Former Detroit writer looks back at real-life tragedy in “Purgatory”

By Stephanie Sokol for The Oakland Press

Bryan Gruley’s advice for writing a novel? Sit down and do it.

After years working in a newsroom, the Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, Bloomberg reporter and former writer for the Detroit News says he can write in any setting, with any noise level. It’s really just about getting it done.

“Don’t second guess yourself,” Gruley says. “Get words down, and fix it later. Get the story out as fast as you can, then go back and change things. It’ll be there, it’s always there for me. Sometimes I see it or editors or readers point it out.”

Gruley, who moved from Metro Detroit to Chicago, is releasing his latest novel, “Purgatory Bay,” on Jan. 17. He will celebrate at My Little Paris Café in Northville with a signing and chat with readers.

He’s had two signings at the shop previously and says it’s a good spot to hang out and find your next read.

“It’s a great store with a really great selection of books,” Gruley says. “There are nice people who run the place and it’s a cool café. It’s in the middle of downtown Northville, and there’s a pub down the street where we’ll retire after for some drinks. It’s a great indie bookstore.”

The second in his Bleak Harbor series, “Purgatory Bay” was inspired by Gruley’s memories of the Robison family murders in 1968 in Good Heart, a town near Petoskey. The entire family was murdered, and it terrified young Gruley.

As a kid spending time Up North at his family’s cabin on Twin Lake, not far from where the slayings happened, he stayed up at night on edge, worried that the suspect at large was coming after him.

In “Purgatory Bay,” Gruley takes the idea of that murder and explores how a person would think and act after such a tragedy, as the survivor who lost their family.

The novel opens in Clarkston, with a teenager named Jubilee, who seems to have everything going for her.

Then shocking tragedy strikes, and we jump 12 years ahead to follow her current-day life after the loss, living in a fortress on the water in a fictional town near Saugatuck.

Canton artist brings stained glass paintings to HVCA in Highland

By Stephanie Sokol for The Oakland Press

J. Susan Aitken loves the look of stained glass. But instead of working in that medium, she captures its likeness through her paintings.

Stained glass became her subject after a trip with her children years ago to Italy and France, where she was captivated by the beautifully ornate windows. She describes the experience as “unforgettable.”

Aitken’s paintings will be featured at Huron Valley Center for the Arts in her exhibition, “Synthesis of Color & Light: A stained glass effect,” through March 1. Works being shown are a collection showcasing all of her work in the stained glass genre.

“Why paint in the style of stained glass is really a good question — especially since those who originally created stained glass for cathedrals were actually attempting to achieve painterly effects using the beauty of glass,” Aitken says. “I appreciate the irony. It was not a single “ah-ha” moment, but rather a few things through which the idea materialized.”

Working on an easel at her Canton home studio, the former art teacher, who also has experience with book illustration, creates a bright 3-dimensional feeling.

One challenge of using stained glass as her subject is figuring out how to manifest the illusion of reflection. Aitken achieves the feeling of light and luminosity by combining varieties of a single color and lightly brushing over them with a dry brush.

She also sometimes adds lighter values in a single color, to make it “appear as if light might be coming through,” a process she says is similar to that of stained glass art itself.

Aitken glass Ocean Blues
J. Susan Aitken’s stained glass-effect paintings, including “Ocean Blues,” is on display at the Huron Valley Council for the Arts in Highland Township. (Courtesy HVCA)

“Instead of the reflective light of glass, there is a constant luminescent quality created through painting technique which is not dependent on outside light,” Aitken says.

She has many pieces she “created for the sake of color, pattern and geometry,” including “Trinity Design,” “Geometric Blues” and “Crimson Pop.” Others explore nature, storytelling and symbolism, including images of statues, flowers and gargoyles. While some are inspired by actual stained glass she’s seen in real life, including windows from Detroit churches, most come from Aitken’s own imagination.

Artist makes butterflies ‘fly off the canvas’ using augmented reality

At first look, Tim Yanke’s butterfly painting feels as if the insects are coming to life. But being an innovator, he wanted to take things a step further.

His painting “Peta louthias,” Greek for butterfly, was inspired by a pair of women’s cowboy boots with butterflies on them that he’d seen when traveling out west.

He’d done a similar series in the past, featuring dragonflies, which he dedicated to his late mother. His new butterflies series was dedicated to his Greek wife, Nikki.

Using multiple colors and brushstrokes to achieve the illusion of movement, he employed augmented reality technology to bring the painted butterflies off the canvas — literally.

