PORT AUSTIN, Mich. — The lakeside town of Port Austin, Michigan, is not what you’d call a bustling cultural center — more like a humble and self-assured farming community off the beaten track, where, as everyone likes to tell you, over and over, you can see the sun rise and set over Lake Huron all in the same day. Being a peninsula within a peninsula, and “on the way” to absolutely nothing, this tip-of-the-thumb town would not typically be considered an art destination … until now.
Van Dyke (aka M-53) runs for approximately 110 miles, directly north from Detroit into the thumb, and Port Austin native and longtime Detroiter Jim Boyle has lived on one end or the other of this road his entire life. When I heard that Boyle was engaged in a project to commission “art barns” from notable Detroit artists up in Port Austin — and that the second project in progress was conceived by artist Scott Hocking, who creates sometimes unsanctioned monuments that represent a staggering investment of personal labor — I had all I needed to excuse a road trip. As with all his work, Hocking draws from the available materials — in this case, the barns in various states of use and decay that Boyle is seeking to inject with renewed purpose in the face of the waning family farming industry that has supported the Port Austin area for decades. From what I understood, Hocking was in the process of rebuilding a barn into a boat.