Art Affair

The Ann Arbor Art Fair is over for another year, but Emily Tennyson, Michigan Travel Ideas contributing writer, reflects on some of her favorite discoveries.

As a University of Michigan alum, attending Ann Arbor’s annual Art Fair is equal parts sentimental and aesthetic journey, a chance for me to discover new art and old haunts. Remembering what parking was like as a student; I opt for the Briarwood Mall shuttle bus, which drops me on Main Street, mere steps from all the art action. Over half a million people will visit the four art fairs over the next four days, I’m glad I’m one of them.

Artist Len Freund Exquisite birds eye maple box.

Ordinarily, Main Street is a strip of bistros and boutiques, but today it is all that plus blocks of white-awning booths. Barely half a block into the fair I see Stan Baker’s raku world globes. Raku, a form of ceramic painting, gives the pieces an ethereal, misty quality, and the raised bluish continents on his smoky-taupe orbs are riveting. I find a lamp that would be perfect in my family room, but wait! I love his tree ornaments, too. Down the sidewalk, I’m drawn to Frank Yanke’s booth of thick, industrial 18k tennis bracelets, sprinkled with diamonds. I want, I want. “Did you make all these?” I ask. His eyes roll and then he smiles, “I make everything.”

Spread across the sprawling campus, the four fairs run simultaneously, with amenities like nonstop trolleys and plenty of local food. On North University, Silvio’s mushroom and artichoke pizza looks too good to pass. So what if it’s only 10:30 a.m.?

On South University, I meet Krys Lieffers, a silver-hair fiber artist with a ready laugh. Her coral-and-blue thickly woven cotton blankets make great wall hangings, but I want one for my bed. “And best of all,” she says, “they’re machine washable.” Given the spill factor in my house, I’m a fan.

Artist Frank Yanke Tennis bracelets with an industrial spin, littered with diamonds.

As I walk down South U, I peek into my favorite campus spot—the Law Quad. In one minute, I’m in a Gothic English setting that’s more Harry Potter than Ann Arbor. As I wander, I marvel at the monastic silence, one block from all the action.

Black clouds roll in, so I find refuge in Grizzly Peak’s brewpub, a cozy wood-paneled spot. The India Pale Ale, coupled with a divine salmon BLT, is a dry diversion. Weather has precluded any outdoor entertainment but hasn’t dampened my spirit: There’s still plenty of art to see. Despite my ADD—Art Deficiency Disorder—I want to select the perfect purchase. Sadly, it will not be Annette Morrin’s pink tourmaline drop earrings nor Len Freund’s exquisite bird’s-eye maple box. Inexplicably, I choose Doug Spalding’s green ceramic plate bearing a skull and crossbones. In ominous block letters, it reads DID NOT EAT VEGETABLES. It’s for my oldest daughter, who still faints at the sight of a green bean.

Emily Tennyson, a proud Michigan graduate, loves any opportunity to spend time in Ann Arbor.