“I did not paint the painting with this in mind,” says Yanke, of Huntington Woods. “I started this whole series of a cluster of butterflies like walking into the Mackinac Butterfly House. I went back and looked in, found a series that I thought would really lend its way to the end result of what we want with the AR. I did the painting before I knew what AR was. But I found a good image I could utilize with it.”

Yanke works exclusively with Park West Gallery, based in Southfield. His pieces are in their galleries and he sells them on cruise ships, as well.

Those who have seen his 3D butterfly painting have all been excited and amazed by it.

“A great position to be in as an artist to bring this into Park West and for the collectors,” Yanke says. “It’s cutting edge. Here you have a gallery that has Picassos and woodcut prints that are 800 years old. and they’re also promoting augmented reality — a strange juxtaposition. When you’re the largest art gallery in the world you surround yourself with innovation and tech.”

He uses an augmented-reality app called Moving Canvas to bring the painting to life. It is free for download on iOS and Android platforms.

“Every painting will use the same app, which will create the fingerprint for a painting,” Yanke says. “We can also modify the app — could add a video of me painting the painting, or background on it. You are limited only by your creativity.”

It’s still in its early stages, and Yanke is the only artist using it at the moment. He says he has more paintings planned for it, that he will reveal in future cruise ship presentations.

“This is the alpha image,” Yanke says. “There’s plenty more to come — hang onto your hat.”

Yanke, who says he’s “all about giving back,” is open to donating paintings to fundraisers. He can be reached at

Six pierogi spots to try at the annual Pierogi Fest in Whiting this weekend

By Stephanie Sokol for The Chicago Tribune

Loading up on potato-filled goodness during the last weekend in July has become a Northwest Indiana tradition — drawing crowds for more than two decades.

Pierogi Fest in downtown Whiting celebrates its 25th anniversary this weekend, featuring more than 30 food and beverage vendors. People flock in to fill up on pierogis, sweet treats and Polish plates Friday through Sunday.

“We were here two years ago and decided to come back,” says Rose Palmersheim from Raucine, Wis., who split a plate with friend Denise Widup. “It’s a lot of fun.”

While there are many spots to choose from, these were some of my favorites during a blitz tasting session Friday of the following six vendors.

Babushka Pierogi

Cabbage, mushroom and meat pierogi from Babushka at the 25th Annual Pierogi Festival in Whiting, Ind.
Cabbage, mushroom and meat pierogi from Babushka at the 25th Annual Pierogi Festival in Whiting, Ind. (Damien Dennis / Chicago Tribune)

Babushka Pierogi, is a restaurant in Toledo, Ohio. Served lightly dusted with dill, three pierogi go for $5. The pierogi dough is on the thinner side — similar to pasta, and boiled, rather than fried. Due to their consistency, Babushka’s pierogi were easy to eat, and weren’t overly greasy. The cabbage and mushroom pierogi was tart and savory, while the meat pierogi had a hint of curry and garlic.

Tata’s Pierogi

A pair of pierogi, one meat and one potato, from Elk Village’s Tata’s Pierogis at the 25th Annual Pierogi Festival in Whiting, Ind.
A pair of pierogi, one meat and one potato, from Elk Village’s Tata’s Pierogis at the 25th Annual Pierogi Festival in Whiting, Ind. (Damien Dennis / Chicago Tribune)

This Elk Grove Village restaurant is closed for renovations, but that didn’t stop them from making pierogi. The meat pierogi was light, with hints of garlic and onion and a moist but not overly greasy filling. The potato had a peppery note. The dough for these boiled pierogi was on the softer side, akin to pasta.

Center Lounge Bar and Restaurant

Potato, sweet cheese, sauerkraut and meat pierogi from Center Lounge at the 25th Annual Pierogi Festival in Whiting, Ind.
Potato, sweet cheese, sauerkraut and meat pierogi from Center Lounge at the 25th Annual Pierogi Festival in Whiting, Ind. (Damien Dennis / Chicago Tribune)

Located in downtown Whiting, Center Lounge has a booth at pierogi fest each year, right outside the restaurant. For guests looking to cool off, the doors are open to allow eating in the dining room. The best-seller is the potato cheddar with its sharp taste and creamy filling. The sweet cheese’s ricotta texture and cream cheese flavor melts in your mouth. While the meat pierogi was somewhat dry, the potato had a comfort food feel to it, with a heavy, buttery mashed potato filling. My favorite from Center Lounge was the sauerkraut pierogi — juicy and spiced, it was a savory treat. I finished with the blueberry, which wasn’t very sweet, but had a good natural taste with what seemed like fresh blueberries cooked in their own juices.

