Exploring the archives: Red sail on a Green Lake (A voyage of chance discovery)

  • Dave and Lynn Troutman's boat sails across Green Lake in the summer of 1969.

  • Aaron Copland (second from left) with Boris Goldovsky (far left), Alexander Schneider (second from right), and George C. Wilson (far right).

Exploration is the mother of discovery. In upcoming episodes of Crescendo, we will explore the extensive holdings of the Archives of the Interlochen Center for the Arts (ARTICA) and relate some of the discoveries made therein. These discoveries are of two kinds: the expected and the unexpected. The former requires thorough research; the latter requires as much and something more—the intervention of chance.

Serendipity plays an outsize role in archival exploration, for no matter how well an archive is organized, it is never perfect; there is always something not yet known, something long ago misfiled or slipped between the pages of an unrelated document. In the case of ARTICA, with over a half-million photographic negatives and prints alone, and tens of thousands of other documents, books, and audio recordings, there is a vast meadow where the seeds of serendipity may take root.

The following story is an example of such a happenstance, but it should not be considered an outlier; in fact, such happy accidents occur around here with more frequency than you might expect. Whether it is an accident at all, or the manifestation of that special Interlochen magic, is left to the reader to decide. This particular incident hinges upon the fulcrum of a red sail on a Green Lake, a random picture taken on a sunny day 50 years ago, that could have easily been lost to history. Except that it wasn’t, for something else of greater importance than a pleasure cruise also happened that year.

It has been the good fortune of our community that we have twice been blessed with a visit from the great Aaron Copland; once at the summer Camp in 1970 and once during the 1966-67 Academy year. A request had come on Feb. 21 from music history researcher Matthew Mugmon, who was writing a study of the composer and was interested in gaining permission to use some photos of him, one of which would grace the cover of his book. No problem; we know where the original photo negatives are located from Copland’s visits and it was a simple matter to retrieve them and provide high-resolution scans for publication.

But our erstwhile photo archivist, Eileen Ganter, always likes to add that extra bit of effort to provide even more than is required, and in this case, she was curious as to the context of the photo that would become the cover image. She dug deeper, and pulled out an old copy of The Prelude, the now-defunct, over-sized brochure that announced the upcoming season of the National Music Camp in years past. In the 1971 issue she discovered the same Copland photo, but with a caption indicating he was rehearsing the World Youth Symphony Orchestra students in a portion of his opera The Tender Land. Excellent information that completed the request, and wrapped it in a pretty bow. And then she left the Prelude on her desk, open to that Copland page.

Enter Lynn Troutman the following day, who has been on the staff of the Camp and Academy for many stretches over the last five decades. She’s come to inquire about audio recordings of her son Benjamin, who played in jazz ensembles as a camper and Academy student. She walks by the desk, looks down at the opened Prelude issue, and says “That’s my husband’s sailboat! That may be the two of us on it!” Indeed, on the page facing the Copland photo is a picture of a sailboat on Green Lake, with a bright red spinnaker. The model of the craft is aptly called the Lightning. Naturally, she would like a copy of the original, so a search for that image begins. This is a challenging request, as the Prelude photos from that era were in color, and not filed with the ‘official’ Camp and Academy photographic negatives, which were still black and white in those days.

Diligent searching unearthed several pictures of Lynn and Dave Troutman (the sailing instructor in 1969 and 1970) enjoying the waters of Green Lake—much to Lynn’s delight—but all were in black and white. The color photo of the red spinnaker remained elusive. Eventually, a cache of large-format color positives was found, clearly used for promo purposes and Prelude magazines. Many pictures of boats, but none with the red sail. Many flashes of red, but all from Camp sweaters. So, like any good sailor, when the wind no longer fills your sails, you try a different tack.

We then dove into the deep end: a large box of miscellaneous, undocumented color slides that appeared to be from the early 1970s. From these uncharted waters something wonderful surfaced—a color image of Aaron Copland! He stands in front of the Interlochen historical marker with three other gentlemen, posing for a formal picture with a bemused look on his face. This was an image we did not know existed. All our other shots of him are in black and white, so this is a great find. And true to the definition of serendipity, we discovered something that we were not looking for.

The exploration has come full circle. We originally sought pictures of Copland, and then student recordings of the jazz ensembles. We found all that and more: Unexpected pictures of sailboats to begin one search, and an unknown color photo of Copland to complete the other. But such discoveries are more the rule than the exception around here.

It is typical of the magic of Interlochen that those who come here for one reason or another discover things they never expected to find. Whether it’s an aspect of their own art that they never examined, or the influence of someone else’s art that informs their own, the story is repeated countless times. There is lightning here at Interlochen, ready to strike those who are open to being influenced in their exploration, and ready to discover something they never knew existed.

- Leo Gillis, Head of Special Collections and Archives at Interlochen Center for the Arts