The Great Lakes inspire murals, doodles and poems


Artist Nate Knoth creates graphics for the Michigan apparel company M22. Image: Nate Knoth.

By Kayla Nelsen

Three Michigan artists spread awareness about the value of the Great Lakes by creating trash murals, shredding waves and telling legends about shipwrecks.

Combing beaches to create murals

Artist Hannah Tizedes spends time on the shores of the Great Lakes collecting plastic to turn into mosaics. Image: Tianna Samone Creatives.

Hannah Tizedes spends her time along the shores of the Great Lakes not sunbathing nor swimming, but collecting trash to make art.

“It’s always been overwhelming to be at the beach and notice everything that’s there,” Tizedes said. “I’ve always been very aware of everything on the ground. My mom always says I would stuff my pockets with things from the ground.”

Years later, Tizedes, who lives in Detroit, finds herself collecting things from the world around her – just for a different reason.

“Fast forward to when I went to Michigan State and started out as an art studio major,” Tizedes said. “I was interested in the arts but also interested in the environment and didn’t know how to blend the two.”

Tizedes graduated from MSU in 2017 with a degree in Creative Advertising, and Environmental Studies and Sustainability. Nowadays she organizes community cleanups around Lake Erie through her nonprofit, The Cleanup Club. She also presents the plastic she finds on the beach as murals at art galleries across Michigan.

In 2022, the SEA LIFE Aquarium in Auburn Hills, Michigan, featured artist Hannah Tizedes’ plastic mural of the Great Lakes. Tizedes collected all of the pieces from Great Lakes coastlines for over a year. Image: Hannah Tizedes.

“My hope is to have people look a little closer at the pieces and realize what they are and make relations to items they use in their daily lives,” Tizedes said. “People don’t even know the amount of trash that’s washing up. An estimated 22 million pounds of plastic enters the Great Lakes every year.”

The Cleanup Club is heading efforts to duplicate a 2022 microplastic reduction initiative in California to take action against plastic pollution in the Great Lakes. “The state needs to be doing more to support the longevity of the lakes,” Tizedes said.

“We’re behind on some things,” she said. “There’s definitely work being done, but in my opinion, it should be moving quicker if we want to help the Great Lakes in all the proper ways.”

Lake Michigan surf inspires creative expression

Across the state, surfer Nate Knoth, of Holland, doodles to communicate what he’s learned from surfing Lake Michigan. His Great Lakes art is more about personal expression rather than pointed messaging, Knoth said.

Artist Nate Knoth surfing on Lake Michigan in Oct. 2020. Image: Brad Knoth.

“Just like any passion, surfing is a good teacher,” Knoth said. “There’s a lot of lessons you can learn while you’re out on the water. I try to let some of those ideas come through in my artwork without being so direct.”

Knoth grew up in Hudsonville, Michigan, just 30 minutes from the shores of Lake Michigan. His father was involved in watersports and Knoth and his four brothers followed in his wake, kiteboarding in Muskegon and Grand Haven, Knoth said.

“He got me hooked on that lifestyle of being connected to the outdoors, and in particular, the lakeshore,” Knoth said.

Knoth said that spending time outdoors in the Michigan climate has taught him lessons in living with polarities.

Memories of surfing on Lake Michigan are the muse for artist Nate Knoth. Image: Nate Knoth.

“So much of life is a balance between two seemingly opposing forces,” Knoth said. “It’s really easy to get pulled one way or the other. I think there’s a lot of value in having an open ear to both extremes. In the Great Lakes, the extremes are exciting.”

On Lake Michigan, unexpected swells of white-out conditions will often hit and clear up entirely within the hour. It is in those moments that Knoth learns patience and appreciation, he said.

“Even if the waves aren’t great, maybe the sunset is beautiful or the colors of the leaves are spectacular,” Knoth said. “It’s beautiful to just get out on the water and appreciate nature. There’s always something to be absorbed.”

Knoth said he hopes that other people will experience that same rush when they look at his abstract and colorful artwork. It has been featured on merchandise designs at Michigan-based apparel store M22 and eventually St. Joseph outdoor goods store Third Coast Surf Shop.

“I think there’s a kernel of some sort of wisdom that’s embedded in every art piece,” Knoth said. “It’s cool if some people see that kernel the same way I do, but I also like to leave it open to interpretation.”

Poetry as environmental pathway

Artwork has a unique capability of bringing the artist’s lived experiences to those who consume the work, said poet and MSU assistant professor Cindy Hunter-Morgan.

“There are different paths that we can take that lead to an engagement with our natural world,” Hunter-Morgan said. “I hope that my poems might serve as one angle of engagement with our environment.”

Poet Cindy Hunter Morgan’s words are the way in which she expresses gratitude for the environment, she said. Image: Cindy Hunter Morgan.

Hunter-Morgan has published two poetry books, Far Company and Harborless and two chapbooks or pamphlets, The Sultan, The Skater, The Bicycle Maker and Apple Season. Her poems express a deep-rooted love for the Michigan environment she grew up exploring, which all began at her grandparents’ apple orchard, she said.

“My life is inexorably intertwined with the natural world,” Hunter-Morgan said. “All of our lives are, but all of my life, I’ve understood the pleasure of this and I tend to turn that pleasure into poetry as one way of saving places.”

Hunter-Morgan’s 2018 poetry book, Harborless, reimagines historical Great Lakes shipwrecks from different perspectives and explores maritime in the region’s lakes. Writing about the past is essentially a celebration of gratitude for what has gone before, she said.

“A poem engaged with the past can vibrate a long time after we read it,” Hunter-Morgan said. “It lingers and can linger in a different way. It offers its own contributions to our appreciation for the environment.”

When it comes to environmental advocacy, gratitude fuels responsible action, Hunter-Morgan said. Her grandparents taught her the value of environmental responsibility in caring for the family orchard and the farm her grandmother grew up on. When her grandparents died, both the orchard and the farm were donated to become public parks.

“That sense of responsibility is built into my family,” Hunter-Morgan said. “At a certain point, it seems like the best way to protect a place is to let go of it, but to let go of it carefully.”

As the natural world changes, Hunter-Morgan’s poetry has evolved to address that reality while still celebrating gratitude, she said.

“Sometimes joy and celebration are more radical than protest,” Hunter-Morgan said. “Joy, too, is a confrontation with the world. And when we can celebrate it even if it’s tinged with sadness or nostalgia, sometimes that is what feeds joy.”

One thought on “The Great Lakes inspire murals, doodles and poems

  1. Good job, I am part of the Muskegon lake watershed parternership,we pick plastic all summer. A great blue heron,a tan hawk,a white butterfly, all flying. My short poem

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