Painting Fishtown has been a Leland tradition, thanks to the long history of the Old Art Building. In 1959, however, that tradition was put in jeopardy when Michigan State University, which had operated a summer art school out of the building since 1939, almost closed the program. It would eventually close thirty years later, but the legacy of art in Leland (and Fishtown!) lives on in the Community Cultural Center.
In January 8, 1959, The Detroit News breathed a sigh of relief when it learned that the art school would continue. A segment of the story featured Fishtown.
â€œIn the summer, Leland bursts out with a crop of canvases, just like the nearby orchards burgeon with cherries. You can buy a pound of hotdogs and a $10 painting at the grocery store. You can stroll across the street where thereâ€™s a one-man show in a vacant filling station. You can go to the local gift shop, run by a former art school student who always has a supply of sketches or oils for sale.Â You can see the artists at their easels set up along the quiet, old-fashioned streets, or at picturesqueÂ FishtownÂ on Lake Michigan. There the weather-worn fish shanties, the angular spools of drying nets, the snout-nosed fish tugs, sailing ships or marine craft, and the circling, crying gulls are irresistible attractions for the painter.
This is the atmosphere, this is the life the people of Leland fought to keep.Â Two of the Leland women active in the cause, Mrs. Henry Steffens Jr, and Mrs. Fred Hollinger, had sentimental reasons for doing so. The white colonial building which houses the art school and is picturesquely located beside a river lined with willow trees, played a personal role in their lives.
Â In 1950, Ann Steffens was Ann Lyman, of Birmingham, when she enrolled in the summer art session to get her final six hours of credit for graduation from Michigan State as an art major.Â Painting colorful fishtown led her to a meeting with Hank Steffens who was working for his fisherman father that summer, between semesters at Michigan State. The art school not only played cupid for Ann and Hank but for four other couples who met and were married within the next year.â€