Simply Pierogi

Simply Pierogi’s potato pierogi can be made vegan if ordered without sour cream at the 25th Annual Pierogi Festival in Whiting, Ind.
Simply Pierogi’s potato pierogi can be made vegan if ordered without sour cream at the 25th Annual Pierogi Festival in Whiting, Ind. (Damien Dennis / Chicago Tribune)

Simply Pierogi bakery has been around for 87 years in Buffalo, N.Y. Opened by a first-generation Polish family, the business is woman-owned by Ania Duchon, and offers pierogi that are non-GMO with wholesome ingredients, as well as vegan options. For Simply Pierogi’s first time at the fest, they brought family recipes of traditional potato pierogi and some of the best dessert pierogi I’ve ever had. The cream cheese blueberry was sweet and rich like a cheesecake, and the apple had delicious pie style filling with streusel on top.

Austin Klink, marketing and business representative for Simply Pierogi, says there’s nothing like Pierogi Fest in New York. “It’s been really exciting,” says Klink. “We came across Pierogi Fest online and asked ‘how could we not be doing this?’ It’s always fun to get ideas from other vendors, too.”

Beggar’s Pizza

Beggar’s Pizza only offers their special cheesy, marinara-filled Pizzarogi during the 25th Annual Pierogi Festival in Whiting, Ind.
Beggar’s Pizza only offers their special cheesy, marinara-filled Pizzarogi during the 25th Annual Pierogi Festival in Whiting, Ind. (Damien Dennis / Chicago Tribune)

When Beggar’s Pizza opened a Whiting location five years ago, they wanted to do something special for Pierogi Fest, says regional manager Crystal Kelly. So the pizzarogi was born. A cross between what it sounds like — pizza and a pierogi — this cheesy, saucy treat is almost like a mini, deep-fried calzone, dusted in Parmesan and Italian seasonings. “Every year we go through more and more,” Kelly says. “It’s only sold at this location during pierogi fest.”


A meat pierogi and a cheddar and jalapeno pierogi from Chicago Polish Deli Kasia’s at the 25th Annual Pierogi Festival in Whiting, Ind.
A meat pierogi and a cheddar and jalapeno pierogi from Chicago Polish Deli Kasia’s at the 25th Annual Pierogi Festival in Whiting, Ind. (Damien Dennis / Chicago Tribune)

Area supermarkets carry Kasia’s pierogi in the frozen section. The company has one deli in Chicago, where they also do their production. Manager Joanna Jakubowicz, a Chicago native, says they’ve been coming to Pierogi Fest for 20 years. My favorite from Kasia’s was the cheddar jalapeno, a spicy combination of soft potatoes, cheese and peppers, reminiscent of nachos.

Silverware artist upcycles cast-offs to beautiful objects

By Stephanie Sokol for Digital First Media

We all know recycling is a way to help reduce waste going into our landfills. But for some creative people, it can be a form of art.

Courtesy photo

Christine Yonker upcycles vintage silverware, turning it into something completely different and beautiful. She started out working more with glass, but in time found metal was a better material to suit her artistic goals.

“I’ve always loved vintage, so moving from the glass to the silverware seemed right for us and it really took off,” says Yonker, of Owosso. “There is more creative expression for me in creating the pieces out of silverware.”

Through the company A Blend of Now & Then, a joint effort with her husband, Rick, she creates wind chimes, jewelry, wall hooks mounted on found wood and garden stakes. He does the cutting, bending and other metalwork, while she makes the designs, adds beads and does the assembly.

The silverware Yonker uses in her creations is vintage silver plate — and sometimes sterling silver — between 60 and 120 years old.

Yonker has been doing art shows for 20 years, and on Aug. 26, she will have her works in Northfield Hills Art on the Lake.

“I like to find shows that are a destination for people,” Yonker says. “Foot traffic is a must for any show to be a success. Most shows in the recent years have less and less attendance — however, with this show that isn’t the case, we notice this seems to have more attendance each year, which is good for everyone.”

The outdoor show — the only one of its kind in Troy — is in its 44th year, and will feature more than 100 award-winning artists of all media, food vendors and a children’s booth with entertainment and crafts.

Yonker enjoys traveling to shows away from her home turf and says going to shows like Art on the Lake is an adventure, seeing somewhere different and bringing her works to a new audience.

“We like the opportunity to travel, meet new people, and naturally make money,” Yonker says. “There is the thrill I get when people stand in my booth and just are at awe over what we make. It is fun.”

• If You go: Art on the Lake runs 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 26, at Northfield Hills on Long Lake Road, between Crooks and Coolidge in Troy. Parking is free on the site. Visit

Paint Creek Center for the Arts introduces new executive director

By Stephanie Sokol for Digital First Media

Elizabeth Chilton wears many hats.

