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“Douglas LaFerle takes top prize in annual MAAC show”, by Jeremy D. Bonfiglio, The Herald-Palladium, June 15, 2017

Douglas LaFerle never expects to win awards for his art. When it comes to the annual Michiana Annual Arts Competition, he might want to reconsider that stance. LaFerle, who won best of show honors two years ago for his kinetic sculpture “Kali’s Wheel,” will receive the same award – and the $2,000 cash prize – this year for his painting, “Balloon Dart,” when the 15th annual MAAC show opens Friday with a reception and awards ceremony at the Box Factory for the Arts.

“It’s shocking more than anything else,” LaFerle says. “Just to get accepted into a show is kind of exciting, especially a show as prestigious as the MAAC. You just have to be totally surprised and honored to be actually selected for a prize.” The exhibition, which features 143 pieces of art, will be on display through July 29 in all three of the venue’s galleries. In addition to his best of show win, LaFerle also takes the top prize in the sculpture category for his work, “Dreamcatcher.” Other category winners are Vasilisa Kiselevich (photography), Darci Lynne Young (digital media), Kaylee Dalton (mixed media), Mary Amador (drawing), Matt Payovich (painting) and Paul Flickinger (ceramic). Category winners each receive $250 along with three $250 merit awards, which will be announced Friday.

LaFerle’s two pieces couldn’t be more different. “Balloon Dart” is a panoramic painting of a carnival game at night. breaking through the darkness is the vibrant scene of toys and colored balloons and lights as patrons step-up to test their luck. “I’ve done a few carnival and circus-type paintings,” LaFerle says. “It’s nostalgic. It reminds people of being a kid. When you go to a carnival, especially at night, there’s something almost magical to the light and the sounds. I really tried to capture the vivid colors of that moment. ... The booth itself with all the balloons and toys and shapes, it’s almost abstract art surrounded by the window of a carnival.”

“Dreamcatcher,” meanwhile, relies on LaFerle’s penchant for found objects and computerized movement to create a steampunk-style headpiece that even the artist admits is a bit creepy. “The sculpture is more of a darker piece,” LaFerle says. “It’s a comment on privacy. Maybe I watch too much science-fiction, but I was envisioning this dystopian future where it’s gone farther than monitoring cellphone calls and people could break into your house and steal dreams. It started off as more of a static piece, but then I decided I wanted to animate it and put in all of the computerized movement into the headpiece.”

LaFerle grew up in Clawson, Mich., just north of Detroit, and met his wife and fellow artist Cindy LaFerle at Clawson High School. After earning his master’s degree in architecture from the University of Michigan in 1979, LaFerle went to work at French Associates, eventually becoming a partner and opening a branch in Rochester, Mich. After selling his share of the business 10 years ago, LaFerle and his wife began looking for a house in St. Joseph. That’s when they found the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Carl Schultz House on Highland Court. The LaFerles have been restoring the house to its original glory, and now split time between St. Joseph and Royal Oak, Mich. “We pretty much have the house renovated, and now I am thinking about putting a dock on the St. Joe River,” LaFerle says. “I may turn into a boater, you never know.”

LaFerle, who has dubbed his studio space the Mad Science Project Lab, in honor of the first kinetic sculpture, a water-powered piece he created for ArtPrize, says it was painting that actual got him back into art. “People ask me all the time, what do I like better, but I like going between two different mediums,” LaFerle says. “The sculpture takes a little bit of time and some time to figure out. Painting is just the opposite for me. After a sculpture project, it’s nice to spend some time painting because it’s not quite as intense in problem solving. I find it relaxing. But I love doing both. I don’t think I would ever give up either.”

When asked if winning awards for both painting and sculpture validates that decision, LaFerle replies with a resounding, “Yes!” “It’s all a labor of love,” he says. “You do art because you can’t imagine not doing art. To be in a show is what you aim for, just to show your work to the public. Then when you actually win a prize, it’s amazing. It validates all the time and effort you put into it. I’m a happy man.”

