Cranes, change and permanence on East Michigan Avenue

 

This exhibition of paintings included in the 2019 October Art Hop at Suzanne’s Organics Salon features the downtown Kalamazoo urban landscape; it juxtaposes elements from the vintage architecture and the ongoing metamorphosis with new construction going up on all sides.

Fascinated by the feeling of inhabiting a Hopper painting the vintage architecture of Kalamazoo has drawn me as a theme since first coming here in 2013. Six years on and the fascination keeps growing as the city emerges from the throes of the 2008 recession (it felt very quiet still in 2013) to a full blown boom this year with all the encompassing development, renovation and gentrification. This last year has seen some dramatic changes to the skyline on East Michigan Avenue and beyond, and as the main street of the city it already has some emblematic vintage buildings. The WA Doyle Building with its ‘solid commercial Queen Anne and Romanesque style architecture’ has long been one of my favourites, inasmuch for its own style as for the links to European architecture that I grew up with. This need to make buildings with such a look of hunkered down structure and solidity, perhaps in an effort to establish a sense of permanence and belonging in a place with such a recent colonial history seems almost whimsical in the chosen references. Somehow the revival of styles from the Middle Ages (which began in Europe before being brought here) can seem charming and unsettling at the same time in the things it adheres to and those that are reinvented.

Researching the historical attributes of each building also brought up interesting details on the site of Suzanne’s Salon itself. This Red brick gothic building originally constructed as a hardware store, evolved in 1878 to incorporate on the first floor Madam Jannasch-Shortt’s Musical Institute, run by Anna Jannasch, and built for her by her father. An interesting development in itself considering women could not own property or even have a bank account until the pioneering suffragettes -led by Lucinda Stone founder of the Ladies’ Library in Kalamazoo- lobbied and obtained these basic rights in the State after a long struggle. The Ladies’ Library itself another Victorian Gothic gem, was the first building constructed by women for their own association in Michigan and third of its kind in the USA.

While it’s sad to see old buildings go, the energy and movement palpable in the city is inspiring when new uses are made of old buildings. I also used an 1871 map of the city  as a visual reference, to see the original layout of the town and compare where that still exists today. Even then many towns and routes were established on the foundation of indigenous peoples cultures and communication. The I94 was built along one such route connecting the places where Detroit and Chicago are long before those towns existed, making me wonder what they would have looked like then.

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