She serves on multiple museum boards and has held many corporate roles at museums in the Detroit area. She also is a single mother and a yogi.

Now, she is taking on a role she is really looking forward to — executive director for the Paint Creek Center for the Arts.

“I’ve always wanted to be an executive director and based on my experience, this will be a good fit,” says Chilton, of Grosse Pointe Park.

In her career, she has worked for multiple museums. Each time, she has put an emphasis on the guests’ experience — she wants exhibits to mean something and get people thinking.

For example, an exhibit she put on with the Arab American Museum featuring a gay artist got national recognition and was featured in the New York Times.

“I think art helps people to see others’ perspectives,” Chilton says. “I think it’s important that you’re not isolated in your own opinions. That’s something our society can appreciate these days. I’m not necessarily an activist in terms of the works I present, but what I try to do is present exhibitions that speak to the community.”

Born and raised in Northwest Indiana, Chilton relocated to Metro Detroit when she was 25. She left teaching behind and later, after one of her children was born premature, she started in nonprofit work and found it was the right path for her.

“I’m really committed to trying to present things that people in Rochester and the surrounding areas are going to find exciting,” Chilton says. “In our exhibitions, I want them to see things they’ve never seen before and will be really excited about.”

While she hasn’t worked in a solely art-based environment previously, she brings knowledge from art exhibits done during her time at the Arab American museum, as well as roles she took on at the Detroit Science Center, University of Michigan Dearborn and Mosaic Youth Theater of Detroit.

Chilton’s goal is to bring innovative work to PCCA, with exhibits that are unique and excite patrons to visit.

“I’d been to Art and Apples festival before and had fun there, but never thought I’d be leading the organization that presented it,” Chilton says. “It’s a chance to explore what we’ll be doing with exhibitions in the future.”

Secondary Student Show is Anton Art Center’s largest event

By Stephanie Sokol for Digital First Media

For school-age children, having a chance to show their art in public is an exciting opportunity.

Receiving an award for their art brings even more joy.

“It seems to me that students and their families are often appreciative of getting their works on the wall,” Phil Gilchrist, executive director of the Anton Art Center, says in regard to the annual Secondary Student Show. “It’s an accomplishment for students.”

Bringing together the works of students from around Macomb County, this is the 37th year for the show.

Out of 1,243 submissions this year, 370 pieces by 228 students were chosen for the exhibit, which is divided by grades. It is the center’s largest event, and takes up most of the building, Gilchrist says.

“While this show is up, we see some of highest foot traffic of the entire year,” he says. “A lot of attendees are the family of (artists whose) works that are on display.”

A jury of area art teachers judges the pieces for awards including best of grade, best portfolio and best in show.

“When the students see they’ve won an award, they get very excited,” Gilchrist says. All of the student artists will receive a certificate for participation.

The young artists come from 27 Macomb County schools. The Anton Art Center created a partnership between the public and parochial schools and also welcomes students who are home schooled or attend private schools in the area.

Gilchrist says it is the support of art teachers throughout the years that has made the show a success, including Ken Hoover, formerly of L’Anse Creuse, and Patricia Woodstock of Lakeshore Public Schools. Having this relationship has made it possible to give passionate student artists the chance to show off their creations.

“The talent and skill that we see in this show each year never fails to impress me,” Gilchrist says. “There are some very talented students in Macomb County, and I’m glad we’re able to offer this opportunity for them to wet their feet in the art world.”

• If You Go: Anton Art Center Secondary Student Show runs March 10-April 13, at 125 Macomb Place, Mt. Clemens. Hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Visit

Lathrup Village clockmaker enjoys sharing his works with people

Screen Shot 2017-07-25 at 1.46.40 AM
Photo courtesy of Duane Scherer

Stephanie Sokol for The Oakland Press

When choosing the direction his life would take, Duane Scherer knew he wanted to do something creative.

After high school, the Lathrup Village resident worked as a musician and began painting, and a few years later, focused solely on visual art.

“I wanted to bring joy and aesthetic variation to everyone,” says Scherer, of Lathrup Village.

He exhibited at galleries for years, but upon starting a family, focused on using his creativity to earn a living.

Leaving the gallery behind, Scherer found passion — and success — in creating whimsical clocks.

“For me, the way that I approached my life is with experimentation and different things,” Scherer says. “I like making the clocks because I’m able to do a lot of things and have fun with it, making works of art that are reasonably priced that the average person can take home.”

Scherer is proud that his clocks are completely American-made, from the quartz to the metal and stamping, he realized it was less expensive to buy the materials from smaller companies.

He uses fabric and paper in various patterns and colors, which he says people find reminiscent of “Alice in Wonderland.”

