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Art, Culture & Theater

Art Hopping Off the Beaten Track in South Haven

Published: 9/27/2018 by Nancy Backas

The Blue Coast Artists annual tour held the weekend of October 6 and 7, 2018 from 10 am to 6 pm has eight participating artists this year between South Haven, Saugatuck and Fennville.


One of the joys of traversing the country roads around South Haven is discovering artists’ studios, tucked away in the trees, just waiting discovery. There is something innately exciting about entering the world of someone who dedicates their life to the pursuit of creativity. It touches the longing for expression in all of us, and it’s delightful when one finds that an artist touches that place within us.


Some of the artists around South Haven have been successfully plying their crafts for many years, finding a way to make a living through their art in such a beautiful setting. For other artists, it is their second life after working a “regular” job for decades, an opportunity to explore that side of themselves that had been yearning to emerge.


Back in 1973, when South Haven was more of a working-class town, Mark Williams decided to move from Chicago to South Haven to try to make go of creating ceramics for a living. He had taken numerous classes at the Art Institute of Chicago and decided to pursue his life’s passion for ceramics. His friend Bill Farrell, also a ceramicist, owned the property and Williams rented space, along with another fellow potter Bruce Jordan. At first, the studio was a small room where all three of them worked, but over the years it has been added onto and now takes up about 3,400 square feet.


Ceramicist Mark Williams


His friend Bill moved back to Chicago to run the ceramics department at the Art Institute of Chicago, and Jordan moved to Wisconsin to start his own studio, but Williams stayed on and bought the studio and house tucked away among the trees mere steps away from the studio in the early eighties.


“At first I didn’t have a sign out on the highway. I just did about ten art fairs a year, “he says. “And while now I am down to just one a year, it still sustains my life.”


Williams uses a texture slab technique to make functional pitchers, bowls, tureens, mugs, vases and bird baths. He keeps his Blue Star Pottery sign out and his studio open from May through October, and the rest of the year it can be visited by chance or by appointment. He has on occasion created whole sets of dinnerware for those who make special requests.



He was one of the original Blue Coast Artists along with felting artist Barb Bare (her pieces can be purchased at Williams’ studio), and Kathy Catania of Water Street Glassworks in Benton Harbor. The tour is now in its 29th year, and will be held this October 6 and 7.


Williams’ neighbor Christine Russell Bruno helped take the Blue Coast Artists tour to a new level when she moved to South Haven with her husband Torry Bruno in 2012. A graphic artist by trade, she worked for both the Detroit Free Press and the Chicago Tribune until her retirement. She joined the Blue Coast Artists in 2012 lending some of her graphic arts expertise for the group’s printed materials. 


Christine Russell Bruno


Bruno discovered her passion for creating jewelry in 2001 while living in Chicago and taking classes in metalsmithing at the Lill Street Gallery.  She works in sterling silver with semi-precious stones and rocks she finds on the beach, getting her inspiration from “equal loves of modern architecture and the amazing detail found in nature.” She started making jewelry for friends while still living in Chicago and honed her craft, learning how to solder in her bathtub, until it grew into more than a hobby.



Bruno and her husband bought and redesigned the old Casco Town Hall that had been moved to a property next to the Blue Star Highway, just down the road from Williams’ studio, while they were still living in Chicago. When they moved permanently to South Haven, they built their studio next to their town hall home that now houses both her metalsmithing  and Bruno’s photography studios, as well as their gallery.  


Bruno also sells her wares at a couple of art fairs a year, and at the LaFontsee Gallery in Grand Rapids, MI and Synchronicity Gallery in Glen Arbor, MI. She was a member of the Blue Coast Artists from 2012 to 2017 and while no longer a member, her studio is open during the tour. She can be reached by appointment year round through her website  


Her husband Torry Bruno, who was both a photographer and manager of the photography departments at both the Pioneer Press and the Chicago Tribune for more than 30 years, helped usher the Tribune into the digital age. Today, he has rediscovered the art of photography and sells his photography and wax encaustic paintings in the Town Hall Studio alongside his wife’s jewelry. 


The Blue Coast Artists annual tour held the weekend of October 6 and 7 from 10 am to 6 pm has eight participating artists this year between South Haven, Saugatuck and Fennville. These artists open their studios showcasing their art, offering refreshments and demonstrating during a perfect weekend for taking in the local autumn color.


Blue Star Pottery

337 Blue Star Hwy.



Town Hall Studio

327 Blue Star Hwy.



About the Author

Nancy Backas has been writing, mostly about food, for more than 30 years. South Haven is a favorite place, and she and her husband Terry visit as often as they can. The rich food and art culture, along with opportunities to explore South Haven's magical natural surroundings is what draws she and her husband to SoHa. She looks forward to sharing her South Haven discoveries. And, while they currently live in Chicago, with moving plans in the works, South Haven will soon be their new home.

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