GTPulse: Meet The Man Who Painted Sleeping Bear Country
Glen Arbor is truly something out of a Nicholas Sparks movie set, and this is no surprise considering that the city is a part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore that was voted most beautiful place in America in 2011. I was walking down South Lake Street the other day when I heard ragtime music floating through the air, along with someone whistling to it. The music was upbeat and made me want to walk with a skip in my step, and I wondered where it was coming from. I followed the sound to an outdoor studio with its doors wide open. A man stood inside painting a large canvas, while whistling. I walked in and looked around at the colorful artwork covering the walls and the books that filled the bookcase before the man stopped, turned around and said hello.
Hank Feeley is quite the artist, both locally and internationally. He currently has group shows locally, in London and in New York City, but he calls Glen Arbor home. He grew up in the Cape Cod area and moved to Chicago at age 13. As a child Hank’s older cousins would baby sit him and assign art projects as a tactic to keep him busy.
“I was always the class artist. When people needed a poster if they were running for vice president of the class or something, I was the guy. I was the homecoming chairman because I could put decorations together,” Hank said with a laugh. “When I was a teenager I started painting traditional landscape stuff and watercolors and started having shows.”
His first visit to Glen Arbor was in 1972, at the time he was still living in Chicago with his wife and two kids. Her family is from Detroit and the pair had a wedding to attend there.
“We decided rather than just going to Detroit and back for the wedding, we’d make it a little triangular vacation. We would come up here then down to Detroit and back to Chicago.”
They found Glen Arbor in a book called Country Inns and Backroads. The Homestead resort was featured in the travel guide and Hank and his family decided that’s where they would extend their Michigan vacation. The Homestead was a bit different back then.
“They had a big Inn where they served these wonderful meals and then they had these little cabins, and we stayed in a cabin on the beach. It took me back to my childhood in Cape Cod. I was overcome with nostalgia.”
Hank hadn’t expected to find such a beautiful place in the Midwest and the beauty stuck with him, so much so that he and his family bought a condo that they used seasonally there three years later in 1975. That led them to eventually buying a bigger place which led to his family spending entire summers in the beach town.
Hank worked in advertising and spent his career at Leo Burnett in Chicago, working in both the creative side and the research side of advertising. After a 30 year career working on the research side of advertising Hank decided to become a professional, studio artist, which is what he does now.
His self-designed studio in Glen Arbor is where he creates his paintings. His style is rooted in surrealism and he likes to put people, places and situations together that typically wouldn’t go together. A particularly large canvas he painted that I enjoyed contains the silhouette of a woman at a bar, a large opera theater and a laser beam.
A reviewer likened Hank’s work to a Max Ernst’s quote.
“A linking of two realities that by all appearances have nothing to link them, in a setting that by all appearances does not fit them.”
Hank hasn’t contained all of his work to studio work, however. After Glen Arbor became dubbed the most beautiful place in America the Leelanau Press asked him if he had any paintings of Leelanau County they could use to make a poster to celebrate. He painted one of the Sleeping Bears from a spot on Empire Bluffs for the poster. The poster was well received.
“They said, ‘we’d like to make a book of your paintings, do you have any others?’ and I said ‘no, but I’ll make some’ and that’s what I did.”
“I had to do a book tour and I was at Horizon (Books) doing a presentation. They asked me, ‘how’s the book selling?’ and I said ‘it’s a best seller, outselling 50 Shades of Gray….in Glen Arbor,” Hanks said with a chuckle.
Hank, his wonderful art and his magical studio are a treasure. He doesn’t do commissions, but he might just let you wander around and look at his studio if you happen to pass by. To find his book, check out a local bookstore. To find him just follow the whistling and the music.