Artwork on display at Esky library
ESCANABA — Gregg Bruff paints landscapes and “old stuff” that speaks to him, have a story, and make people ask questions. In the U.P. there are a lot of items that speak to Bruff. The local artist, originally from Missouri, uses oil paint to reflect the colors of the U.P.’s vibrant reds, oranges and yellows of fall, greens and shimmering blues in summer, and white, accenting the quiet of winter.
Bruff’s collection, “Paintings From Nearby,” is on display in the Escanaba Public Library through June. It is the first of many art exhibits the library hopes to have in the future. The collection of 19 paintings show color and reflections of a neighbors garage, Sand Point, a creamery, and experiences in Bruff’s life.
“Libraries are all about supporting people’s creative endeavors. We think the library is an ideal environment to display local art,” said Escanaba Public Library Director Carolyn Stacey. “It offers great exposure for the artist sharing their work and gives members of the public an opportunity they may not otherwise have to experience art and the unique perspective of seeing the world through the eyes of an artist.”
Bruff primarily paints images from photos. Portage Point is one of his favorite areas, and he and his wife walk their dog and bird there regularly. Bruff is partial to Lake Michigan, old tug boats, and fish tugs, a type of boat that was used to fish for whitefish.
Bruff is a self-taught artist who became interested in art at a young age. Charcoal and pencils were his medium of choice before turning to oil in 2005. His most notable sale out of 150 paintings was to a man from Massachusetts.
“I painted an old barn on the Eben/Trenary road and a guy who lived in Massachusetts had family from the Trenary area … he was googling barns in Alger County and my painting came up,” said Bruff. “It was the barn from his family. So he ended up purchasing prints and he bought the painting to be displayed at the historical society in Munising.”
Bruff spent most of his childhood at his grandparent’s farm and loved the outdoors. At a young age he started to create snapshots of experiences he had through art, a bird for his grandfather, an engine from a train his family rode on the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad in Colorado.
Getting a degree in wildlife seemed to be a natural direction. He started working as a seasonal park ranger before becoming full time at the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. From there, he went to work with forest services in California, the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway and in 2006 he retired from Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
Bruff was vital in adding the “Artist-in-Residence” program to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in 1996. The program offers an artist a free place to stay while taking in the natural beauty of a national park. The artist is asked to contribute a sample of their work to the park and help advance the park’s mission. Currently there are more than 50 residency programs across the nation.
“I’ve been lucky,” said Bruff. “I’ve been able to add my graphic and art skills to each job I’ve had. I have used my skills at many park wayside exhibits.”
Bruff was chosen to paint a Christmas decoration the park sent to the White House. He has a photo of the Christmas tree decorated and President Bush and first lady Laura Bush are standing in front. Among the decorations is the ball he made.
During his exhibit Bruff dedicated the event to his wife Mimi Klotz, who he says has a really good eye and is his best supporter. Klotz is the director at the Clear Lake Education Center in Manistique, where Bruff is involved as a steward.
“I’d like to thank the library for the opportunity to show my work and talk,” said Bruff. “One of the reasons I paint is to create a point in time. The earth is going to change a lot because of climate change. I know a lot of people don’t believe it’s happening but the signs are just overwhelming. So … It’s my attempt to take a snap shot in time.”