Artists across Grand Rapids attempt to remain positive amidst a trying time


Courtesy / Experience GR LaFontsee Gallery

Mary Dupuis, Staff Reporter

Courtesy / Jean Allemeier Boot
Still Life 2020, by Jean Allemeier Boot

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, many people across the state of Michigan are being forced to adjust to a new lifestyle, and a new routine. Local artists in Grand Rapids are no exception, as they are discovering new ways to reshape their creative processes and continue to create what they love. 

Many artists in Grand Rapids display their artwork at the LaFontsee Galleries as a way to sell their work or get valuable exposure to the public eye. However, as the gallery is now closed until further notice, some artists are taking the hit. 

One artist whose work is primarily featured at LaFontsee Galleries, Jean Allemeier Boot, creates original hand-pulled prints, mostly etchings, and uses a traditional method with copper plates and acid. She alternates this practice with oil painting and most often plein air painting (painting outdoors). 

Allemeier Boot said the closure of the gallery has resulted in very limited opportunities to sell her artwork. Since the gallery closed, their spring exhibition was cancelled as well. This exhibition usually runs for a couple of months and exists to showcase artists’ new work. It typically provides a good turnout and leads to many people strolling through the galleries to enjoy the and experience artwork. 

“Generating public interest in artwork now falls strictly to online platforms and social media without the possibility of seeing artwork in-person, under the current restrictions,” Allemeier Boot said. “It is definitely limiting. Add to that fact the economic uncertainty and it certainly puts artists, and galleries, in a precarious situation at the moment.”

Courtesy / Katherine Bourdon
Still life with Paint Palette and Pears, by Katherine Bourdon

Another artist, Katherine Bourdon, is experiencing a similar situation. A painter, Bourdon has work featured at LaFontsee Galleries, Tvedten Fine Art Gallery in Harbor Springs, and Fuller Art House in Sylvania, Ohio. With all three of these galleries being closed, she is experiencing a particularly hard time. 

“I depend on the sales of my artwork to pay my bills,” Bourdon said. “I had a client from Tvedten Fine Art Gallery interested in buying a painting back in February, but once the stock market dropped, they decided to hold off on the purchase.”

Bourdon is not only facing financial difficulty with all of the galleries closing, but also difficulty in finding a new temporary work space as the studio she had been working in and sharing with four other artists was also forced to close.

“It’s affected my work a lot. We have all had to take our studio supplies home. I don’t have half my supplies from my studio and working in a basement without good light is difficult,” Bourdon said. “I was also working on a large 5 ft. x 5 ft. painting commission for the LaFontsee Gallery. I had to quit work on that piece because it’s too large to fit into my car to take home.”

Bourdon said for the time being she is forced to work on smaller canvases at home because her current at home studio space is too small. However, she said she is happy that now she does not have to drive 25 minutes to and from her studio every day.

William C. Rolf, a photographer who specializes in fine art interpretations of architecture, has his work featured in the LaFontsee Gallery, Ralph Lauren Stores worldwide, and Voila! Gallery on La Brea in Los Angeles.

Rolf said he has not encountered much difficulty working from home, as he does 75-percent of his own printing and has a fine-art printing company 30 minutes away from his house to make the large prints that his own cannot handle. 

Courtesy / William Curtis Rolf
Modern Architecture Around the World, by William Curtis Rolf

“I do research on where I want to go and what sorts of images I want to capture. I stay at home and work on existing images and communicate with clients and suppliers,” Rolf said.

He said that he has found his transition to working from home to be a surprisingly positive experience, as he was forced to begin working on tasks that he normally does not seem to have enough time for, such as organizing images.

Allemeier Boot said she has also benefited from her extra time at home by using it to get caught up on “house-keeping” tasks around her studio, as well as trying out new artistic techniques. 

“I’ve been catching-up on organizing my prints and updating my inventory database,” Allemeier Boot said. “I’m also taking this opportunity of extra time with decreased distractions to allow myself to experiment a little more with my art-making.”

She said the cancellation of deadlines and events has allowed her to clear her mind and revert back to focusing on and improving her artwork. 

“The lifting of deadlines has resulted in an unexpected liberating feeling of sorts for me. Every function that I currently needed to create art for has been canceled, even a show in the fall in New York City has been pushed out a year,” Allemeier Boot said. “With deadlines no longer in place, I am free to spend time trying new things and work on improving techniques. For the time being, because this seems like a temporary situation, I don’t mind it.”

Yolanda Gonzalez, an illustrator and graphic designer who also paints and does printmaking, has done exactly the opposite. Gonzalez has set her own fast-approaching deadlines in order to keep herself busy and at work, attempting to shatter the current creative block she said she is experiencing. 

“When I started in my career, I worked as an editorial illustrator and needed to work on quick turn-around projects. Over the years, I’ve moved away from that tight deadline-driven work,” Gonzalez said. “But, lately, I’ve been flexing that muscle more to create daily illustrations that are specific to our times. That’s exciting for me.”

Gonzalez said that while the pandemic is inspiring her in some ways, it is limiting her in others. 

“Now, I feel more compelled as an artist to bring humor and hope to my audience. By using relatable simple images and messaging, I like creating small bits of joy and affirmation. This has luckily kept me more than busy,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve had a harder time with my personal art practice. I lack the inspiration to pick up a paintbrush or carve blocks for printing.”

Much of the supplies each artist uses are able to be ordered online, so none seem to be having issues in that regard. 

Courtesy / Kelley Allen
Can’t Stop the Rain, by Kelly Allen

Kelly Allen, an artist specializing in artwork ranging from oil painting and fiber art drawing to collages and trash art has been using some of her extra supplies and her artistic ability to help friends in need. 

“I have been experimenting more and focusing less on producing work at a volume that I would expect of myself for the gallery. I’ve also been sewing masks for family and friends to wear out in public,” Allen said.

Artists encourage patrons throughout the community, if they are able, to continue to support their local artists in this time of financial and emotional difficulty. Be it by keeping up to date on and sharing social media posts or purchasing their artwork, they said anything helps. 

“I believe that during difficult times, art and culture should never be neglected. All art, be it music, theatre, dance and the visual arts can be a source of wonder and inspiration for all,” Bourdon said. “I believe some of the world’s greatest art has come through periods of great upheaval.”

Allan agrees, and said everyone can use this time at home to become an artist themself.

“I urge everyone to take time to be creative and experiment without expectation. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to share it. Be kind with yourself and enjoy creating. It is your birthright,” Allen said.

To see more of their art, visit the artists online:

Jean Allemeier Boot

Katherine Bourdon

William C. Rolf

Yolanda Gonzalez

Kelly Allen