Art Takes Center Stage At The William E. Scripps Estate

The William E. Scripps mansion in Lake Orion is considered, according to Leslie Pielack, the estate’s executive director and curator, one of three Oakland County jewels. (The other two being Cranbrook and Meadow Brook, she says.)

“Oakland County has a lot going for it,” she says. “And this mansion is one of them. “

It began in 1916 when William E. Scripps, the son of Detroit’s Evening News founder James E. Scripps, started purchasing large tracts of land for his estate called Wildwood Farms. By the mid-1920s he had asked his brother-in-law and architect Clarence Day to erect a home for his family. And that’s the mansion that’s on the property today. Pielack points out that the mansion is on the registry of historic buildings, which deems the structure important to American history.

And that history, the mansion itself, and the entire estate, was just put to work, in a way.

The Scripps mansion, owned by the non-profit Guest House Inc., which runs an alcohol and drug addiction treatment center for men and women of the Catholic clergy on site, just played host to its first every artists-in-residency program.

Four artists were selected in June out of 25 serious applicants to spend two weeks – between July 6 and July 20 – living, breathing, and creating art with the mansion in mind.

Talk of the program began in January of this year. “The timing was just perfect for everything,” Pielack says. “It all just fell into place. We put a call out to artist through Facebook and craigslist. It was a good amount of work in a short period of time.”

The program was partly funded by a grant, which Pielack wrote, from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and by the Oakland County Office of Arts, Culture & Film.

“I think that this coming together in such a short time is a testament for good news for the arts,” Pielack says. “It’s a breath of fresh air and artists feel that, which has made this a success.”

The mansion, however, isn’t an odd place to hold such an art heavy program.

“There’s a cultural history and an art history here at the mansion,” Pielack says. “And that’s what we are trying to promote here.”

The Scripps mansion is no stranger to art, either.

“Bill Scripps was a patron of the arts. He had a lot of European art her on the walls. He had (Johannes) Vermeer and (Pieter) Bruegel,” she says. The painting The Nut Gatherers by William –Adolphe Bouguereau, which now has a home at the Detroit Institute of Arts and considered one of its most famous paintings, was owned by Scripps and hung in his house.

The four artists – Gary Schwartz, Joan Farago, Victor Pytko, and Gayle Vandercook – each brought a different art form to the estate. Detroiter Schwartz, who was nominated for an Academy Award back in 1982 for a short animated film he created, spent his time created a site-inspired stop-motion animated film using a traditional camera obscura. Farago, a Grosse Pointe Park resident, combined painting and off-press printmaking to create her work. Pytko, of Birmingham, used a bit of everything but mostly acrylic – painting a number of landscapes – for his work. And Vandercook, from Lapeer, worked with pencils and markers to create collage works about the estate.

Even though they came here as separate artists with very different abilities, and with their own ideas, they all agree that their collaboration with each other has benefited their work.

“We do a lot of collaborating,” Vandercook says.

Pytko adds smirking: “Yeah, we do a lot of collaborating over lunch and the dinner table.”

The four artists created work for two weeks that not only was inspired by the estate but also promoted it and its history and culture. Out of all the work, one piece will be given to the Scripps estate determined by both the artist and estate officials. Schwartz’s piece will be a short stop-motion animated film.

Additionally, during the two weeks, the four artists held half-day workshops for the public teaching various forms of art to students of all walks of life and ages.

“It was so successful that we had to turn people away,” Pielack says. “A lot of people came out for the art but also just to see the mansion.”

All four artists agree that the two weeks wasn’t enough.

“We’ve changed over time,” Pytko says. “When I first go here I felt like a tourist and now I’ve transformed into a resident.”

And though the artists-in-residency program was an experience for the artists, it goes deeper than that.

“We want to make Michigan an arts destination,” Schwartz says. “And anything and everything we can do to promote it we will. And what we’re doing here is doing just that.”

The four pieces will be unveiled on September 19, which will include Schwartz’s short animated film, at the annual Scripps Day benefit dinner. For more information visit

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