THE JOYOUS MESSAGES OF NATURE
The artwork of Frank V. Dudley represented perhaps one of the greatest assets in the ongoing struggle by concerned citizens to have land along the northwest Indiana coast of Lake Michigan designated as protected property, preferably as federal or state parkland, during the first half of the twentieth century. Dudley was a leader in the Prairie Club’s movement to preserve the lakeshore and adjacent terrain. Indeed, Dudley was known as the “Painter of the Dunes,” and his images persuaded many to declare value in the natural beauty of the landscape throughout the Indiana Dunes.
Because 2018 marks the 150th anniversary of Dudley’s birth year (November 14, 1868), the time seems right to examine the continuing splendor of the scenery to which he dedicated himself, especially locations within the grounds of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Indiana Dunes State Park, those two entities that were established in part due to Dudley’s efforts. (Though the artist witnessed and appreciated the creation of Indiana Dunes State Park in 1925—and even continued to live in his beachfront studio cabin situated among the sand dunes through an agreement reached with the state—he unfortunately did not live to see the official recognition of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in 1966.) Additionally, this year seems particularly noteworthy since Congress is expected to re-designate the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore as a “national park” in 2018.
Consequently, throughout the year I will display photo essays consisting of sets with images from the Indiana Dunes that share a thematic or photographic commonality. These concise exhibits intend to evoke emotional reactions to the aesthetically pleasing scenes depicted, primarily through the appeal of the artistic photographs and with only a little assistance from prose commentary, captions, or titles.
In my process of gathering together these photo essays, I will keep in mind a comment Frank V. Dudley once stated in a 1936 newspaper interview as words of advice to those who might follow him: “I believe the artist, through his study and close contact with the landscape, is enabled to see more and feel more the joyous messages of nature and that his real mission in life should be to interpret and reveal these truths that all may see and experience the same emotional reactions as does the artist himself.”
(Click images to create carousel gallery display where full size may be viewed as well.)
Sunset, Sky, and Shoreline Abstracts: May, 2018
Although my sunset and shoreline photographs might be said to consist of three characteristics—light, color, and shapes—combined to create an image, I am often fascinated by the way that light and color interact in a natural setting, especially among the Indiana Dunes along Lake Michigan. Indeed, the specific details of shapes representing detailed objects one discerns in an image frequently divert attention away from the ethereal mix of illumination and hue in the environment that contains those physical things. Therefore, I sometimes prefer to blur the figurative forms in a scene to allow for the primacy or purity of light and color, perhaps the way a painter might produce an abstract landscape. In this regard, I consider influential someone like Helen Frankenthaler and her famous paintings, such as Mountains and Sea, Beyond the Sea, Springscape, or perhaps Cape (Provincetown), which has been described by critic Robert Hughes: “the view from the waterfront is translated into a piercing lemon-yellow strip of beach and a green horizon, with diaphanous veils of blue stacked up in the sky.”
Early Signs of Spring: March, 2018
I have mentioned in my journal entries that various early signs of spring have been developing during the past couple of weeks. Although the moderation in temperatures has been gradual, clearly the warming weather has begun. In addition, lengthening of daylight and a steadily changing angle of sunshine have been evident. Moreover, hiking through dune woods I have heard a noticeable increase of chirping birds. In fact, recently as I traveled a soggy trail in the Great Marsh, I was surprised by a loud noise just to my left, which I discovered to be the trumpeting sound of a sandhill crane about four feet tall that had been camouflaged among the thick weeds and brown reeds all around me. Most of this species migrates to other locations nearby, but this lone long-legged creature simply strolled only a few yards from me. Then I noticed a smaller crane following just behind its mother. Although I do not have the patience or practice for bird photography, I felt compelled to snap some pictures.
End of Trail Above Lake Michigan: March, 2018
I have mentioned a few times in my journal entries that one of my favorite routes to hike during any season at Indiana Dunes State Park includes Trails 7 and 4, both of which wind through wooded terrain rising up the inland slopes of shoreline sand dunes. The two paths join just before exiting to a ridge shelf with a wonderful view from above Lake Michigan. No matter the time of year, my walks along this way are always rewarded when I reach this point overlooking the beach, as can be seen in the accompanying photographs taken three months apart—the first a late-winter image shot in early March and and the second a spring scene snapped in early June.
