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Midwest Getaways - Door County, Wisconsin

In the 36 miles from Sturgeon Bay to Ellison Bay at the tip of the Door County peninsula are several hundred painters, potters, jewelers, photographers, weavers and sculptors.   
Not too long ago, the Door County art scene was dominated by watercolors of heavily over-worked themes— lighthouses, sailboats in pretty bays and old fishing boats sitting in farm yards. Those are still plentiful but the county also has a range of more adventurous work.
Fortunately for the time-pressed visitor, some of the best work is in the county’s three leading galleries and you’ll be lucky not to find yourself staring at more paintings over breakfast, lunch and dinner—the county has more artists than gallery wall space, so most restaurant walls have original local art on display.
Start by picking up the Door Peninsula Arts Guide at the Visitors Bureau on the highway just before you get to Sturgeon Bay, or just about anywhere along your travels. 
In 142 well-organized pages with ads and maps, it tells you where to go for the approximately 70 galleries and studios that are open to the public. Artists and galleries are friendly to visitors and with each other, so if you don’t find what you are looking for at one venue, explain what you want and ask for suggestions. The Hardy Gallery, a nonprofit in Ephraim, publishes a foldout map of the galleries which is widely distributed and makes it easy for one gallery to draw the route to another if you ask for directions.
Visitors often bypass Sturgeon Bay—some aren’t aware that it is located in Door County by 20 miles or so—but it has a couple of galleries on Third Avenue and Popelka Trenchard Studio with glass blowing on Second Avenue. 
A knockout French bakery, The Cake Next Door, just west of the gas station on Third Avenue and Michigan, operates in the summer on weekends only. Third Avenue is a pleasant walking street with several good restaurants and two fine galleries—Greco and AMO. Both are run by artists and exhibit the work of several other artists.
If you are in a hurry, just head up Hwy. 42, until you come to the Woodwalk Gallery. It’s well-marked, just a mile off the highway on County Road G. 
Owner Margaret Lockwood is a painter of large soft, abstract color works and her gallery—in a large barn with a modern display annex—exhibits 48 regional artists. Now in its 20th year, the gallery is well-established as a venue for abstract work, said Lockwood, who says it takes 3 to 7 years to build a clientele.
Door County is a good place for art and artists, she added, and in some ways its broader range of work is a return to the 70s when the county offered abstract art in a couple of galleries. After that, for several years abstraction was hard to find, but now just about every type of art and medium is represented.
“You can still find lots of artists who will do beautiful Door County iconic scenery and also a whole bunch who are here because it is an energizing place for artists to live because there are so many other artists, poets and musicians.” 
Door County artists are represented in galleries from Boston to Santa Fe, she added. Like other leading galleries in the county, she sees her work going to Chicago and homes around the country. Visitors come through on their own personal art tours, visiting the galleries with notepads and smartphones and then, she hopes, returning to buy.
A mile on the other side of the highway is Plum Bottom Pottery where Chad Ludberger designs exquisite porcelain pieces, from coffee mugs to tall sculpted vases, using techniques he studied in China. Angela Lensch creates the intricate jewelry weaving together delicate gold and silver chains with beads and pearls. Further up Hwy. 42, Juddville Clay Studio Gallery has some striking sculptural works, many of them requiring some serious space to display.

