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Remembering Michigan Legacy Art Park

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The tireless founder, David Barr

The man who brought his expansive artistic vision to Northern Michigan and founded Michigan Legacy Art Park (MLAP) at Crystal Mountain in Thompsonville passed away on August 28 at the age of 75. Described as dedicated, generous, and giving of his own knowledge, David Barr was an associate professor of sculpture at Macomb Community College in Warren, Michigan, for 40 years. He received a Master’s of Fine Arts degree from Wayne State University. There are eight Barr sculptures within the 30-acre art park.

“We are all so very sad to have lost David,” says Renee Hintz, MLAP’s executive director. “He was such a compassionate friend and a great mind; a person who, when he talked, you just hung on every word and let it sink in and become a part of you. He created a body of work—sculptures, reliefs, books, and the Art Park—from which great lessons about humanity can be learned. And I know just how proud he was of how the park has grown and the plans we have for the future.”

MLAP founding board member Jim Ristine describes Barr’s work as, “very precise, very elegant, very well-crafted. It has broader meaning than just a visual image.”

Internationally acclaimed, Barr was awarded the Governor’s Michigan Artist Award in 1988, telling of his dream to create a place that told Michigan’s history through art. Barr worked tirelessly to create MLAP, aspiring to give artists the opportunity to express Michigan’s story through “fundamental materials of nature.” Barr’s dream became a reality with the opening of Michigan Legacy Art Park on September 10, 1995. (The Art Park celebrates 20 years this month.)

Barr had long desired to create a “Michigan Art Park,” where contemporary artists would bring Michigan’s history to fresh and vivid life. Today, MLAP has 45 sculptures and 30 poetry stones along its nearly 2-mile hiking trail, with more acquisitions planned. The newest permanent sculpture in the park is “Communications Vine,” by Eric Troffkin, which was completed in late July after a three-step installation process.

MLAP’s annual fundraiser last month raised more than $46,000, half of which will be applied toward the park’s ‘Art Access for All Capital,’ which is nearing its $500,000 goal. The campaign has allowed for several additions and improvements to the park, including a new accessible trail, a rebuilt amphitheater, and six new benches for rest and contemplation. A portion of the money raised at the Legacy Gala will also go toward funding a new position for the park, the David Barr Endowed Chair for Artistic Direction.

Barr believed in using common “laborer” materials to make art democratic, or understood in a common language. Many of his sculptures are geometric in nature and made of wood, stone, or steel.

A prolific artist, one of Barr’ss most visible works is downtown Detroit’s gleaming arch, Transcending, a tribute to the laborers who built Michigan and the country. Knowing no boundaries for his vision and aspirations, Barr worked on the Four Corners Project—perhaps the largest sculpture in the world. It aimed to connect people, cross boundaries, and show the smallness of the world by connecting points of the earth’s tetrahedron.

“David Barr’s curiosity, intellect, creativity, and passion for the art are distinguishable from all others,” says MLAP founding board member and close friend, Marilyn Wheaton. “Creative experience was David’s mantra. In his 2008 Crossing Lines manuscript, he wrote, ‘For nearly 50 years, I have been a creative worker,’ and he referred to his famous Four Corners Project—1976 to 1985—as ‘an act of constructive creation.’ He often referred to the unifying principles of art while installing his series of global art projects. David understood with absolute clarity the power of art, and he articulated that knowledge with passion and conviction.”
“He put his whole life into creating his work, and it shows,” Ristine adds.

Michigan Legacy Art Park is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that is located on a 30-acre preserve, leased from Crystal Mountain for $1 per year. Michigan Legacy Art Park features more than 45 outdoor sculptures that celebrate Michigan’s culture and history along almost 2 miles of wooded hiking trails. A tribute video about David Barr and his wife and artistic collaborator, Beth Dwaihy-Barr, is viewable below.

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