Environmental artist, Patricia Innis, with the help of Benzie and Manistee County residents, has completed the installation of her new environmental sculpture, Robins!, at Michigan Legacy Art Park on the grounds of Crystal Mountain Resort & Spa in Thompsonville.
The new artwork tells the story of the American Robin. As the state bird of Michigan since 1931, the robin has been the harbinger of spring for generations of Michiganders. The robin is one of the few native species to have benefited from human development. In Michigan, each new farm and suburban neighborhood that emerged from where forests once stood, along with parks, gardens and orchards, provided new habitat and breeding grounds for the birds. By the 1930s, the robin had become Michigan's most widespread songbird, and were often the first birds children could easily identify. The birds also became part of popular culture, with songs like "Rockin' Robin" and "When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob Bobbin' Along".
Patricia Innis, environmental artist and educator, was so inspired by the impact robins have had on our culture that she proposed a project to Michigan Legacy Art Park which would help share this story. Patricia enlisted the help of Keith Bonney, of Bonney Brothers Excavating in Beulah, who broke ground on the environmental installation in late May. Donating much of his time to the project, Bonney and his crew, Kenney and Darren Crawford, worked closely with Innis to create three earth-mound sculptures in the shape of robins in flight. Formed to scale, the robins have a 14-foot wingspan and are nine feet in length and two feet in height. Each mound is planted with grass seed, creating a habitat for live robins. Bonney's crew also helped to create a nest made out of branches reinforced with topsoil, which is 4 feet in diameter.
“This is the second time I’ve worked with Keith and his crew on a large scale earth art project. I’m just as impressed with them this time as I was the first time,” Patricia Innis said. “Keith has a real ability to look at designs and know what needs to be done to adapt them to the needs of the landscape. In this case it wasn’t just shaping the robins but also making them as visible as possible. In one case this meant making the robin 2 feet tall on the uphill side and 4 feet tall on the downhill side. As before, Keith and his crew were sensitive to the environment, disturbing the surrounding area as little as possible.”
Constructing the robins was a change of pace for Keith Bonney. “This is fun," Keith said. “Compared to what we usually do, this is like play.”
Other people who helped to make Robins! a reality include Girl Scouts from Manistee who cleared the site of fallen branches and the Art Park’s volunteer maintenance team: David Williams and Norm Ling. In addition, dozens of individual donors, a grant from the Roger and Joanna Garrett Fund and a donation of 30 yards of topsoil from Crystal Mountain Resort made this new artwork possible.
The addition of Robins! to the permanent collection at Michigan Legacy Art Park expands educational opportunities for years to come. To connect the work with classroom studies, Innis offers a series of in-school workshops and residencies. These sessions are designed to link hands-on experiences with creating visual art, incorporating key science learning concepts to enhance the students' creativity and understanding of artistic processes and values. In these sessions, art provides the venue for critical and innovative thinking.
Patricia Innis is an environmental artist and painter who has created and exhibited her work throughout the Midwest. She is currently the education director at Michigan Legacy Art Park. View Art Park sculptures by Patricia Innis and other artists.