK -- Three local artists recently moved into the former E. L. Wright school building on U.S. 41 in Hancock, utilizing the refurbished and remodeled classrooms to create art in a variety of mediums.
Joyce Koskenmaki is surrounded by her artwork in her new studio, located in the E.L. Wright building in Hancock. Click on photos for larger versions. (Photos © 2010 Kate Flynn)
From the inside, local artist Joyce Koskenmaki’s art studio looks spacious, modern and brand-new -- and to her, it is. Koskenmaki, who spent the first 14 years of her life in Baraga County and later completed an MFA (Master in Fine Arts) at the University of Iowa focusing on abstract expressionism, moved into a new studio in the former E.L. Wright school building last October.
"I love it," Koskenmaki says of the high-ceilinged space with its hardwood floors and tall windows. "I feel really lucky."
Koskenmaki, who regularly exhibits her work at galleries in Madison, Wis., and Duluth, Minn., as well as the more local Vertin Gallery in Calumet and Community Arts Center in Hancock, was previously housed in Finlandia University’s Jutila Center. She has also held a number of other studio spaces in the area since moving back in 1998.
"After teaching summer workshops at Finlandia, I welcomed the opportunity to come back to teach at the new International School of Art and Design," Koskenmaki notes. "I retired in 2002 and have been painting full-time ever since."
Koskenmaki had lived in New York after completing her MFA and had previously taught at five different universities around the country, but that was never where her passion lay.
"It was a way to make a living. I come here every day," she says, referring to her studio. "This is my job."
Completed paintings of Koskenmaki’s are scattered around her studio -- many of them depicting animals, as well as other objects and plants found in nature.
"I've been interested in painting animals for most of my life," Koskenmaki explains. "When I draw or paint them I begin to feel I am inside of them looking out. They become friendly, protective presences."
In spite of the relative isolation from the mainstream art world, Koskenmaki says she loves living and working in the Upper Peninsula.
"There is a supportive art community here, and the natural landscape is beautiful," she notes. "It feels like home."**
Adam Johnson, Brockit Inc.
With two other art studios in the building, Koskenmaki is near some of that supportive art community right where she works. Brockit Inc., a local professional photography studio that started in 2001, is right up the stairs. Brockit is also a former resident of Finlandia’s Jutila Center, but moved shop when the need for a larger working space became too great.
"The space is perfect," says photographer Adam Johnson. "We’re very spoiled. We have these great windows, so we can do a lot of natural light photography."
and his daughter, Kora, in Brockit's third floor studio.
Brockit’s east-facing studio very much resembles Koskenmaki’s since the tall windows and white walls allow the maximum amount of natural light to saturate the room. Brockit almost tripled their shooting space with the move to the new studio, and they were granted an additional dressing room/gallery space as well.
Johnson, who is largely self-taught, describes Brockit as a "primarily commercial studio" that holds a special niche in the community.
"We’re not a company that specializes in school or senior photos." Johnson says.
"That’s an advantage we have," he explains. "We don’t really compete. We have a niche market. There’s no one really offering the same level of service -- we work all day with a crew of people. It’s very one-on-one."**
Two floors down, Andrea Puzakulich, also a former resident of the Jutila Center before moving to E.L Wright, describes her basement studio and gallery space as a "nice change." Puzakulich is the owner and artist behind the well-established, 23-year-old Distant Drum Designs, which offers unique fashion designs and fiber art to local customers.
Andrea Puzakulich designs and creates clothing for Distant Drum Designs in her basement studio in the E.L. Wright building.
"I think the change was good for me," Puzakulich says. "I like the exposure and the sign on the highway. People notice the sign and stop by -- there’s more curiosity."
Puzakulich says she loves the E.L. Wright building.
"I love the historical aspect," she notes. "It’s a good energy thing. I like having a separate office space and display/production area."
Koskenmaki, Johnson, and Puzakulich have what Johnson called an "artistic partnership" in an April 22 blog post announcing Brockit’s move to the building.
"The three of us enjoy being over here," Puzakulich adds. "It’s good to change."
Puzakulich reflects on the impact the new studio has had on her work.
"To be in a creative mood, one needs to feel totally at one. I’m still adapting to the new space creatively," she says. "I'm not quite in the groove I want to be. A few more changes, and I’ll be there."
One change is the new shopping Web site now being developed for Distant Drum: distantdrum.com.
**Visit also Joyce Koskenmaki's Web site: joycekoskenmaki.com and learn more about Brockit Inc. at brockit.com.
Editor's Note: Guest reporter Kate Flynn is a student at Beloit College. She is doing an internship in journalistic writing at both Keweenaw Now and the L'Anse Sentinel this summer.