Tree Swallowed by Moving Dune at Mt. Baldy in Two Seasons: March, 2018
During my time at Mt. Baldy last week, I revisited a location I’d photographed during late spring. In my June 13 journal post I wrote: “Part of my fascination with the notable nature of Mt. Baldy concerns its character as a wandering dune, one that constantly drifts toward the south directed by Lake Michigan’s air currents, especially during swift winds in winter storms. As the dune moves, an accumulation of sand swallows trees in its path. In one image I captured on the southern side, a tree has begun to be buried, much of its lower trunk already concealed, while it is flanked on either side by a pair of other trees—one already dead and displaying bare branches but another lower on the slope not yet influenced by the shifting sand. More of the massive mound of sand about to migrate farther onto the trees can be seen looming above.” With my winter image of the same scene, exhibiting patterns of wind drift on the dune, observers can compare the appearance in the pair of seasons.
Mt. Baldy Beach After Winter Damage: March, 2018
When I walked along Mt. Baldy Beach earlier this week to examine the damage done by erosion from winter snowstorms and wind-driven waves, I was disheartened by the extent of destruction. Much of the sand dunes bordering the shore line seemed to have been sliced away, and many of the trunks from their ridges had tumbled to the beach. After hiking about a half mile, I had already counted 83 trees, small and large, that had toppled from above. Nevertheless, I have no doubt the good work done by the national park personnel will clear the area. (In fact, I have already witnessed the cleaning and smoothing of the sands at Indiana Dunes State Park.) By the time I reached the end of the beach, I found a fallen tree trunk that served as a perfect bench for sitting a while and watching waves of lake water roll slowly ashore.
Central Beach Washed Away by Winter’s Weather: March, 2018
With the start of March upon us, I have been visiting various locations in the Indiana Dunes along Lake Michigan to examine the extent of damage done from rough wintry weather the past few months. Perhaps the greatest amount of destruction appears to have occurred at Central Beach in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. This attractive yet isolated section of shoreline, as seen in an accompanying photograph from last summer, has been a favorite of mine. However, its history includes vulnerability to erosion. In a journal entry I’d written on July 9 of 2017, I noted the reopening of the area after a couple years of closure: “Once wide and welcoming, Central Beach has been greatly diminished by erosion from Lake Michigan’s wind-driven waves during the last few years. In fact, when northern gusts approach the coast, the entire ribbon of sand still clinging to the shore becomes submerged under water. Central Beach was first closed as too dangerous for the public in early July of 2015 after the loss of beachfront due to erosion from strong storm surges and high lake levels that washed away the sandy waterfront.” Sadly, as my image from Sunday displays, the beach has been completely obliterated by this winter’s strong storms and waves swept ashore by northern winds.
Contrasting Views of Indiana Dunes Shelf Ice: February, 2018
As I was hiking along the beach at the Indiana Dunes during warming weather on Monday and photographing for contrast with mid-winter conditions the final remnants of coastline shelf ice melting into the water, I met at various spots a few fellow photographers with whom I stopped to speak. I enjoyed our discussions, especially the shared expressions of appreciation for the landscape along Lake Michigan voiced by all. However, we differed on one note. Each of the three with whom I had such pleasant conversation remarked about how happy he or she was to witness the end of winter. Instead, I must acknowledge a sense of sadness at seeing the close of the season. Indeed, I like to hike through the woods or down the beach in cold weather, particularly when the snow-covered trails remain clean of others’ footprints. Often on frigid wintry days I find myself the sole individual at various locations—my car the only one in the trailhead parking lot—when a sense of silence and solitude surrounds me or the frozen shore resembles arctic scenery.
Receding River After the Flooding: February, 2018
After a few days of heavy rainfall and widespread flooding followed by a night of gale force winds, full sunshine finally arrived on Monday with milder temperatures. I returned to the Little Calumet River, where I had witnessed the extensive flooding documented in my previous photo essay. By the time I hiked a trail that had been submerged during my last visit, the water level seemed to have receded by six or seven feet. Although the path remained thick with mud and provided slippery walking, the main evidence of destruction could be seen along the banks, where soil around roots of trees that once leaned over the river had been weakened by the water and a number of trunks had tumbled into the river alongside branches broken by the strong gusts. Indeed, I had to climb over a couple of fallen trees and large limbs to cross a narrow footbridge along the way.
