A watercolor of the Felt Mansion Barn

Above: Felt Mansion Barn, Plein Air Watercolor, Available

Art Inspiration from 3 Awesome Saugatuck Locations!


Most of my art centers around the Mid Michigan area or the Upper Peninsula. However, starting around 2007 the Lake Michigan resort town of Saugatuck in Berrien County became the rendezvous spot to pick up and drop off my two boys. As a weekend dad, the sadness of leaving them on a Sunday was replaced with excitement because I could begin my explorations of awesome Lake Michigan and the Felt Mansion property next to the Saugatuck Dunes State Park. Saugatuck itself did not hold a lot of interest to me at the time-except for the art galleries.  

As soon as I dropped my boys off at the Burger King in Saugatuck, I headed off with a well-stocked art bag, binoculars, lunch, water, camera, and binoculars. In the winter I painted from my car with the little light I had left. 

The following is a visual journey of my Southwest Michigan exploits that includes the Felt Mansion property, Saugatuck Dunes State Park, and more recently, rock picking at Pier Cove and other beaches near Saugatuck. 

1. Felt Mansion Property

A photo of stone steps leading up to the Felt Mansion
Felt Mansion

Like many people, I first came across this publicly accessible property while heading to Saugatuck Dunes State Park. Renovations were underway at the mansion but I gravitated more towards the derelict outbuildings. 

The barn (see above featured image) and carriage house were in good shape but there were many buildings that were kind of spooky. This served as a backdrop to some of the legends of the area I read about, especially the ghosts and the story of mutant children that lived underground and roamed the property at night. I don’t believe in such things but the history and the stories it inspires send a delightful shiver up my spine when I’m wandering the grounds. 


A painting of a roofline and autumn foliage on the Felt Mansion Property
Felt Mansion outbuilding and autumn colors

I recently visited this property again and it has been gentrified into a higher-end wedding venue. There were a lot of people about and much of it was roped off for a wedding. The buildings were improved and some torn down and the land was redeveloped. Everything was quite beautiful but to me the property lost it’s “ghostly” appeal-but there is still plenty of art inspiration to find!

A photo of Ghost Pipes growing on the Felt Mansion property near Saugatuck
Ghost Pipes, Felt Mansion

2. Saugatuck Dunes State Park

a painting of the Saugatuck Dunes State Park Entrance
Saugatuck Dunes State Park Entrance

When I first drove into the entrance of Saugatuck Dunes State park, the open areas were filled with blooming prickly pear cactus and the wooded dunes were lit up by the late afternoon sun. I instantly fell in love with this awesome landscape, and the unusual flora and fauna found in the dunes and oak-pine savanna. I have spent many afternoons and evenings hiking the sand and forest covered dunes.

Image Gallery
Lake Michigan Wind Blowing White Hair

One of my favorite moments of art inspiration occurred on the Dunes and it wasn’t the landscape, an animal, or a plant-but people!

As I was hiking in the open dunes bordering Lake Michigan I spotted flashes of white-the hair from this couple sitting in a shaded little  hollow. They were happily engaged in drawing and writing and we conversed for a bit before I asked to take a picture, which the charcoal drawing is based on. I never met them again but given that Saugatuck is noted as an arts community it isn’t surprising I came across like-minded folks. 

A photo of two white haired people drawing and writing while nestled in a dune
two white haired people drawing and writing while nestled in a dune
Wind Blown White Hair is a charcoal drawing of an old man
Wind Blown Hair, charcoal and conte pencil on tinted paper

3. Pier Cove Beach

My boys are men now but I still manage to get to Saugatuck once or twice a year. My wife and I like to dine out in the awesome Saugatuck-Douglas restaurants but what we enjoy the most is rock picking area beaches, particularly one called Pier Cove just south of Saugatuck. This fulfills my insatiable need to be in spectacular environments with my wife as well as studying the beauty and geology of the rocks. 

The last time we visited Pier Cove was on a dark but mildly calm October day. We were lucky there wasn’t a heavy surf because combined with high lake levels, picking can be dangerous or impossible. I recall sitting on the beach sifting through small pebbles and telling my wife that this is the happiest of my happy places.


Sharing Art Inspiration- and Disappointment

I’ve enjoyed bringing to you a small sample of my art and photos from the Saugatuck area. In addition to the fun of sharing experiences, the process of drawing, painting, and to a lesser extend taking pictures, really helps memorizing and understanding the subject matter-the neurology is fascinating but I won’t nerd out here. 

However it is not always a positive experience when comparing memories and images with the current reality. This past summer on a very hot and humid day I visited Saugatuck Dunes State Park and was very disappointed.

Cars were lined all up and down the park entrance-probably to get to the beach. Also there were a lot more invasive species taking over the open spots, further jeopardizing the oak-pine savanna ecosystem. Finally more houses were being built right up to the park boundary. 


Yet there is still much more art inspiration to be had by exploring and delighting in the beaches and the dunes. My visits to Berrien County are a continuation of earlier observations and study. Just preparing the art and photos for this blog brings back memories that in turn motivate me to get back to paint, photograph, and enjoy!

Art Inspiration from 3 Awesome Saugatuck Locations!​
A Winter Watercolor Study of the State Park
-Go to my Flickr page for more about the featured image, a watercolor titled -Felt Mansion Barn at the top of this blog. This painting can be purchased here.
Felt Mansion as a wedding venue
The Haunted Felt Mansion-who doesn’t love a good good ghost story?
Felt Mansion Property Melon Heads-very weird
Saugatuck Dunes State Park my most visited location in S.W. Michigan
-Two good access points to getting Lake Michigan Septarian nodules and other rock collecting is Pier Cove Beach which borders West Side Park. It may be hard to park at Pier Cove Beach in the summer but there is usually plenty of parking at West Side Park. 

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