By Carol Stiffler

In May 2023, Tim Callahan renewed his subscription to The Newberry News. He mailed a check in an envelope that he’d turned into a work of art. He drew a moose delivering the News, then colored it in with watercolor paint. It was charming.

His artwork has also been spotted on envelopes at the Newberry Post Office, and the Village of Newberry has received dozens of artsy mailings from Callahan in the three years since he moved here.
He’s humble about it – he says he doodles the art on the envelope to delay having to write the check that goes inside it.

Callahan loves fishing, nature, art, and hockey. At 68, he’s managed to structure his life to fully embrace all of those things. He fishes as much as he can, always packing a sketch book and sometimes an easel to paint while he waits for his line to pull tight. He takes pictures of anything he might want to paint later. He gathers roadkill if it’s fresh to study the feathers or fur on the unfortunate creature. And he trucks over to Sault Ste. Marie once a week to play in an adult men’s hockey league – no checking, no slap shots, no fighting. Everybody wants to be able to get out of bed the next day, he said.

If you think it sounds like the perfect life, you’re not alone.

“I paint for a half hour, and fish for a half hour,” said Callahan, who now lives on 57 acres in the last house on M-123 supported by Newberry’s power grid. He often releases the fish back into the river – the Auger River is just across the street from his house – but sometimes he keeps them, covers one side in paint, and rolls it onto a canvas. That’s inspired by gyotaku, the Japanese art of fish rubbing, which is both an art and served as proof of how big a fish was.

He used to be in the sign business – billboards and murals and such, until computers put muralists out of work. As his life changed further, he decided he was moving to the U.P., and insisted on moving to Newberry in particular.

“I told my buddy – ‘I’m moving up to Newberry. That’s where I want to go,’” he said. “I’m just excited to be an artist up here. There’s so much inspiration. You’re almost on overload because of so many inspirational areas.”

Since moving here, he’s finished more than 80 paintings, but has kept too busy to sell them. He’s planning to create a pop-up drive-through art show on the circle drive in front of his place, which was a logging camp in the 1950s.

He still darts down state on a monthly basis to do pinstripe work on antique vehicles, a profession that pays well enough to support his active lifestyle up north. He also places gold lettering on Cris-Craft boats, and makes signs when asked.

Callahan has been just about everywhere, and he’s painted there, too. He creates colorful pictures, always nature scenes, sometimes showing the convergence of humanity and the wild. His pictures are peaceful. At the moment, he’s very excited about a diptych (one scene divided into two panels, sometimes hinged together) of nighttime smelt fishing that’s based on one of his experiences on the Tahquamenon River.

“No one ever paints the lowly smelt,” he said.

He fishes the Fox River, sometimes trying to sense where Ernest Hemingway dropped his line. Callahan also loves fishing and visiting the Two Hearted River, and says the mouth of the Two-Hearted River is his favorite place on the planet.

Outgoing and very energetic, Callahan was excited to meet local artists Carl Christiansen and Karl Johnson, and he’s excited to meet famed watercolorist Helga Flower. He also feels a clear responsibility to inspire youth to make art.

“Do some artwork every day. Then you’ll feel good about yourself,” he said. “I feel really good if I produce art every day – even if it’s just a little bit.”
Callahan is boisterous about his love for the area.

“I’ve done more paintings in the last three years than I have in my whole life, I swear,” he said. “It was an amazing opportunity to come to the U.P.”