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A celebration of Detroit's birthday with art based on the city's folklore and French history

Jul 22, 2015

The bottom left corner of Detroit's flag represents Detroit's first rulers, the French.
Credit Wikimedia Commons

Detroit turns 314 years old this week, and the Detroit Drunken Historical Society is throwing a birthday party to celebrate the folklore of Detroit's French past.

The birthday celebration takes place this Saturday at the Jam Handy Building from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. 

The event will include dinner, drinks, local art and talks on the history of Detroit and, specifically, the Jam Handy Building.

Amy Elliot Bragg, co-founder of the Detroit Drunken Historical Society and the author of Hidden History of Detroit will be recounting the city's early start.

"[It's] one of the greatest founding stories of any American city," Bragg says.

The city was founded in 1701 by Antoine Cadillac who wanted to create "a truly wonderful community and a city," Bragg says. "He was kind of a very early urbanist."

And he was eccentric, seeing himself as the baron of Detroit.

"A great story goes that if you were a brewer in Detroit you would have to pay Cadillac your brewer's license in beer," Bragg says.

Cadillac's personality also plays into one of Detroit's most prominent legends: the Nain Rogue.

Bragg describes the Nain Rouge as, "a little shadow who's behind all the evil deeds of Detroit."

He's often depicted as a devilish red dwarf or demon who is to blame for any problems in Detroit. From the Great Fire of 1805 to the politcal corruption in 2005, the Nain Rouge is behind it all. Bragg says the deeds are the Nain Rouge's punishment for Detroit because Cadillac wasn't afraid of him. The Nain Rouge is one of the characters you can find in the artwork that will be on display at the celebration.

Alisyn Malek, co-founder of Corktown Studios, an artist collective in Detroit's North Corktown neighborhood, helped to select the work that will be featured at the event.

Malek sent out an open call for artist entries that were based on a book called Legends of Detroit.  It includes short stories surrounding the folklore of the city. Malek narrowed the choices down to 10 stories that leant themselves to visual interpretation.

"We asked artists to review those specific stories and propose original works based on them," says Malek.

The artwork is all visual, but Malek says a variety of mediums will be represented including sculptures, oil paintings, and digitally produced works.

Artwork will be for sale through a silent auction that will be open during the event.