Art from Lake Michigan’s ‘Left Coast’

Elizabeth Fagan ’81
    Elizabeth Fagan ’81

September 28, 2020 — With a home set in the woods overlooking the Lake Michigan shoreline, artist Elizabeth Fagan ’81 is never at a loss for natural subjects to photograph and paint. Deer, fox, raccoons, and wild turkeys regularly pass through her yard. And just west of her home in Port Washington, Wisconsin, are active farms with barns, ponds, and more animals that she portrays in her prints.

“I’m an animal lover, so I like to represent animals in a way that allows people connect to them, and not just see them as objects,” says Fagan, a longtime artist who shares her home with a German Shepherd named Rosie and two cats, Bridget and Jimi. Her subjects often look directly at the viewer. “It’s the way people connect,” she says, “by looking into their eyes.”

Fagan calls her home and art business ‘Lake Michigan’s Left Coast’ because Port Washington is located on the lake’s western edge, just north of Milwaukee.

“This is my part of the world, and it’s what I try to represent in my artwork – animals, flowers, the lake, and some local farms. I don’t do people,” Fagan says.

Though her parents were Wisconsin natives and she was born in Madison, Fagan moved to the East Coast at age 10, then attended a private arts high school in Madison, Connecticut, where she learned to draw and paint. She came to Grinnell in 1977 before completing her English major at University of Illinois-Chicago. Her fondest Grinnell memories involve her Grinnell-in-London semester of 1979, led by late Professor of History Alan “Al” Jones ’50, and Professor Emeritus of English James D. Kissane ’52.

“Our focus was art, history, and literature, and we studied European painters,” she says about her London experience. “The professors took us to a small town in the Midlands to see late 19th century Industrial Revolution housing and how a town was built around a steel mill. My favorite place they took us to was Stonehenge because I had always wanted to see it.”

Painting "Hummingbird" by Elizabeth Fagen '81. The paining depicts a Green Hummingbird among Purple and White flowers.
     by Elizabeth Fagan ’81

After graduation, Fagan stayed in Chicago and earned her Master of Arts in linguistics and became an editor and writer. When the Internet boom began in the 1990s, Fagan earned a degree in web development, got a job at Microsoft, then returned to Chicago several years later to become web development manager for Oprah Winfrey’s website.

“It was the earlier day of the Internet and for the first time, Oprah’s message could be carried around the world,” says Fagan. “She helped a lot of people with the things she said, her guests, and her book group. She really connected people.”

After 35 years as an avid city dweller – and a huge Chicago Cubs fan – Fagan’s husband passed away suddenly. Five years ago, she found her new home by the lake. Though she has vast experience drawing, painting, and printmaking, Fagan switched to digital-only art. She can produce more of it and gain more exposure via her site and social media. Additionally, she can print her work in a variety of ways, from framed prints and wood panels to coffee mugs and canvas.

“My art reflects my reverence for nature and the beauty of nature, and how precious our natural world is,” she says. “That’s what I’d like people to see.”

-by Anne Stein ’84

For your information:

To see more of Elizabeth’s artwork and read her essays, visit the Lake Michigan’s Left Coast website. The Grinnell-in-London program is tentatively set to return in spring 2021.

To read more alumni news, check out our news archive.