“Studio artists, members take over the Box”, by Jeremy D. Bonfiglio, The Herald-Palladium, December 8, 2016

As an artist, Douglas LaFerle is primarily recognized for his kinetic sculptures. “Kali’s Wheel,” a kinetic piece with a brass plate featuring the Hindu goddess as well as found objects such as candle holders, wind chimes and a plastic skeleton, all powered by a rotisserie motor, earned LaFerle the top prize in last year’s Michiana Annual Arts Competition.

Another sculpture, “Avis Mechanica,” used a bird skull, found metal objects and tiny, programmable computers to makes the creature turn its head and flap its wings when a button is pressed and made it into the 2015 member show at the Krasl Art Center.

When LaFerle’s work returns to the Box Factory for the Arts on Friday for the opening reception of the “Box Factory Studio Artists and Members’ Show,” which will be on view through through Jan. 13, LaFerle’s work won’t be found on a pedestal. Instead, the St. Joseph resident’s paintings will find a spot among the fellow participating Box Factory studio artists and Berrien Artist Guild members. “People always ask me about doing one or the other,” LaFerle says. “You can look at either one of them as a palette cleanser for the other one. The kinetic pieces are so involved and so time consuming that sometimes it’s just nice to grab some oil paint and a canvas and just slap it down. It’s more instant gratification.”

At least one of LaFerle’s three paintings on view here, however, is a little more intricate than that. “Uncertain Future,” an oil painting on canvas, is a portrait of a fortune teller with a crystal ball in hand. But it’s what is beyond the canvas that has stirred some extra interest. Attached to the frame is a tarot card, a single die and more prominently a semitransparent ribbon that stretches across the subjects eyes, all of which makes it more of a mixed-media construction.

Part of a series of similar applied canvases, LaFerle says the idea came from an old Eastern European painting he and his wife, Cindy, acquired many years ago of the Madonna and child. “It had this metal thread and semi-precious stones of a crown applied to the painting,” LaFerle says. “People would pray in front of these paintings in Eastern Europe, and if what they prayed for came true, they would bring a gift to the painting.”

“Krasl to feature never-before-shown works”, by Jeremy D. Bonfiglio, The Herald-Palladium, September 17, 2015

Walking on the beach in Glen Arbor last summer, Douglas LaFerle noticed something white sticking out of the sand. As he got closer he realized it wasn't a shell, but a small bird skull. "I collect everything, so naturally I'm going to pick it up," the St. Joseph resident says. "I thought it was probably a seagull skull so I brought it home because I just knew someday I was going to figure out what to do with it."

A little more than a year later, that same skull now resides on a metal and organic sculpture titled "Avis Mechanica." LaFerle's latest kinetic creation is one of 72 works that will be on display beginning Friday at the Krasl Art Center as part of its annual members' show, "For the First Time in Its Life." LaFerle, who took best of show earlier this year at the 2015 Michiana Annual Art Competition with another kinetic work, used found metal objects and tiny, programmable computers that makes his mechanical bird turn its head and flap its wings when a button is pressed.

"I've been trying to tie robotics into kinetic sculpture," he says. "There are these small hobbyist computers that you can program them to do all kinds of things. I've been playing around with that. ... I worked with an old clock and old candlestick and a bunch of found objects I came up with this mechanical bird. The sculpture is kind of like a Terminator thing. It's half organic and half mechanical.". "It's totally whimsical and a great use of material," Miller says. "I love that it's kinetic and love that it moves. It's fun and beautiful and creepy all at the same time."

“Artistic honors”, by Jeremy D. Bonfiglio, The Herald-Palladium, May 14, 2015

Douglas La Ferle had a simple motive for his first foray into kinetic sculpture. "OK, I'll be honest," La Ferle says, laughing. "I started doing kinetic stuff for Halloween decorations because our house had to be the scariest in the neighborhood."

Trying to outdo his friends and neighbors, La Ferle powered one of his lawn pieces with a rotisserie motor culled from a barbecue grill. It's that same motor that now powers his latest artistic endeavor, "Kali's Wheel," which earned La Ferle best of show honors - and the $500 cash prize - in the 13th annual Michiana Annual Arts Competition, which opens Friday with a reception and award ceremony at the Box Factory for the Arts.

