Location: Coppermine Point

Ellen Van Laar… with Superior Connections!

Ellen Van Laar… with Superior Connections!

Lake Superior; there are no mincing words here as this enormous body of water is the largest in the world by surface area and the third largest by volume! It’s storms are legendary, as are the count of ships and lives it has claimed. The Ojibwe refer to it as Gichigami, or “big water,” and has been cited in song by Gordon Lightfoot and poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. We too had witnessed it’s hugeness, traveling for nine hours along what had amounted to less than half the perimeter of this vast expanse of water. It also happens to be the backyard and playground to painter, writer and musician Ellen Van Laar whose home is a stone’s throw to the lake and her, both a spectator and participant to the weather, seasons and mysteries that this indomitable lake brings.

Ellen at her Lake Superior backyard

Ellen at her Lake Superior backyard

Ellen moved to Coppermine Point because she loves the lake. Once there she developed a compulsion to paint. The areas along the water have a powerful allure because of the natural, historical, mythical and native traditions and stories characteristic of the area, and so she set out to illustrate her perspective of the interrelationships that exist there. Her abstract representations of the water and shore in her paintings pay homage to these elements. Her day-to-day life and artwork are not two separate entities; they mingle as a collaboration of her senses which take in her natural surroundings and are expressed outward onto her canvas. From her physical interaction with the world around her to the visual stimuli captured through the lenses of her eyes and camera, Ellen’s paintings depict the connectivity she has to the world around her and the recognition of the different moods captured within the trees, rocks, water and weather. This awareness of her senses is a passion that she loves to explore and share with others, and so she has opened up a retreat center, Arts and Adventure, where those also searching for that awareness can nurture their senses and learn from Ellen’s insights.

Global Warming Dragon+

Global Warming Dragon+

One example of Ellen bringing a legend to life is through the mythological Misshepezhieu. Otherwise known as “the spirit of the water,” it is a mythical sea creature (or is it?) that in essence signifies the mightiness and mystery of nature, for some an entity of physical shape such as the native pictograph drawings, and for others it is the lake and water itself. It sometimes plays protector and gives life, while other times it plays the punisher and takes it away. It is therefore a force to be respected for it to remain benevolent, but disregard it’s power and you will summon it’s fury. From this legend Ellen has created a storyboard called “Mitch the Dragon”, each one with a picture and rhyme chronicling Mitch’s adventures as he meets different animals and reacts in varying ways to them. There are also family discussion questions to be discussed with your own children or in a classroom setting that are meant to examine our relationships to animals and each other. Ellen notes that “the past is alive in the present,” referring to the fact that the lessons, legends and symbols of history and mythology can also be applied to the present, not just something to be studied as the past. Mitch the Dragon is a perfect example of that; children learning of the local historical legends while deriving present world insight and introspection. What a wonderful idea!

View a sampling below of Ellen’s storyboard with “Mitch the Dragon” Click to enlarge.

Sand River - Mouth

Sand River – Mouth

Enjoy our interview with Ellen and feel free to leave a comment below!