Artists fan out over Felt Estate for plein air ‘Paint Out’

Cold, wind and some ghost lore inspire artists from around West Michigan.
Theresa Frank, left, and Terrie Anderson paint at the Felt Estate on Saturday, April 20, 2024, as part of the “Paint Out” sponsored by the Plein Air Artists of West Michigan and the Saugatuck Douglas Art Club.

Artists gathered in the lobby at the Felt Mansion in Laketown Township on Saturday, April 20, 2024, as winds whipped off Lake Michigan making the 40-degree temperatures seem even colder. It was not a morning for the faint of heart to be outside sketching and painting.

Felt Executive Director Elizabeth McEwen offered the artists the chance to paint from the comfortably warm room of one-time occupant Agnes Felt who passed away at the estate in 1928. It is rumored she still haunts the halls.

Theresa Frank pondered the choice, thinking that spirits can often be very supportive of the novice artist.

“‘Way to go,’ she’d say looking over my shoulder,” Frank said after learning about the otherworldly legends of the Felt Mansion, 6597 138th Ave.

Frank, though, chose the blustery fields outside to paint because the day was devoted to “plein air,” meaning painting outdoors.

She did stop in Agnes’ room during a quick tour of the 25-room restored 1920’s mansion.

“I said, ‘Hi,’ made friends with her and came outside,” Frank laughed.

Joash Raj paints at the Felt Estate on Saturday, April 20, 2024, as part of the “Paint Out” sponsored by the Plein Air Artists of West Michigan and the Saugatuck Douglas Art Club.

Painting outdoors

About a dozen members of the Plein Air Artists of West Michigan and the Saugatuck Douglas Art Club fanned out over the estate grounds, occasionally chasing loose papers and picking up toppled easels in the powerful winds, during the event called a “Paint Out.”

“It really makes no difference to most artists what time of year he or she tackles a plein air subject,” said Richard Jordan of Plein Air Artists of West Michigan. “Even though each season casts its own unique light, an artist usually paints in the same manner depending on their medium of choice: oil, watercolor, pastel or acrylic.”

Barri Rosenbluth paints at the Felt Estate on Saturday, April 20, 2024, as part of the “Paint Out” sponsored by the Plein Air Artists of West Michigan and the Saugatuck Douglas Art Club.

The Saugatuck Douglas plein air group regularly meets April through October.

“The Felt Estate is one of our favorite locations because of the beauty of the mansion’s architecture and its natural environment,” said Barri Rosenbluth of the Saugatuck-Douglas group. “There’s always something new to paint. We love spending time outside enjoying the scenery, fresh air and camaraderie.”

Frank set up her tripod next to Terrie Anderson. The two had not met before Saturday’s event but chatted and painted as more artists in hats and gloves set up.

Kelly Fuhs of Grand Rapids paints at the Felt Estate on Saturday, April 20, 2024, as part of the “Paint Out” sponsored by the Plein Air Artists of West Michigan and the Saugatuck Douglas Art Club.
Kelly Fuhs of Grand Rapids paints at the Felt Estate on Saturday, April 20, 2024, as part of the “Paint Out” sponsored by the Plein Air Artists of West Michigan and the Saugatuck Douglas Art Club.

Kelly Fuhs of Grand Rapids sat on a blanket under the more than 100-year-old tree casting long shadows toward the steeple of the chapel. The restored white church was once the Gibson Church located two miles away. The Felts’ daughter was married there. In 2010, the building was moved to the Felt grounds.

Fuhs said it was her first time at the estate and wanted to experience painting there.

Margaret McDermott of Saugatuck paints at the Felt Estate on Saturday, April 20, 2024, as part of the “Paint Out” sponsored by the Plein Air Artists of West Michigan and the Saugatuck Douglas Art Club.
Margaret McDermott of Saugatuck paints at the Felt Estate on Saturday, April 20, 2024, as part of the “Paint Out” sponsored by the Plein Air Artists of West Michigan and the Saugatuck Douglas Art Club.

For Margaret McDermott of Saugatuck, the Felt Estate has always been a nearby inspiration.

“It’s one of my favorite places to paint,” she said, pulling her hat tight to her head as she looked up at the mansion in the distance.

Joash Raj paints at the Felt Estate on Saturday, April 20, 2024, as part of the “Paint Out” sponsored by the Plein Air Artists of West Michigan and the Saugatuck Douglas Art Club.
Joash Raj paints at the Felt Estate on Saturday, April 20, 2024, as part of the “Paint Out” sponsored by the Plein Air Artists of West Michigan and the Saugatuck Douglas Art Club.

Joash Raj from the Hudsonville area set up his easel in the protection of some pine trees. He focused on the fountain with the 25-room restored 1920s mansion in the background. He hadn’t been to the estate before and wanted to give painting it a try despite the cold temperatures.

“It’s still cold, but you put your gloves on and make the best of it,” he said.

Terrie Anderson paints at the Felt Estate on Saturday, April 20, 2024, as part of the “Paint Out” sponsored by the Plein Air Artists of West Michigan and the Saugatuck Douglas Art Club.

About the Felt Estate

Construction of the mansion began in 1925 by Dorr E. Felt, inventor of the Comptometer, an early adding machine. The building was finished in 1928. Felt’s wife Agnes died that year. Dorr died a year-and-a-half later.

After his death, the estate became a seminary for the Augustinian order then a state prison and Michigan State Police post before the property was purchased by Laketown Township.

The mansion has been restored and is a top wedding and event destination. Tours and free summer concerts are also offered.

For more on the Felt Estate, visit www.Feltmansion.org.