Gwen Frostic Prints is tucked away in a wildlife sanctuary on the River Road, about 2 miles west of Benzonia.
The Betsie River flows nearby, and the serene north woods are all around.
Frostic — a celebrated Michigan artist and entrepreneur — built her home and studio in this bucolic setting in the early 1960s.
Although Frostic died on April 25, 2001, a day before her 95th birthday, the building where she lived and created her block print art is still open. It now serves as a combination stationery store, print shop and art gallery. You can watch printing presses rhythmically produce Frostic’s whimsical designs. Note cards, greeting cards, books, calendars and other items are for sale in the studio and through its website.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, only 10 customers are being allowed in the studio at a time so proper social distancing is maintained. The studio is cleaned regularly. The business wants to do its part to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Customers and staff are required to wear masks.
As you explore the one-of-kind studio, you pick up a sense of an extraordinary woman and her passion for the natural world.
Frostic sketched flowers, birds, trees and grasses and then cut those images into linoleum blocks by hand. Then, her distinctive images were printed on stationery, calendars and books.
Presscraft Papers, which Frostic founded in the 1950s, produced the printed materials. As a Western Michigan University news release noted when Frostic died, “she was an extraordinarily successful entrepreneur at a time when very few women worked outside the home, much less owned and operated businesses.”
Frostic was also a naturalist and poet. For years, she traveled the state at her own expense, speaking to groups about nature and its importance to human beings.
“We make napkins and books and memo papers, but this is not our aim,” she told a group in 1985. “Our aim is to bring you the wind in the trees and the very first violet of spring. Our aim is to bring you a bit of serenity that exists in this world — serenity that we must not forget. In spite of the newspapers, in spite of the news broadcasts and debates, there is serenity, and we must always keep in touch with a bit of that serenity. So, we hope that maybe one of our books or note papers will help you keep your island of serenity, where you can go and find yourself again. Because without that, you can never be a complete person.”
Frostic earned a bachelor’s degree from Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo in 1929, and she maintained a close relationship with her alma mater. In fact, Frostic’s bequest of a gift of $13 million to WMU was one of the largest in the university’s history. Much of her gift was channeled to foster artistic pursuits, such as the Gwen Frostic Reading Series, art school facilities and student scholarships in art and creative writing.
Funds were also used for business scholarships and three Gwen Frostic Medallion Scholarships, awarding to incoming first-year students. In 2007, the WMU Board of Trustees approved naming the university’s school of art as the Gwen Frostic School of Art.