Traverse City landmarks painted in kaleidoscopic shape

Brooke Kansier
Traverse City Record-Eagle

Traverse City — Robert Schewe sees the world in color and shapes, immaculate details and stunning architecture.

Traverse City proves a beautiful sight, in his eyes.

Local artist Robert Schewe created “TC Kaleidoscope,” a collage of Traverse City. “I wanted to highlight the unique buildings and places downtown, Traverse City mainstays, Schewe said.

Schewe, a Michigan native and longtime local, transformed that vista into something everyone can see with his latest work, “TC Kaleidoscope.”

“It’s mainly a historic, architectural piece,” said the artist during a gallery showing in December. “I wanted to highlight the unique buildings and places downtown, Traverse City mainstays. It’s an overall representation of what the city is known for.”

The minutely detailed piece, arranged in a circular kaleidoscope pattern, includes several local landmarks, including the City Opera House, State Theatre, Park Place Hotel, Perry Hannah House, the clock tower of Northwestern Michigan College and the old state hospital building at the Grand Traverse Commons.

Artist Robert Schewe, a Michigan native and longtime local, transformed Traverse City's vista into something everyone can see with his latest work, “TC Kaleidoscope.”

The outer ring is adorned with sailboats, some simple crafts and others a nod to vessels like the Manitou.

Each piece took hours of research and dozens of reference photos, which Schewe took himself.

“The main thing was staying true to the architecture and the original color schemes,” he said. “I didn’t want to take liberties.”

The original painting took several months of work from planning to the actual drawing and measures about 4.5 feet by 4.5 feet. It’s drawn entirely by hand.

“I had to re-draw it many times to get accurately the architecture of each piece,” Schewe said. “The original is accurate within a sixteenth of an inch — it had to be.”

That accuracy made creating prints of the piece with computer software much easier.

Still, “TC Kaleidoscope” proved a drawn-out effort.

“A lot went into it,” said Ellen Schewe, the artist’s wife of 46 years. “We both had illnesses over the past couple years, and you know, you take all that time to put all that together and then you get interrupted by a health issue.”

The biggest, and most welcome, interruption, she added, was the pair’s five grandchildren.

“They inspire a lot — young minds are a good thing,” Ellen Schewe said. “They all have portraits of themselves, sometimes two or three that they don’t know about, because they’re sitting in his drawer waiting to be finished. He’ll see something that our granddaughter does and he’ll sit down and draw out the whole sketch.”

Robert Schewe debuted “TC Kaleidoscope” at the Grand Traverse Commons’ Christmas at the Commons event. Prints in several sizes also are available online and through the Schewe Art and Design Studio.

Donna Kennis took the time to look over each piece with delight, taking a break from her shopping to chat with Robert Schewe.

She said the “TC Kaleidoscope” resonated with her.

“I love the circular sort of symmetry to it, drawing us into our community. He has some beautiful art,” Kennis said.

Robert Schewe’s work ranges from ink drawings of animals to paintings, photographs and boldly colored prints.

“You can call me somewhat of a general practitioner — it’s just the need to create something with your own hands,” he said. “Development comes from your soul, I guess that’s what art is all about.”

Robert Schewe visited the area regularly with his wife before getting the chance to move up a few years back. Before the move, the couple lived near Glen Lake for several years, where their now-adult son and daughter attended school.

Robert Schewe’s passion for the arts sparked in childhood, nurtured by a music-loving family.

“I was either going to be a musician or an artist,” he said.

He studied the arts in high school and then college, and for a time taught the subject himself. He names Bach, Beethoven, Da Vinci, Milton Glaser and Pee-Wee Herman as inspirations.

“I always wanted to be a big artist, but I wouldn’t want to be anything over 300 pounds,” Robert Schewe added with a grin.

His art, and sense of humor, brought him through a battle with cancer soon after moving to Traverse City. It’s an experience Robert Schewe reflected in his art, turning his focus heavily on ink drawings during the illness.

“TC Kaleidoscope” is a nod to those creations, which included mandala-type images and wildlife portraits.

Kaleidoscopes continued to be a theme for the artist. Robert Schewe’s created several in his 45-some-year career, including depictions of his hometown of Midland and one of Saginaw Township. He also created similar drawings of Mackinaw City.

“This is just an extension of that, only this one’s much more unique — I’ve never done one quite like this,” Robert Schewe said. “I wanted it to be something unique and special, because that’s what Traverse City is.”