Janet Lucking of Griffith, Ind., took the $300 first place award for her pencil, acrylic and pastel piece, "Before The Moon Went Down," and Ron Doyle of South Bend was the $200 second place recipient for "Yesterday's News," a watercolor and pastel work. The exhibition, which features 208 pieces of art, will be on display through June 27 in all three of the venue's galleries. Five $200 merit awards and the Al Farmer young artist prize will be announced Friday, which replaces category winners from previous years.

"Every piece of art, you make because you just have to make it," La Ferle says. "You don't make it to win prizes. Art is so subjective you can never anticipate something like this. Just getting into the show is an honor for an artist because you're able to show your vision. It's not sitting in your attic or garage. But to get that phone call, I'm just very flattered."

La Ferle grew up in Clawson, Mich., just north of Detroit, and met his wife and fellow artist Cindy La Ferle at Clawson High School. After earning his master's degree in architecture from the University of Michigan in 1979, La Ferle went to work at French Associates, eventually becoming a partner and opening a branch in Rochester, Mich. After selling his share of the business eight years ago, La Ferle and his wife, at the urging of their son, Nate, who lives in Chicago, began looking for a house in St. Joseph.

"That's when I found the Carl Schultz House, which is a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house on Highland Court, was for sale," La Ferle says. "It was designed in 1957 and completed in 1959. It looked like it needed a little love, and when we bought we found it needed a lot of love.”

The La Ferles have been restoring the house to its original glory ever since, and in their spare time they make art. "I was one of those lucky people who was always pretty good at art." La Ferle says "That's why I went into architecture because it was something where I could use those skills and make a living at the same time. I was doing mostly painting and more fine art in my spare time, but since I wasn't going into the office every day, that's when I started getting into the kinetic stuff."

La Ferle has dubbed his studio space the Mad Science Project Lab, in honor of the first kinetic sculpture, a water-powered piece he did for ArtPrize. "I love to go to flea markets and antique stores and garage sales and that kind of stuff," he says. "I just collect a lot of stuff. We both do this mixed media, found object type stuff. If you went into our studio you'd think it should be on 'Hoarders.'"

The idea for "Kali's Wheel" began with a brass plate featuring the Hindu goddess. La Ferle added a rotisserie motor as a power source, as well as found objects such as candle hoarders, wind chimes, and a plastic skeleton. "Kali is the goddess of changes, of time, of death so the whole piece centers around cycles," La Ferle says. "The orbs are the cycles of nature and the cycles of time. One has a butterfly and a caterpillar. The other the sun and moon going around. Then there's the skeleton symbolizing death on top playing the chimes to symbolize the inevitability of death." After his MAAC win, however, there's only one thing that seems inevitable in La Ferle's near future. "With this kind of motivation," he says, "I'm ready to start a new project."

“Royal Oak Artist Doug La Ferle Opens a 'Cabinet of Wonders’”, by Gerry Boylan ,Royal Oak Patch - October 22, 2012

Cindy and Doug La Ferle would be my nominees for most interesting couple in Royal Oak, if there were such a contest. I suppose I'm embarrassing them with that phantom nomination, but after spending time with them again this week, I just get a kick out of both of them.

This column is mostly about Doug and how he transitioned from his day job and blossomed into a talented painter and multi-media artist. His example is a roadmap for any of us that are starting to consider what we do next, as retirement starts to creep up in the rear view mirror of life. (Here's hoping our 401k and retirement plans make this possible for all of us!) 

Family art night Doug spent his career as a successful architect in southeast Michigan, which required a creative flair and drawing expertise. He's always had a creative side, playing music in early adulthood in the Windchill Factor, a band that many of my side of 50 years old will remember as fixture in the old Campus Lounge, which is now the Rock on 3rd. That sidelight began to wane when parenthood beckoned for Doug and Cindy with the arrival of their son Nate, although Doug still composes music. 

While he still fiddled with music, the introduction of art began with family-night art projects as a way to encourage creativity with Nate. It did and Nate, an avid and very capable photographer, is pursuing a career in Chicago. (Important family side note: Nate was just married to his Shrine High School sweetheart Andrea Benda. Congratulations Nate and Andrea!)

