Three-quarters of a century ago, some of Detroit’s finest arts and cultural institutions including Wayne State University, the Detroit Institute of ArtsThe Scarab Club and others came together to form a community group dedicated to watercolor painting. Now, 75 years later, the Michigan Water Color Society continues to have a strong foundation in Detroit as the nonprofit prepares for its 75th-anniversary exhibition June 4 at the Kayrod Gallery in Detroit’s Hannan Center.

Michigan Water Color Society

Dave Giordan, the graphic designer for the Michigan Water Color Society, works on a piece he’ll display at the nonprofits 75th anniversary art exhibit. | Photo by One Detroit

Ahead of the annual watercolor exhibit, One Detroit Editor Chris Jordan sat down with Michigan Water Color Society President Rocco Pisto and other members of the group to discuss the importance of the nonprofit as a community arts resource in Detroit, the unique beauty of watercolor painting as a medium, and the inspiration behind some of the works that can be seen at the upcoming show.

Plus, Jordan talks with Richard Reeves, Jr., the director of the Kayrod Gallery, to learn more about the gallery’s mission to create a safe space for elderly people to experience the arts.


Full Transcript:

Barbara Baker, Treasurer, Michigan Water Color Society: I love the fluidity. I love the surprises. I feel like my work comes out better when I let the surprises work for me, the water and the paint and everything mixes together.

Michael Ingle, Signature Member, Michigan Water Color Society: I’ve had a lot of people say, well, how can you get that bright of a color? I’ve had people say, well, you must be using like a fluorescent painter, but it’s not, It’s just two watercolors. There could be an area in a watercolor that has seven, eight, nine, ten layers of light to dark colors.

Paula Zaks, Member, Michigan Water Color Society: I’m not one that thinks about, I just kind of do it intuitively. I’m not writing it down or drawing or anything preconceived. It just, when I originally start, I just throw color on and then it goes from there.

Denise Willing-Booher, Past President, Michigan Water Color Society: I decided I wanted to be in a group of artists that were like-minded with me because what I do is more solo. And I googled societies that had to do with watercolor because that was my passion.

Dave Giordan, Graphic Designer, Water Color Society: You get to see on a regular basis a lot of the work that all of our members are doing. And it’s really amazing to me what a talented group of people we have. And they come from all different backgrounds. Some of them are graphic designers, some of them have been in fine art all their life, some people just picked it up because they liked it.

Chris Jordan: The Michigan Watercolor Society. A nonprofit arts organization formed in the 1940s by members of Detroit’s universities and cultural institutions, to provide resources and education for watercolor painters and exposure for the medium. The organization is preparing for its 75th-anniversary exhibition, opening June 4th at the Kayrod Gallery in Detroit’s Hannan Center.

Rocco Pisto, President, Michigan Water Color Society: The Michigan Watercolor Society started back in 1946. Professors from Wayne State, University of Michigan, the DIA, the Scarab Club, and they started with, I think, some 40 people and they had their first show and I think 1947.

Barbara Baker: It’s really just a community of artists. We offer workshops, we offer zooms with various artists. So, it just gave me a community of people and now they’re my friends and inspired me, I guess, is what it did to become a better artist.

Rocco Pisto:  75 years back in Detroit, thanks to Richard Reeves for hosting us at the Kayrod Gallery in the Hannan Center.

Richard Reeves Jr., Director, Kayrod Gallery, Arts & Culture, Hannan Center:  The true mission of the gallery is to be a place where seniors, people 55 and older, have a safe place to display their work and explore art and learn about the business of art. I love the opportunity that the Watercolor Society does with actually educating their artists. And also, just the idea of, you know, some of art is very representative and some of it is abstract, and just the whole idea of bringing all those things together and showing that watercolor is just definitely a viable medium to use as an art form.

Rocco Pisto: Being in Detroit, where this all started, and just I’m hoping that the founders are looking down on us and saying, thanks for keeping us alive. Thanks for remembering us, thanks for carrying on the mission and bringing it back home.

Denise Willing-Booher: When you see the artwork in person, it’s so different than seeing an image. You can see the paint on the paper. All the artists have their own particular way that they paint, which makes it so interesting.

Michael Ingle: For me, it’s just a motivator. I’ll go to the show, I’ll see the other work. There’s so much really, really top-notch work there. And, you know, I’ll look at a piece. I’m like, wow, that’s really done well, I need to up my game. It just really, really pushes me to just put out the best that I can, the very best that I can every time.

Rocco Pisto: Well, we’re a volunteer organization to begin with, so, everyone that gets involved is through a passion of love for art, being part of a community, a like-minded community. It deals with just working on techniques, as watercolor techniques because there’s just hundreds of them, or it’s got social ramifications in their work. This is a painting I did in reference to Ukraine and what they’re going through right now. It’s mostly watercolor, but I’m using gouaches, I’m using French watercolor crayons, and I’m using India ink. We created a print for it and we’re donating to help support the first responders in Ukraine.

Dave Giordan: So, this year’s show, the piece that I’ve got in is called, “Isola Porta” and it is an old door from Italy.

Barbara Baker: It’s based loosely on a photograph that I took on a trip to Hawaii a couple of years ago. And what I wanted to do was capture the sunlight and just really capture the movement.

Rocco Pisto: I think it’d be great for people to come, not only because of the artwork, but it’s about people. Michigan Water Color is a friendly organization. You’ll learn a lot from a lot of different people, from a lot of different backgrounds. I tell people, I learn something new every time I talk to another artist. Whether it’s a new gallery or a new technique, you’ll never not learn something when you come and meet folks from Michigan Water Color.

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