The next must-see stop on the tour is Edgewood Orchard Gallery on Peninsula Players Road. Celebrating its 45th anniversary this summer, this is the most prestigious gallery in the county. If money is not an object, Edgewood Orchard will be on their list, said J.R. Jarosh who owns the gallery with his wife, Nell. Careful not to sound arrogant, he said Edgewood Orchard Gallery owes its great reputation to his mother-in-law, Anne Haberland Emerson who founded the gallery. A sophisticated gallery space within the original barn, Edgewood Orchard sells paintings mostly in the $2,000 to $5,000 range with some up to $15,000. But it also offers jewelry and clay works for less than $100, so those with limited budgets still have options to purchase works.
J.R. and Nell are constantly monitoring what sells and what could be changed. They dropped large canvases during the financial crisis, but customers asked about them, so the gallery brought a few back and they have been selling. This year the gallery will shorten each show from four and a half weeks to three—allowing two more shows into its short season. Besides, said J.R., most sales come in the first week or two of a show anyway.
Several years ago he began cutting paths through the adjacent woodland to create a sculpture garden. It has changed the nature of the gallery, which already had a handsome terrace with sculptures. J.R. thinks it has made the place feel more informal, less intimidating to people who aren’t quite sure if they’re comfortable in an art gallery without plans to spend.
Enlarged over several winters—fortune, good luck or intelligence led him not to plan any expansion this year when heavy snows hit Door County—it now has dozens of sculptures from abstract to figurative in stone, bronze, steel and resin along winding and occasionally intersecting pathways. The gallery sells six or so sculptures a year, he said, and on any summer day at least half a dozen people will be wandering among the works. This winter, Edgewood Orchard received submissions from 150 new artists; it took six—an indication that this gallery is extremely selective.
Just up the highway is the gallery of Emmett Johns, an Albuquerque-Door County commuter. He has painted lively party paintings with dozens of people dancing—more action than you usually find in Door County studios.
Ahead on the left, Cottage Row Gallery in the red barn behind Orchard Country Winery and Market, represents the watercolors by Charles L. Peterson of Ephraim and other artists.
Driving out of Fish Creek you’ll find the Peninsula School of Art which runs many classes in jewelry, pottery, painting, photography and art marketing. The week of July 22 it comes to life with its annual Plein Air festival—40 juried artists from around the country come to spend a week painting in Door County, often at designated spots so visitors can watch them work.
The week winds up with auctions, including one done after a Quick Paint on Saturday morning; amateurs are welcome to join.  Participating artists’ work sells immediately, frequently still wet, for four figures, and the amateurs can sell that evening at the school. Apart from the Plein Air week, the school’s gallery also has frequently changing shows. This is a good week for art enthusiasts. If you like Plein Air, you can find artists painting all over the county. 
The third major gallery, Fine Line Designs, is on acres and acres— it accommodates a huge arts and crafts show in the autumn—on the way out of Ephraim. It carries an intriguing mix of paintings, from landscapes to Pam Murphy’s meditations inspired by old photographs and then depicted in heavily worked paint. The gallery has an extensive sculpture garden and fine furniture as well.
Don’t stop there. Sister Bay has several small galleries and Base Camp, the popular coffee shop on the north end of town, has excellent changing art shows.
In Ellison Bay, Bonnie Paruch is a painter and art instructor. She has opened a gallery at her home. Also check out Rob Williams who has a studio gallery; a painting of his at the Miller landscape show this spring was stunning.  Ellison Bay is also home to Linden Gallery, featuring Chinese works. The owners also run a retreat in the Himalayas. If you want a break from serious, Robert Bentley’s whimsical work at his studio/gallery home in Gills Rock is good fun.
The lake side, coming down Hwy. 57 is less intense although places not-to-miss are the James Ingwersen Gallery—a master portrait painter; the White Barn, just off the highway east of Ephraim; Martinez studio just south of Jacksonport for expert weaving and graphics (they are scheduled for a Smithsonian show in Washington this spring) and south of Glidden Drive in the town of Sturgeon Bay, Lily Bay Pottery. 

Published: April 15, 2013
Issue: Spring 2013 Issue


A Great Place for Chicago Photographers
Great article! I really enjoyed reading it. I second your thoughts, this is one of the amazing places in the midwest, or for that matter, in the country. As a Chicago baby photographer, my family and I travel up Door County every summer. Of course, I spend my time taking photographs of children and kids, while the rest of my photo shy family hides from the camera.
S. Beekman, Mar-06-2015