 The added benefit of family art night was that it started Cindy, an award winning author, and Doug on their own path, expanding their own unique artistic talents. For Doug, as the years passed, he developed his own distinct style, eventually developing confidence to enter juried art shows. This led to acceptance into the 2011 Art Prize exposition in Grand Rapids, where a venue must select your work to gain admittance to this prestigious event. This year, Doug was honored as one of the top five artists in the MIGreatArtist competition with his film noir paintings. One art reviewer, after seeing Doug’s work at the Grand Rapids Public Museum said: “Such compelling eclecticism found a bridge between both context and object in Douglas La Ferle’s mixed media installation, “Mad Science.” This artist from Royal Oak has excavated domestic and industrial pasts to present an engaging work that re-envisions the future but from the vantage point of a simpler, mid-century America. The charm of the work was its nostalgia and humor, but the composition and craftsmanship was impressive as well.”

I'm not an art critic, but I do know what I like and I enjoy Doug's artistry and outlook. He is a serious artist, but not a serious guy, and his art can be compellingly whimsical. It’s hard not like an artist and composer that uses the name Doctor Pandemonium as his artistic alter ego. Visual conversation "As an architect and artist, I am a more visual than verbal person. I think of my artwork as a visual conversation," Doug said. "I want to engage the viewer, but not in a loud way - just a nice, quiet conversation. Like any conversation, the viewer has to contribute something to the dialogue. Ideally, I want to say something that will make you think, maybe see the world in a different way. But, it’s not always a deep conversation. I will settle for a laugh. I like humor."

I highly recommend you take a look at Doug's work via the links below to MI GreatArtist, Art Prize and particularly Doug's website. But wait, there's more! Doug is having his first art show beginning this Friday, Oct. 26 beginning at 7 p.m. at the Lido Gallery in Birmingham, which is just north of 14 Mile Road. The link to that show is also below. You’re all invited to attend and help celebrate and support a talented local artist. "I'm a little nervous about this first show where I'm offering my works for sale for the first time," Doug said. "But it's the next step in what started as family project and has developed into a very real labor of love. I'm excited to talk with the people that come to see my art."

Cabinet of wonders For those of us who are thinking about what can be our labor of love, I was surprised to learn that Doug has never taken a formal art lesson. "I looked as my art as part of just taking a big bite of life," Doug said. "My life has been a 'cabinet of wonders,' filled with abundance - projects, experiences, laughter and loves." That's a great way to approach life at any stage, but as Doug shows, what begins as family activity can blossom into an avocation and with practice and trial and error you can create whatever your imagination can let loose.

Art is one of those wonderfully ethereal parts of life. All of us know what we like even if we don't know why and on some level can be amused and inspired by the creativity of the artist. I remember my dad started painting after he retired at age 70, and while he wasn't Rembrandt, he improved over time. The watercolors I still have on my walls are warm reminder of him and allow me to keep a piece of him in my life. I'll be at Doug's first art opening and I'm sure we'll have some fun talking about his art. I hope to see you there!

“ArtPrize exhibition center review: Collection at Grand Rapids Public Museum is earnestly and honestly eclectic” by Joseph Becherer | The Grand Rapids Press, September 27, 2011

As happened at many of the venues at the heart of the city center, planners at the Public Museum of Grand Rapids thoroughly studied last year’s ArtPrize looking forward to this year’s event. As a result, it could easily be said that this venue is among the strongest in terms of the visitor experience and the cohesion of their display. The gallery was easy to navigate and the cohesion of the works chosen was noteworthy. Hats off to those who made informed decisions on every front.

One of the visual challenges of displaying contemporary art in this venue is that, unlike individual artifacts and historical objects, contemporary art is often earnestly and honestly eclectic. With its myriad of temporary and permanent displays, the Public Museum of Grand Rapids is earnestly and honestly eclectic. For this writer, it was often challenging to stay on task with ArtPrize when the museum’s own displays were so engaging.

Such compelling eclecticism found a bridge between both context and object in Douglas LaFerle’s mixed media installation, “Mad Science.” This artist from Royal Oak has excavated domestic and industrial pasts to present an engaging work that re-envisions the future but from the vantage point of a simpler, mid-century America. The charm of the work was its nostalgia and humor, but the composition and craftsmanship was impressive as well....