Plein Air Painters Gather at Cherry Basket Farm - The Leelanau Conservancy

Plein Air Painters Gather at Cherry Basket Farm

June 20, 2012–In late June, a dozen painters arrived at Cherry Basket Farm in Omena, easels and paint boxes in hand. The painters had bid on and won a spot in a 2-day Plein Air class which was one of the items offered at the Leelanau Conservancy’s 2011 Auction. The class was donated and instructed by Frank Speyers, an artist and professor at Calvin College.

On a beautiful morning, Frank welcomed everyone. The workshop began with an instructional period. Tom and Marsha Buehler, owners of Cherry Basket Farm, served coffee and home-baked muffins and had spent the day before setting up for the class in their beautiful historic barn. Long tables lined the walls, and were covered with color wheels, oil paints, composition books.

Examples of Frank’s work decorated the rest of the empty space, testaments to his love of Plein Air painting.

Frank began his relationship with En Plein Air* in 2007 when he decided to take an instructional class. He’s been hooked ever since. In fact, it was a friend in one of those classes that urged Frank to offer his services in the Conservancy auction—a lucky accident one could say. After the morning’s demonstration inside—and Marsha’s delicious lunch– the students packed up their oil paints and easels and headed out into “the open air” of the beautiful grounds of the Omena farm, settling themselves wherever inspiration struck them.

As people began to paint, Frank wandered from easel to easel offering advice and guidance. He stressed simplicity and advocated using strong shapes and intense colors. In the style of En Plein Air, amping up the colors balances out the details that may be lost in the quick composition process. Another interesting facet of Plein Air is the idea of never finishing a painting. Frank encouraged the painters to start many, many pieces and had them focus on the moment as a snapshot; something that fades fast. Indeed, the light changes at a pace that requires you to paint quickly to keep up, making you rely on strong contrast, vivid colors, and a necessary simplicity to construct your painting.

It was clear even after a short time of observing that Frank had made a usually personal experience, painting, into a group activity. The friendly atmosphere and beautiful day encouraged people to talk. Some knew Frank or his artwork beforehand, some did not. Despite the varied group of painters that attended the class, the feeling overall was very similar: a great instruction and experience was had by all.

We’re grateful to Frank for all the work he put into preparing and conducting the class, which participants raved about. Thanks also to Tom and Marsha Buehler, for their gracious hospitality, and to Silent Auction chair Karen Mulvahill for all her help in coordinating the class. Getting people together to revel in and capture the beauty of Leelanau’s landscapes on canvas was a great “Leelanau Experience”—one of the focuses of our Annual Auction.

To learn about all the great Leelanau Experiences on offer at our 2012 Annual Picnic and Auction, visit our website. To learn more about Frank Speyers, visit

*En Plein Air—“in the open air,” a painting style popularized in the late 19th and early 20th century that focuses on natural light and shadows

–Taylor Jolliffe, Outreach Intern 2012