El Sueño Americano: Images of the confiscated possessions of migrants seeking the American dream

el sueno americano

This October, Saugatuck Center for the Arts will host an exhibition of thought-provoking photographs titled “El Sueño Americano”—or “The American Dream”—by photographer Tom Kiefer.  You can attend the exhibition’s opening reception on October 25, 2018. The images will remain on view through December 22, 2018. Learn all about the exhibition below.

El Sueno Americano
El Sueno Americano
El Sueno Americano
Images: Tom Kiefer

Tom Kiefer’s “El Sueño Americano” comes to Saugatuck Center for the Arts

Separating an object from its context can obscure its meaning, eliminating any sense of certainty you might have had about it. In its place sprout questions like “Whose was this?” and “How was this used?” and “What is it doing here?” The decontextualized object takes on a life of its own, becoming a kind of ghost of its former owner, replete with mystery.

This is the feeling Tom Kiefer’s series of more than 100 photographs titled “El Sueño Americano” inspires. The photos will be on view at Saugatuck Center for the Arts from October 25-December 22, 2018 in what will be Kiefer’s first major solo exhibition.

“I saw Tom’s work at Art Prize last year,” said Whitney Valentine, the education and exhibitions manager at Saugatuck Center for the Arts. “With our Growing Young Artists program still at the forefront of my mind, I was incredibly moved by his images and knew that our West Michigan community would benefit greatly from seeing his works.”

She reached out to Kiefer and secured this October’s exhibition featuring new work. In the time that has passed since, the exhibition has received a flurry of national attention.

“While the aesthetics of the images alone are striking, the work reminds us of the game-changer that is context. The stories behind these objects, especially the mysteries, are what give the work its real power,” Valentine said.

The extraordinary ordinary

The objects within Kiefer’s photographs once belonged to migrants caught illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. When Border Patrol officials apprehend undocumented migrants, they confiscate “nonessential” possessions and discard them. Kiefer worked as a janitor for a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol facility in Arizona for 12 years, and it was during this time that he began collecting these items from the trash. At first, he sought packaged food to donate to a local food pantry. But the more he dug, the more items he discovered, and the more questions he had. He began to collect and photograph the objects, and “El Sueño Americano” was born.

“Tom’s images remind us how extraordinary ordinary items can be,” Valentine said.

Stuffed animals soiled in the spots where children once held them. Plastic water jugs insulated by torn clothing. Toothbrushes, shoelaces, and rosaries—all labeled “potentially lethal” by Border Patrol. These are the objects in Kiefer’s bright photos.

The images’ effect on viewers can be destabilizing. Curator Tori Pelz said the exhibition reminds her of a variously attributed quote on the role of art, which is to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

“I think the best art wakes us, calls us to attention, and offers a new perspective on the familiar,” Pelz said. “Tom’s photos possess both a commanding visual presence and a powerful human message.”

Immigration is a divisive political topic. Tom’s work, Valentine said, brings a necessary element of humanity back into the discussion.

“The photographs of the migrant’s personal objects remind us that at the heart of this issue is people—children who treasure their teddy bears, people trying to feed themselves and their families, and those who can’t imagine taking a trip without brushing their teeth,” Valentine said.

Experience “El Sueño Americano” and meet the artist

October 25 marks the exhibition’s opening. It kicks off with “Tacos, Tequila, and Tom”—a themed party featuring the alliterative trio in its title. One $15 VIP ticket gets you two tacos, a tequila-based cocktail (or another drink of your choice), and a guided tour of the exhibition with Kiefer and Pelz. This portion of the opening reception takes place from 5-6 p.m. If you are unable to make it at that time, you can still enjoy tacos, cocktails, and mingling with the artist during the public portion of the reception from 6:30-8 p.m.

“This is Tom’s first major solo exhibition, but since we’ve announced it, he’s received a dizzying amount of national press, and this exhibition is now booked for the next two years,” Pelz said. “In short, he’s kind of a big deal. And he’s eager to speak to what this work means to him, personally.”

How to plan a perfect fall weekend getaway in Saugatuck

fall weekend getaway in Saugatuck

The perfect fall weekend getaway in Saugatuck is made up of a few key elements: fun events, fall color tours, apple picking at local orchards, and a home base where you can bask in the cozy glory that is autumn. You’ll find them all here. Learn where to visit below.

Ring in the season with Saugatuck fall events

Saugatuck Ghoul Fest

October 6, 2018 – 11am-5pm

Enjoy some spooky pre-Halloween family fun at this annual event. Here you’ll find the “Art of Halloween” one of a kind bazaar, coffin races, kid friendly activities, live music and more!

