Guests at the famed Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island have long been drawn by the rich history, postcard-perfect views and natural surroundings that many would say surpass those found nearly anywhere else on the planet.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of people make the scenic trek to Michigan’s “crown jewel” – but this year, there is a more artistic pull; a special showcase in honor of Grand Hotel’s 125th anniversary, that will likely speak sweetly to the inner artist, historian and explorer in each of us.
Now through Oct. 7, 2012, visitors to the island’s Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum will be treated to “Mackinac’s Grand Hotel” – a juried exhibition that features private-collection pieces; historic items from Mackinac State Historic Parks’ collection from the hotel’s history; and selected artwork from both amateur and professional artists for public display.
“Grand Hotel is a readily identifiable and much treasured part of Mackinac Island’s history,” said Phil Porter, director of Mackinac State Historic Parks.
The Grand Hotel opened in 1887, mainly as a summer retreat for vacationers in the region who would arrive by lake steamer from Chicago, Erie, Montreal and Detroit, as well as cross-country rail travelers who wanted to see what the grand excitement was all about.
According to Mackinac State Historic Parks Deputy Director Steve Brisson, who planned and compiled the exhibition, that anticipation was – and remains – well founded for every visitor who steps onto the Grand’s celebrated front porch and wanders throughout the hotel.
That fascination and wonder are exactly the feelings Brisson hopes the current exhibition will inspire.
“This important anniversary afforded a unique opportunity for us to share special pieces from our collection that are usually not visible to the public,” he explained. “Because the exhibit is housed in the art museum, we put a major emphasis on showcasing the aesthetics of Grand Hotel – everything from the décor and architecture to the design of their dinner menus."
"Dining at Grand Hotel is one of the key experiences and a central part of the hotel’s history,” said Porter.
Porter also cited a soup plate branded with the letters PGH, which stands for Plank's Grand Hotel. During its first three seasons, the Grand was known by this name as a condition of manager John Oliver Plank.
“Family tradition holds that hotel employees were allowed to take home chipped china,” Porter said. “This piece was passed down through the family.”
Every facet of the exhibition is infused in some way with the unique flavor of life on Mackinac Island and the understanding that any stay at the Grand is, naturally, grand.
Whether through photography, painting, sculpture or creative staging of prized items from the private collection, the “Mackinac’s Grand Hotel” exhibition pulls you in, escorts you through a remarkable past, and celebrates the bright future of this proud piece of island lore.
“What I find quite special is the way the older pieces work with the newly created artwork,” Porter said.
“To capture just the right spirit of Grand Hotel and all of the stories, traditions and milestones that are a part of it, was no small task,” he said.
“Our hope is that when people walk among these pictures, mementos and original artwork they will feel a very real sense of the long, rich history of this important hotel – and how even the most ordinary of days can be transformed into a once-in-a-lifetime experience because of Grand’s inviting, unique sense of place.”
“Mackinac’s Grand Hotel” is offered at the Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum at the Indian Dormitory on Mackinac Island now through October. For information on hours, admission, and the Kids’ Art Studio (located within the museum), visit www.mackinacparks.org.