After a century in operation, Ox-Bow's mission has remained consistent—to serve as a haven for the creative process through instruction, example, and community.
Founded by Frederick Fursman and Walter Marshall Clute, artists from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Ox-Bow was to serve as a respite for artists from the industrializing havoc of Chicago. Today, Ox-Bow's longevity is due to the strength of this mission and the artists who have held true to it.
Fursman and Clute began this tradition after visiting the Saugatuck area one summer. They became enamored with the natural beauty of the area, as well as its rural isolation. They began teaching summer painting classes at the Bandle Farm on the east bank of the Kalamazoo River approximately one mile upstream from Ox-Bow's present location. In 1912 and 1913, classes were held at the Park House, down river and at the Riverside Hotel. In 1914, the School moved its entire operation to the Riverside Hotel - which soon became known as the Ox-Bow Inn.
The Riverside Hotel always supported the industrial and commercial trends that dominated the area. The proprietors of the Riverside Hotel, the Shriver family, originally built a small house in the 1860s on what was then the ox-bow shaped bend of the Kalamazoo River. After realizing the potential for trade traffic, they added onto their simple home in the 1890s, converting it into a 20-room hotel.
At the turn of the last century, the Saugatuck's major industries began to decline. In 1907, the Kalamazoo River channel was straightened to flow directly into Lake Michigan, effectively cutting off the Riverside Hotel from its patrons. Due to a lack of guests, the Shrivers then leased the hotel to a group of artists for the entire summer. The industry of art and leisure was taking over as the area began to reinvent itself as a Midwestern resort community. The Riverside Hotel persisted as lodging for its clients even though the clientele had changed from traders to artists.
In 1987, SAIC assumed responsibility for Ox-Bow's academic program and in 1995 Ox-Bow and SAIC formalized a sponsorship agreement that affirmed the synergy created in this unique relationship.
After Clute's death in 1915, with the support of a group of core shareholders including Isobel and Edgar Rupprecht, Fursman took over as director for the next 30 years. Also in 1915, Thomas Eddy Tallmadge, the renowned architect and architectural historian, came to Ox-Bow and quickly became its best patron, leaving 110 acres to the school upon his death.
Over the years, Ox-Bow has changed in many ways, but two things have remained constant––Ox-Bow's mission to remain a haven for artists, and its fellowship with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Today, the relationship between Ox-Bow and SAIC, forged by Fursman and Clute, remains strong. This mutual commitment to preserving and nuturing the artistic process has benefited generations of professional, student, and amateur artists.