February Flooding Near Bailly Homestead: February, 2018
As evidence of extensive flooding was witnessed along waterways in northwest Indiana during the last week, the result of record rainfall on top of a significant accumulation of melting snow, a portion of the landscape seemed to rearrange itself. I noticed favorite trails through the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore disappeared from sight, suddenly submerged beneath feet of water from an overflowing Little Calumet River. The road to the trailhead had been overrun with current sweeping beyond the river bank. Wooded areas along the river became indistinguishable from surrounding swamp forests. The Bailly Homestead stood on a slight height above the river, where its buildings had been constructed in the nineteenth century after the original trading post that had been beside the river suffered destruction in similar flooding.
Lake Michigan Beach Scene Separated by Six Months: February, 2018
I never tire of photographing the coast of Lake Michigan along the Indiana Dunes. Although I repeatedly return to the same settings throughout the year, each visit seems to offer a variation in view. Of course the appearance of those wooded trails edging shoreline ridges of the dunes alter with the seasons as the leaves of trees transition in color and then fall, creating newly artistic images with bare branches bending and extending toward a sky lit so differently in winter months. Indeed, their almost haunting silhouettes often stand dramatically against wintry weather of snow or frost smoke over the lake water. However, even the beach scenes shift in tone and tenor throughout transformations brought by seasonal change, and when the metamorphosis causes a complete conversion of the scenery, the resulting contrast can be striking.
Shore Line and Shelf Ice: February, 2018
On a couple of occasions during colder weeks thus far this winter the frigid weather has caused a massive accumulation of shelf ice along the Indiana Dunes and has frozen the surface of Lake Michigan as far as the eye can see. Consequently, at times the precise edge of shore line seemed to become indistinguishable. However, in locations where trees stand in sand dunes at the water’s border, one may detect where the transition from land to lake normally can be observed. When the build up of ice reaches such a dramatic level that the scenery resembles an arctic setting, I appreciate the photographic images I am able to obtain. Nevertheless, as authorities always warn of dangerous conditions that could even result in death, one must avoid walking onto the shelf among the mounds and bergs beyond. Therefore, knowing the border between beach and frozen lake remains important.
Florida Tropical House in Summer and Winter: January, 2018
In a journal entry last July, I mentioned how “the 1933 World’s Fair held in Chicago included a fascinating feature—Homes of Tomorrow—showcasing a group of a dozen structures displaying futuristic architecture and interior design. At the conclusion of the fair, five of the houses were purchased by Robert Bartlett, a real estate speculator who owned property along the Indiana Dunes in Beverly Shores that he wished to develop as a resort area. The buildings were transported from Chicago to the northern Indiana coastline by barge and positioned on Lake Front Drive, which parallels the shoreline and overlooks the beach. This section has been designated for preservation by the National Register of Historic Places since 1986 and is known today as the Century of Progress Architectural District. Perhaps the most distinctive and most photographed of the homes, the Florida Tropical House is covered by light stucco painted in a shocking pink….” I returned this week, six months after the last photograph that showed a rich saturation with sunset tints above Lake Michigan, to capture an image of the home in mid-winter freeze and bleached of much color under bright sunlight with a cool blue sky over the frozen lake as backdrop.
Beach Trees During Seasonal Shifts: January, 2018
A small grouping of trees rising from the sand at the Indiana Dunes State Park provides compelling subject matter for photographs in all seasons. Since they are situated adjacent to the park pavilion, these trees present a prominent feature noticed by most visitors. In fact, because the trees stand so close to the main building, I had been concerned they might be removed or damaged when recent construction of an additional structure with new bathrooms and places for changing clothes took place nearby. Fortunately, the view through the trees toward Lake Michigan remains unchanged. The accompanying handful of images exhibits moments I have captured of these trees in different seasons, and they serve as examples for a pair of patterns evident in my photography: (1) snapping shots of beach trees whose limbs have been twisted in interesting ways by sun and wind, and (2) returning to familiar settings in order to photograph a series of scenes from similar perspectives but at various times of year.
Beach Trees in Winter Light: January, 2018
Though a primary subject for my photography in all seasons, trees in winter months appear to exhibit more character. Their bent or leaning trunks and the network of bare branches exist as natural sculpture shaped by sun and wind, plus each tree’s limbs seem to reach toward the sky as if in an expressive gesture. Those smaller trees growing along the beach or among the sand dunes especially present themselves as isolated survivors yet in danger or about to surrender to the elements when seen bathed in bright and angled winter light against a backdrop that sometimes includes shelf ice at the edge of Lake Michigan.