Iron County Museum
|Iron County Historical Museum|
|The Lumbercamp at this vast museum complex includes 4 log buildings. 80-year old Sharrard Camp is the largest and is divided into two parts, one for cooking and one for sleeping. Old sleighs and the "big wheels" were used to haul logs out of the woods.|
This is the Upper Peninsula's largest outdoor museum. It even includes three art galleries. As of now, 26 buildings have been moved here. The most recent additions are a new fire hall to house fire department exhibits and a 1941 fire truck, and the restored Toti Tavern (1912) from the Virgil Location north of Iron River, furnished and complete with its original elaborate Sicilian mirrored back bar imported from Sicily.
The breadth and depth of this museum is unparalleled in the Upper Peninsula. It helps to get a map at the desk, pick out what you're especially interested in, and a volunteer will give you directions.
♦ A big, wonderfully carved folk-art model of a logging camp, known as the Monigal Miniatures.
♦ A cubist mural of miners drilling, painted by a Chicago Art Institute faculty member for the old Iron Inn hotel's lobby.
♦ The late Joe Canale's realistic coin-operated model iron mine and railroad. An underground car picks up ore from the scraper drift, a skip lifts it to the surface, and a model train hauls the ore off to Escanaba's smelters. The museum tries to keep it in working condition.
♦ The homemade, classically-inspired decor of art teacher Brandon Giovanelli's house. (See below.)
♦ For fans of wildlife art, waterfowl paintings by a noted duck stamp-winner in the Lee LeBlanc Wildlife Gallery. (See below.)
♦ A one-room school, fully equipped, down to a full complement of slates.
The most unusual building is the classical-inspired, mural-filled house of the late Brandon Giovanelli (pronounced "JU-vuh-NEL-ee"), who grew up in a mining location outside of Iron River. He was the shy, generous, much-loved art teacher in local high schools and at Gogebic Community College. Greek mythology and Renaissance humanism prompted his sweeping paintings focusing on the human body. His father had built the ranch-style family home from two salvaged WPA construction projects. The art teacher fashioned quite a classy home for his family with Greek entrance columns and a fabulous, statue-filled garden. Giovanelli practiced and collected almost all the arts, including floral still lifes, painted jewelry, and needlepoint for cushions and cutwork, learned from an old Italian woman. He also used simple materials in innovative ways, such as tissue-paper landscapes and panels made of collected old glass. The dramatic dining room is a real treasure, with elaborate draperies, art glass lamps, and medallions of Dante and Beatrice, Petrarch and Laura from The Divine Comedy.
Wildlife art and Hollywood cartoons by another artistic native son are showcased in the Lee LeBlanc Wildlife Gallery. LeBlanc (1913-1988) followed a career pattern typical of many of the Upper Peninsula's bright, ambitious sons and daughters. He left Iron River to study art, then worked and prospered in Hollywood for 25 years. As an animator for Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies, he drew Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd as well as scenic backdrops. Retiring at 50, he moved back home so he could fish and hunt. He illustrated picture books with historical subjects and then took up wildlife art, for which he is remembered. Honors included becoming National Ducks Unlimited Artist of the Year. Sale of his prints raised millions of dollars for Ducks Unlimited habitat conservation projects in the Marquette area, Manitoba, Arkansas, and Mississippi. His appealing paintings, mostly of ducks in marshes and lakes, are suffused with a golden light and imbued with a lively peacefulness. It's also interesting to see products of LeBlanc's Hollywood career, from pinup girls to backdrop paintings used in the movies "Please, Don't Eat the Daisies" and "Ben Hur."
The small museum shop sells publications about the area and gifts and collectibles that raise money for the museum.
It's a most impressive grassroots museum, an interesting place for exploring by unjaded kids who like poking around and by adults with some natural curiosity. Interpretation of local history to outsiders is low on the museum's priority list, however. There's an implicit assumption that most visitors are probably descended from local people and that they are already familiar with the basic outlines of local history, and ready to delve into details. Nevertheless, many summer visitors from afar enjoy this place and the people they meet here.
In Caspian just northwest of downtown. From U.S. 2 just west of downtown Iron River, turn south at the light. Stay on of Iron River, look for the sign at the Caspian Cutoff. (906) 265-2617. Open June thru Sept, daily 10-4, Sun 1-4 Central. Other times by appointment. In May (school visitation season) hours are weekdays 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission $8/adult, $5/children 5-16. See museum website http//Xironcountymuseum.com for its many special events.
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POINTS OF INTEREST
Iron County Museum. Multifaceted museum includes satisfying exhibits on the area's geology, logging, musical and ethnic heritage, life in mines (great video), plus 24 outdoor buildings (10 old log barns, houses, outbuildings), intact Caspian Mine headframe ... more
Ski Brule. In a scenic hilly setting is a resort with miles of cross-country skiing trails, two snowboard parks, Alpine skiing, and in summer mountain bike trails, horseback riding, canoeing and tubing ... more
Lake Ottawa Park/Ge Chi Ski Trail. This pleasant Ottawa National Forest park is on crystal-clear, 551-acre Lake Ottawa. It has hiking trails, a swimming beach, fishing pier, and a handsome CCC-era pavilion/bathhouse with fireplaces. ... more
George Young Recreational Complex. Open to the general public, this plush golf course and indoor swimming pool is sited on a 3,300-acre complex bordering 3 lakes. Foxes, deer, and eagles are not unusual sights for golfers here ... more
Pentoga Park. Opened in 1922, this is one of Michigan's very first county parks, located at an Ojibwa burial ground. Take an old 3-mile Indian Lake to the Brule River, fish the deep, 1,100-acre Chicaugon Lake for walleye and muskie, or use the swimming beach and picnic area ... more