Annual Saugatuck/Douglas Gallery Stroll

October 6, 2018 – 4-6pm

Get a hearty dose of art when you attend the annual Saugatuck/Douglas Gallery Stroll. Area galleries join together for a weekend full of artist receptions, openings, demonstrations and live music.

Blue Coast Artists Fall Tour

October 6, 2018 – 10am; October 7, 2018 – 7pm

This tour of 10 studios between South Haven and Fennville is packed with great art. You’ll view handmade ceramics, jewelry, woodwork, glasswork and more.

Music in the Vineyard at Fenn Valley

October 6, 1-4pm

Enjoy the crisp fall air and the changing colors of the scenery at Fenn Valley’s vineyard for another Music in the Vineyard session. Solo jazz guitarist Randy Reszka will perform on this weekend, and it’s sure to be a treat. Order a glass of Fenn Valley’s signature wines, sit back, and take in the autumn atmosphere.

Eat Drink Saugatuck/Douglas Harvest Dinner

October 6, 2018 – 6-9pm

Head to Wade’s Bayou for this outdoor harvest dinner featuring selections made with ingredients from local farms. Each course will celebrate the harvest season and feature a delicious beverage pairing.

J. Petter Galleries Harvest Dinner

October 6, 2018 – 7-9pm

J. Petter Galleries’ Harvest Dinner will be a tented meal on the gallery’s lawn. Tastings from seven local restaurants will be available to try while artists paint en plein air.

Explore the fall colors in the local parks

Reds, oranges and golds envelop Michigan in autumn. In Saugatuck, the colors tend to peak in early October. That’s the best time to hit one of the local parks to hike through the forest and experience first hand the wonder of being utterly surrounded by those bright, warm colors. These parks are especially great for fall hikes:

Saugatuck Dunes State Park 

Enjoy long, hilly hikes through the lush forest at Saugatuck Dunes State Park and wind up on the beach.

Shore Acres Park

A great park for hiking, mountain biking, or disc golf. This wooded park also has access to the beach trails at Saugatuck Dunes State Park.

Oval Beach

This award winning beach is super popular in the summer, but did you know it’s free to get into after Labor Day? And it’s connected to a bunch of scenic dune trails that are best enjoyed in the cooler autumn air.

River Bluff Park

A shorter, less-intense hike, but still wonderfully scenic. It promises to explode with color this year.

Visit apple orchards and wineries amidst harvest

What is fall without apple picking, cider drinking, and general harvest-time festivities? These are great places to make the most of autumn’s bounty (and find a good cider donut).

Crane’s Orchards

Visit Crane’s U-Pick to find the best apples and pumpkins, then hit Crane’s Pie Pantry Restaurant & Winery for good food, pie, and house-made ciders and wines. And don’t miss the bakery with donuts and pies to go!

Virtue Cider

For those who enjoy the hard variety of cider, visit Virtue Cider in Fennville. Take a tour of the facility, hang out in the tasting room and bottle shop, and visit the farm where they grow heritage vegetables and livestock. They often host live music and other great events. 

Fenn Valley Vineyard

Wineries are also great places to spend a day in fall, and Fenn Valleyhas special fall vineyard tours that are a must for wine-lovers who want to see how grape-growing works in Michigan. Check out their events, and don’t miss the Vine Wine’d 5K Trail Run on Oct. 7.

7 art events you can’t miss in Saugatuck

Get creative in Saugatuck this August

Saugatuck is a source of artistic inspiration all year round, but this month promises some extra fun activities. Whether you’re interested in creating with your family, watching artists at work, or purchasing artwork for your home, you’ll find plenty of art events in August.

Here’s just a sample of some of the great art-related events happening this month.

Toddler Tuesday at Saugatuck Center for the Arts

Every Tuesday, Saugatuck Center for the Arts hosts a themed creative session designed especially for little ones. Each 1.5-hour session includes story, yoga, music, and a healthy snack for just $20, or you can get a pass for all six in August for $100.

Aug. 12 – August Second Saturday at J. Petter Galleries

Enjoy art, wine, and music at this group art show. This one will feature nine different artists working in diverse media, including quilts, photography, pastels, and more. Take it all in with a glass of French wine and the indie jazz guitar stylings of John Otto.

Aug. 17 – Farm to Studio: SummerHouse Lavender Farm

This workshop offers a stress-free connection with nature, learning how lavender is planted, harvested, and used. Geared towards kids ages 6-14, attendees will get to explore the farm and gardens, sketch and paint the scenery, and create lavender-inspired items.

