When Kalamazoo artist Suzanne Siegel was a struggling California artist in the early 1970s, her schoolmate and friend Alan Freeman was often there to help her out. He would share encouragement, exhibit space and sometimes a little money to tide her over.
Now, 40 years later, Siegel has returned the favor by helping Freeman, a prolific artist himself, bring years of his pencil and pen-and-ink drawings to light by publishing them in a new book, The Landscape Drawings of Alan L. Freeman.
The self-published book is a collection of drawings Freeman created over four decades. Siegel says it took 35 years to convince Freeman to let her put the book together.
“Alan made the pen-and-inks as a basis for other works like his watercolor paintings, but he never thought these drawings were publishable in their own right,” Siegel says. “But I felt that the world should see the beauty of these works.”
The book features more than 140 of Freeman’s drawings as well as five watercolor paintings. Freeman lives and works in Lompoc, California, and is a well-known artist in that area. Siegel met Freeman when they were both art students at Santa Barbara City College, where Freeman studied with Southern California painter Robert Frame. Freeman continued as Frame’s studio assistant for 25 years but also worked as a carpenter in the construction and surfboard industries until he was able to support himself as a full-time artist. As an artist, Freeman has worked in a variety of media, including sculpture, ceramics, woodcarving, pastels, watercolors and oils, and his work is in a number of collections in his home region and nationally.
Siegel says one of the reasons she believed Freeman’s pen-and-ink drawings should be shared with a wider audience is that many of them capture landscapes that no longer exist.
“A lot of his scenes are of endangered landscapes, from the Yukon to Santa Fe,” she says. “In his drawing Looking South to Sands, Alan captured a New Mexico landscape before it was cleared to build a Hyatt Hotel, and that drawing now stands as a permanent record of what that area looked like in its natural state.”
Freeman is a “plein air” artist who has logged thousands of miles hiking along ocean bluffs and backcountry trails carrying his art supplies to capture scenes on-site. Siegel says Freeman has a penchant for roaming onto private property to get just the right perspective of a scene and has, more than once, ended up on the unfriendly end of a shotgun.
“He can recount many instances where showing an irate rancher or forest ranger his sketchbook of drawings would be enough to get him out of a scrape,” Siegel says. “But he saw ignoring ‘No Trespassing’ signs as a necessary risk for producing his life’s work.”
Health reasons have caused the 67-year-old Freeman to slow down in his artistic endeavors during the past few years, finally allowing him time to work with Siegel to produce the book. It took the better part of a year, and Siegel spent several weeks with Freeman in California going through his drawings, photographing them and preparing the publication for print.
The book is actually the second collection of Freeman’s works that Siegel has compiled. The first, California Landscapes in Watercolor, is a collection of Freeman’s watercolor paintings that was published in 2010. Siegel says the books have never been intended as commercial enterprises but as more of lasting artifacts of Freeman’s work.
“Alan’s work appears in collections regionally and nationally, but it should be something seen by others,” Siegel says, “especially as it records many endangered landscapes as an eloquent call for preservation.”
The Landscape Drawings of Alan L. Freeman is available locally at The Nature Connection and Michigan News Agency. Prints from the book can be seen at Martell’s, 3501 Greenleaf Blvd., in Parkview Hills, through March.