Travel & Culture: Exploring Door County
Amidst an uncharacteristically frosty Chicago fall, and a bustling holiday cultural calendar that proffers more familiar fair than not, one might be forgiven if the mind wanders to less acquainted shores. In fact, a brief getaway is often the answer to what ails this time of year. But who wants the kind of anguish holiday season air travel can inflict? And, truthfully, a staycation simply defeats the purpose. For harried Chicagoans looking for a quick restorative escape, a fresh dose of culture, cuisine and amiable hospitality rests comfortably a short drive north of the Illinois border. It’s scenic, placid and secluded—just enough to be recuperative. It’s a community inspired with artistry and ingenuity, and it’s a haven for foodies across the strata of culinary appreciation. It’s Door County, Wisconsin, and it just may be the ticket you need this fall.
Boasting a sprawling 3,000 square miles and stretching expansively into the waters of Lake Michigan, Door County comprises a peninsula enveloping 19 distinct communities and 35 named islands. It’s entirely too much to take in in a single trip, and yet large enough to get lost for a weekend, if that’s what tickles your fancy.
Known for its abundance of spring cherry blossoms and sprawling ocean-like lake views, Door County culture embraces the land which encapsulates it, earth exceptionally fertile for the growth of crops like cherries and apples, and shores consistent with hospitality. From sailing out on Sister Bay or exploring hiking trails through Cave Point Park to discovery of the areas amazing Native American history, there’s so much to uncover in Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula. Yet, for those who love a healthy dose of arts and culture with their travel, there’s still more to whet your whistle here, and if you want to know where to go and what to see, hear and taste, we’ve got you covered.
Lovers of art will revel with the possibilities of cultural exploration in the Door Peninsula. Galleries from the quaint to the expansive dot the region, but what impresses most is the level to which exhibitions are curated to home in on a select group of artists or aesthetics, which really helps to define the scene.
Dotting the peninsula are more than a hundred galleries, studios and exhibitions providing visitors an opportunity to view original art works spanning mode and medium and rife with diversity.
Edgewood Orchard Galleries in Fish Creek (edgewoodorchard.com) boasts works from more than 100 artists, all exploring a wide range of ideas in media from paintings, sculpture and glass to clay, wood and jewelry. Housed in a hundred-year old rustic, stone fruit barn that has been meticulously restored by owner-architect Minnow Emerson, the gallery offers an elegant display of ornate fine art and jewelry. The 80-acres on which the orchard sits also showcases an outdoor sculpture gallery. Serious collectors will have a field day here with some truly stunning works available in both spaces.
Over in Ephraim sits the Blue Dolphin House (bleedolphinhouse.com), an art studio that supports the work of over 100 artists and crafters from around the world. The distinctive home and garden showcases functional arts in watercolors, fibers, metalwork and handblown glass from award-winning creators exploring a myriad of subjects and themes.
Located in the heart of historic Sturgeon Bay, Miller Art Museum (millerartmuseum.org) serves as one of the few official (if not only) fine art studios in the peninsula. The museum’s main gallery offers a range of changing exhibitions, while the Gerhard CF Miller wing surveys the life and work of celebrated “Dean of Door County Artists,” Gerhard CF Miller. Highlighted this September through October is the 47th Annual “Juried” exhibition—contemporary works submitted by Wisconsin visual artists.
In 2014, artist Ginnie Cappaert (cappaertcontemporary.com) bought local artist Kathy Man Beck’s log home gallery, turning the structure into a stunning exhibition space that features her own works along with those of artists working in contemporary painting, sculpture, glass, clay, jewelry and Beck’s original Dovetail Copper Sprinklers. This distinctive home and garden is itself a work of art. Contemplative and bucolic, the charming space errs only in the seductive inspiration it offers to sit, ponder and enjoy.
If you’ve got a mind to take a more active approach to art appreciation during your stay, there are several rewarding ways to indulge on the peninsula. The Peninsula School of Art (peninsulaschoolofart.org) offers classes for every age and skill level. The school offers classes and workshops for pottery making, paints, screen printing, photography and more. The list goes on and on. Engage your own creativity. Connect with others or just mix and mingle with the Gunnel Gallery’s visitors as they view exhibitions of nationally-recognized artists creative output year-round.
Over in Egg Harbor, the Juddville Contemporary Clay Studio and Gallery (juddvilleclay.com) provides an outlet for those creative juices if you really want to get your hands dirty with classes taught by nationally acclaimed clay artists Rebecca Carlton and Tony Staroska. Learn Staroska’s unique process for firing contemporary fine art sculptures in salt, sager and slip resist rake. Take in Carlton’s approach to environmentally inspired public art creation or just soak in all of the creative ambiance during your stay in Door County.
For more than 30 years, Sister Bay’s Midsummer Music (midsummermusic.com) has been showcasing top tier artists in diverse programming spanning historical masterworks to exciting world premieres. Their cohort of talented musicians hail from Milwaukee Symphony, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and even our Chicago’s Lyric Opera, CSO as well as the Ravinia Festival Orchestra. But what really stands Midsummer apart are the intriguing collaborations they indulge season-in and season-out. From multi-disciplinary engagements that include local galleries, poets and artists to a unique program launched with Celebrate Water amplifying awareness around water conservation, Midsummer Music leaves no stone unturned in exploring and exposing the many ways in which music can be shared with audiences from every level of music appreciation.
Over in Fish Creek, Northern Sky Theater (northernskytheater.com) , the mixed repertory ensemble presents a most intriguing slate of professional musical and dramatic productions, all with the aim of furthering the knowledge and appreciation of the culture and heritage of the United States. Tall order you say? Well, the company has the chops to pull it off. Their work springs largely from contemplative narrative story telling, fleshing out themes that emanate from places we sometimes just assume keep hidden. Their work is revelatory, and shines as a cultural jewel as bright as some of even Chicago’s off-broadway luminaries.
Like Northern Sky, The Heritage Ensemble (heritageensemble.com) also offers a very polished, professional slate of programming betraying a truly sophisticated caliber of work. Steeped in the showcase of original productions largely covering (or uncovering as it were) many aspects of Midwestern lore, the ensemble has spent 20 years exploring topics like the history of Milwaukee, the settlement of the Fox River Valley and figures like Carl Sandburg and Mark Twain.
While certainly coalescing atop the cream of the cultural landscape in and about the peninsula, these recommendations only touch the surface of the artistic pursuits that await a trip up north to Door County. So what are you waiting for? There’s much to explore and time’s a wasting. Get to it!