Aug. 17 – Thursday Night Market with Ox-Bow School of Art at Virtue Cider

Students from Ox-Bow School of Art are taking over the Virtue Cider farm. See what they’ve created, purchase local produce and goods, and enjoy reggae funk music at this event.

Aug. 18-20 – Michigan Fiber Festival

This annual celebration of natural fiber arts is one of the largest in the Midwest. If you avidly knit, crochet, weave, or you just appreciate a good sweater, you’ll find lots to love at this festival. Sign up for workshops to learn one of the myriad ways to work with fiber, purchase handmade pieces, and see the animals behind the yarn. This event is sure to be a fun activity for family and friends.

Aug. 19 – Graphic • Lines • Color at Roan & Black

Attend the opening of Roan & Black Contemporary Gallery’s latest exhibition: “Graphic • Lines • Color.” The event promises bold artwork as well as great shopping, music, and refreshments.

Aug. 19 – Plein Air Affair at Water Street Gallery

Artists will be scattered throughout the area painting scenes in the forest, on the beach, and in town. Keep your eyes peeled for artists at work, and then catch their finished works available for purchase at Water Street Gallery from 6-8 p.m. This is your chance to own a one-of-a-kind, barely dry depiction of a Saugatuck landscape.

Don’t Miss These Wonderful Saugatuck Events This Summer

This summer, head to Saugatuck for great events. Take advantage of the beautiful weather by attending these events and find what our town is all about. From events on the water to live music, there’s plenty going on this summer. Let’s take a look at the highlights from the Saugatuck Calendar of Events for June, July, and August.

Saugatuck Events You Don’t Want to Miss This Summer


Music in the Vineyards | June 1, 8, 15, 22, 29 | 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Great live music, $1 off of fantastic wine and cider, and great company combine for a fun night in the vines at Fenn Valley Vineyards.

Farmer’s Market | June 2, 9, 23, 30 | 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Find local goods, produce, flowers, and more at Saugatuck’s Farmer’s Market.

Music on the Lawn at Borrowed Time | June 2, 9, 16, 23, 30 | 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Dave & Connie D bring you great local live music under the stars at Borrowed Time in Saugatuck.

Saugatuck Antique Market | June 10 | 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

With up to 150 dealers, you’re sure to find a treasure at the Saugatuck Antique Market.

Michigan Art Coast Half Marathon and Town Crier 5k & 10k | June 17-18

If you’re a runner in either of these events, we know of a great place to stay while you’re here!

Michigan Art Coast Craft Beer, Food, & Art Festival | June 17-18 | 10 a.m. to 4 p.m./12 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Come, explore some of the best beer, food, and art in the region at the Michigan Art Coast Craft Beer, Food, & Art Festival!

Wine Festival | June 24

At Fenn Valley Vineyards, celebrate the season with tastings in the vineyard, food, and live music.


Waterfront Invitational Art Fair | July 1 | 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Come out for the invitational art fair featuring some of the best artists around the upper Midwest.

Fourth of July Fireworks and Celebration | July 4 | 2 p.m. to Dusk

Celebrate our nation’s independence with an awesome fireworks display and parade starting at 2 p.m.

Saugatuck-Douglas Antiques Market | July 8 | 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Some of the best antiques dealers in the region gather to offer unique tokens from the past.

Art on Center | July 15 | 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Fine art features rolled out of local galleries line the streets for your enjoyment and option to purchase.

Venetian Festival | July 28-30

Enjoy the celebration of Saugatuck culture with live music, wine, food, craft beer, competitions, boat races, and fireworks.


Music Festival of Saugatuck | August 3-4, 10-11 | 7:30 p.m.

You’ll hear some of the best classical and contemporary music in the region at the Music Festival of Saugatuck.

Salmon Shootout | August 4 | 6 a.m.

If you’re an angler, then either participating or spectating this event is for you!

Saturday Night Cellar Dance | August 12

Come out for a party and dance in the cellars at Fenn Valley Vineyards. This hotly anticipated event is a fun way to blow off some steam!

30th Annual Savor the Art Coast | August 27 | 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Savor fine food and spirits of local Saugatuck restaurants during this culinary festival full of delicious Saugatuck cuisine.

Experience Saugatuck Events, and See Why We’re More Than a Place To Stay

For the best western Michigan accommodations, check out Lakeshore Lodging! With properties extending all the way along the Art Coast, you’ll find the perfect vacation getaway for you and your family! Find out more information about our properties in the Saugatuck-Douglas area, then contact us today and start planning your Lake Michigan vacation.