NW MI Arts & Culture Network
Blessing of the Fleet in Harbor Springs
In the summer of 2022, the Harbor Springs Area Historical Society (HSAHS) hosted the 10th Annual Blessing of the Fleet on Little Traverse Bay. In order to educate and record the history of this event, the HSAHS curated a Blessing of the Fleet exhibit, for display in the Harbor Springs History Museum. The exhibit featured, as its centerpiece, a commissioned painting portraying this community tradition, by local Michigan artist Trisha Witty. The exhibit was augmented by interpretative signage that documented the history of the Blessing of the Fleet waterfront tradition. This was a FY22 Minigrant Project.
This project involved the research, design and installation of a new exhibition highlighting the Historical Society’s signature event, the Blessing of the Fleet. Blessing a fleet of watercraft at the opening of the fishing season was a common practice in Mediterranean communities in centuries past. The practice became popular across the United States as immigrants carried their traditions with them, and the native American ceremonies were learned. The Harbor Springs Area Historical Society introduced a Blessing of the Fleet boat parade in 2012, to build community around waterfront activities and traditions, to include past ceremonial practices of the Odawa along with current waterfront recreation. The success of this event has grown, as is noted by an increasing number of participants on the shore and water. Over 160 water vessels join the parade by paddle board, kayak, sailboat or motorboat. Additionally, the hundreds of spectators along the shore are entertained by a historical society volunteer, who narrates the parade, and music by the Harbor Springs Community Band.
The new exhibit at the Harbor Springs History Museum celebrates the 10th anniversary of this new tradition in the history of our community. It provides background on the tradition’s origins and the local history of other waterfront events and parades.
Local artist Trisha Witty painted an original scene depicting the Blessing of the Fleet image our community has come to love and look forward to annually. It is 40″ x 30″ oil on canvas and features the flagship of this event, locally owned motor yacht, Canim surrounded by the parade of water craft receiving their seasonal blessing. Witty’s career has taken her to all parts of the globe, with hundreds of paintings hung across the nation. Her enthusiasts and collectors have consistently grown, while her originals remain in high demand, increasing in value every year.
Since its opening, we have hosted 1,560 visitors at the Harbor Springs History Museum to view the new exhibition. The exhibit builds on our current displays, by sharing more the story of Harbor Springs waterfront history.