GTPulse: Suttons Bay Art House Provides Guests With Oddity and Charm

Equal parts charming, bizarre and magical, Art on-the-Rocks is the home of Jacquelyn Freeman, and she’s turned it into a bohemian boarding house that hosts traveling guests, art classes, and at one point - weddings.


I get to drive around a lot for this job and I like that. Downstate all I had to look forward to on a drive is getting flipped off on Southfield Freeway and having my cortisol levels spike from careless drivers. Needless to say, driving in northern Michigan has been a less emotionally taxing experience. With much of my drive time surrounded by water and trees, anything outlandish sticks out. Every time I pass through downtown Suttons Bay and make a left at the blinking light where downtown ends, I pass a blond woman sitting on the side of the road in a plastic lawn chair. She sits sideways with her bare legs draped over the armrest, sunglasses on, staring at the sun.

“What the hell is she doing?” I remember thinking the first time I passed.

I made a note to slow down and look when I drove back and discovered that it was a mannequin.

Beyond the mannequin is a painting of Frida Kahlo hung on a fence, a pollinator garden and a little patio encased in a white picket fence. On the roofline of the garage reads arton-the-rocks.com.

Equal parts charming, bizarre and magical, Art on-the-Rocks is the home of Jacquelyn Freeman, and she’s turned it into a bohemian boarding house that hosts traveling guests, art classes, and at one point – weddings.

“I was getting a lot of requests for weddings so I got ordained. In fact, I have done probably two or 300 weddings at wineries. I’ve done them on a tall ship. I’ve done them at Leland Lodge outdoors on New Year’s Eve. There was snow, it was Dr. Zhivago wedding.”

A casual internet search says that Art on-the-Rocks is a private studio that hosts painting classes for small groups, and that’s true. What it doesn’t say is that the home rents out guest rooms, something Jacquelyn has been doing for a long time.

She grew up in northern Michigan splitting her childhood between Traverse City and Lake City and went to the University of Michigan where she earned a Bachelor’s in fine arts. 

She had an opportunity to put some of her artistic skills to use when she was commissioned as an interior designer for Reef Energy Center in Traverse City, now where CenterPointe is located. She knew the opportunity for more projects like it would be scarce in the region.

“I just thought it’s now or never. I had this fabulous credential. It was written up in the Detroit paper. I thought I’ll never be able to take this launch this into something else if I stay in Traverse City.”

She moved to Washington D.C. to continue work as an interior designer and for a change of scenery, plus, she loved politics.

“I ended up with extra bedrooms so I took in government workers.”

JAC made her decision to move to Suttons Bay full time after living in D.C. for 20 years and finding limited interior design opportunities. 

When she moved home, however, she found that she missed having another presence in the house.

“Because of that, I had gotten really accustomed to sharing my home. And even when I wasn’t there, I just kept the roommates because it was secure income.”

So she turned half of her duplex into guest suites. Despite having a life-sized mannequin lounging in her front yard, the Art House is slightly hidden and shaded by tall trees. Jacquelyn doesn’t advertise the Bnb anywhere outside and only had her rooms listed through Airbnb.

She puts her art degree to good use. If guests are interested in taking a class with her, she hosts her version of a wine-sipping painting class.

“I thought, how can I elevate that to something a little more sophisticated? So, because I love art history I collect art history books. I love the stories of the artists that are stories you would never get a college textbook because they’re too unseemly.”

She knows that Picasso was a stillborn, rescued by his uncle’s cigar-smoke filled lungs. She knows that abstract paintings of women with a shock of blonde hair means he was painting Marie-Thérèse Walter, a favorite muse and lover of his. 

Attendees paint their own variation of a famous painting while Jacquelyn provides guidance if needed, and interesting facts about the artist behind the painting.

Guests can also wander around her ethereal backyard that backs up against a stream, or explore the splashes of color, texture, and personality that weave through her fabulous home.

Her home, like her life, is an expression of art. From a chandelier covered with winding pink and cream flowers to a fish tank turned into a fairy garden, it’s nothing short of a wonderland for her and her guests.

To stay updated on stories like these, join the newsletter community.

Categories: GTPulse