He most enjoys the “wow factor” of his booth at art fairs, that his works get people excited. He says this is a reason art lovers from around the world have purchased his clocks when he’s taken them to shows around the country.

“My clock line caters to so many people — I sell to couples, people with tattoos and plugs, old grandmothers,” Scherer says. “This young lady in high school came and wanted to buy a clock with money she earned from her part-time job. In the same show, a woman and her mother were visiting from South Africa and bought a clock from me to take back with them.”

Scherer will bring his clocks to the Ann Arbor Art Fair July 20-23, along with more than 1,000 other juried artists who will fill 29 city blocks downtown.

In its 50th year, this show — actually four fairs in one event — is one of the largest outdoor art fairs in the U.S., with a variety of media.

Karen Delhey, spokeswoman for the fair, said it is different each year as artists evolve. “Whether you’re a seasoned art enthusiast or a novice collector, there’s so much to discover that the experience is inspiring and unparalleled,” she said in a statement.

The fair also includes artist demonstrations, street performances, food and a variety of shops and sidewalk sales. There are also kids activities, too, including Legoland, clay work, art activity zones and dinosaur puppet creation.

“The thing I like about Ann Arbor is the thing I like about a few shows, it’s got a diversity of people that go there,” Scherer says. “I get into interesting conversations with microbiologists, psychiatrists, doctors, housewives. There are so many different people. I like that — I like people.”

• If You Go: Ann Arbor Art Fair spans 29 blocks in downtown Ann Arbor, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, July 20-22 and noon-6 p.m. Sunday, July 23. Parking, transportation and more info available at

Metro Detroit artists bring birds to life through paintings

Stephanie Sokol for The Oakland Press

Photo courtesy of Helena Kuttner-Giasson

For painter Helena Kuttner-Giasson, art is a way to communicate in more ways than one. When she couldn’t find the words, her art spoke for her, and she took inspiration from her surroundings.

“Art is my first language,” says Kuttner-Giasson, of Clinton Township. “I always enjoyed doodling and drawing from the time I was able to hold a crayon. When I was 4 years old, my immediate family immigrated to America from Europe, leaving behind what is now the Czech Republic. As I struggled to learn English, I discovered that drawing was a way to bridge the language and culture gap.”

Kuttner-Giasson is one of three artists with paintings in Level One Bank’s latest exhibit, “Birds: An Avian Adventure,” going on through Feb. 6.

While she paints landscapes and has always painted birds, she took a more intuitive and spontaneous approach to these paintings after watching birds in her yard.

“This Autumn in particular, my yard was filled with a myriad of sparrows, woodpeckers, buntings, cardinals — it became an airport for these world travelers as they prepared to depart to warmer climates,” Kuttner-Giasson says.

“Different birds represent different moments and ideas to each of us, so it was a perfect opportunity to paint a myriad of birds. I spent quite a bit of time observing how so many species could group together and watch out for each other with warning calls, sharing berries and seeds from the garden and the feeders. After many days of observation, it became rather impossible not to humanize their interactions with each other.”

Rather than compose her works as scientific observations, she used what she observed, and just began to paint.

“Nature is our common experience, the sum of many small differences,” Kuttner-Giasson says. “To me, birds symbolize how all of us with our differences across the world can come together and celebrate the community of being. During a season where there is very little color in the land and sky, I think having a bird-themed show is a wonderful way to warm our spirits while we await the arrival of spring.”

The group exhibit highlights aviary works of three metro-detroit artists, in the gallery area of Level One, called the Community Art Gallery, which takes up the entire front of the bank, and has been hosting art exhibits for about 10 years.

Exhibit host Mark McDaniel Burton has been curating shows at the gallery for about a year and a half and says it’s a nice space to highlight a large amount of work.

“The gallery is quite big, so each artist has their own section,” he says.

“For one thing, people should come to the show to escape the cold weather. And people don’t normally think of a bank having a gallery. It’s a unique space, and a chance to see some fantastic local artists.”

The bird theme fell into place when Burton was putting the show together. He reached out to artists, and Marilyn Bicsak Thomas sent her realistic, almost photographic paintings of birds. Kuttner-Giasson also sent her new loose, sketchy water-color pieces, which happened to show birds as well. And Louis Wildfong had a pen-and-ink series of fantastical, humorous birds, complementing the others.

“It brings a really diverse look in a single subject, instead of doing all photographs or hyper realistic, you have these different takes on the same object — birds,” Burton says. “You get three different views from three different artists.”

• Birds: An Avian Adventure exhibition is up through Feb. 6 at Level One Bank, 22635 Woodward Ave., Ferndale. The gallery is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday.