Door County is probably the most artistic place in the entire state of Wisconsin. And that should come as no surprise.
The Door Peninsula is a unique location that attracts artistic people and breeds creativity. But why?
Let’s take a closer look at what makes this special slice of our state a haven for artists and a little bit of heaven for people who love amazing artwork.
1. The Beautiful Surroundings
You really can’t say enough about the natural beauty found around Door County. Of course, that’s a big part of what draws artists to the area, and in some cases, helps keep them there. Local artist and Sturgeon Bay native, Katie Starr, says you don’t have to look far before an artistic idea strikes.
“The county is filled with so many beautiful views and untouched nature to explore,” Starr says. “Also, we are surrounded by so many different forms of art and artists that it’s really hard not to be inspired!”
From the soaring seagulls and noble lighthouses to Sandhill cranes and charming cottages on sandy beaches along Lake Michigan – if Mother Nature is your muse, you’ll find her in Door County.
Personally, whenever I make the drive up towards Sturgeon Bay and pass that “Welcome to Door County” sign on Highway 57 – something seems to happen. It’s like a peace washes over you. Muscles relax. You roll down the window and let your lungs fill with fresh air. It’s almost magical.
Even the seagulls seem more at peace in Door County – much less Hitchcockian than the Bay Beach Amusement park gulls battling over stale brat buns and swooping precariously over the heads of children.
It’s no wonder so many artists flock to places like Sturgeon Bay.
Sarah Bradley is a local artist and the co-owner of an art supply and framing shop called Artists Guild. She says artist will find more than just the beauty of nature among their surroundings.
“Some of that beauty can be found along quiet country roads and shoreline trails, but it is also found amongst the gritty back alleys and waterfront industry which anchor our community,” says Bradley. “That authenticity is at the root of great inspiration.”
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2. The Many Art Museums and Galleries
Original art galleries speckle the landscape of Door County. You’ll find several in every community. But one place you just can’t miss is the Miller Art Museum in the heart of Sturgeon Bay.
This non-profit art institution is open year-round and regularly features beautiful exhibits as well as permanent collections from many Wisconsin artists ranging from the early 20th century to present day.
Sturgeon Bay native, Gerhard Miller and his wife, founded the museum in 1975. Miller himself was a highly-respected artist, and there is a wing of the museum displaying more than 100 of his paintings.
Miller’s story is just as impressive as his art. He started painting at age 12 when he contracted polio. Yet he would go on to live a vibrant, fulfilling life traveling the world having adventures and writing books while supporting art around Wisconsin.
Gerhard Miller passed away in 2003 at the age of 100. What does that suggest to you about the artist’s life in Door County?
In addition to the museum, you can visit Sturgeon Bay to discover independent artists with their own galleries. That includes Katie Starr who shows off unique creations at Sourced, the perfect places for art lovers looking for original vintage decor.
Katie repurposes older items she finds and collects, transforming them into pieces with personality.
“I’d have to say one of the biggest thrills I get from creating with vintage items is most of my supplies I use to create a new piece have had a past, a story, a memory for someone,” she explains.
Katie says people see a nostalgic item re-imagined for a new use and express amazement and appreciation for her work.
“That’s so rewarding to me. Acknowledging someone’s talent is the highest compliment. Oftentimes I just am doing what I love and don’t view it as an art form!”
A few other art galleries to check out when you visit Sturgeon Bay include the Audrey M. Off Gallery for colorful paintings that are often inspired by the Door County landscape. For blown glass you can check out both G & J Glassworks as well as Popelka Trenchard Glass.
3. The Creative People in the Art Community
Sarah Bradley describes her fellow artists in Sturgeon Bay and surrounding Door County communities as “a quirky and kind lot.”
“This means that there is never a dull day at Artists Guild,” she says. “I’m especially dazzled by the ingenuity and dedication of the local practicing artists.”
Sourced features creations from at least eight other artists in addition to Katie Starr’s work.
They include: Bethany Kirwen, Helen Bacon, Melissa Clark, Dawn Patel, Kayla Wilke, Stephanie Holznecht, Kris Bungener and Kim Lyon.
Starr makes a home for these artists at Sourced. They can come and work on their own projects, then rent space at the Sourced gallery and receive 100% of the profits when they sell a piece.
At the same time, they get to share ideas and work on things together. Starr says her fellow artists are starting to team up more and more.
“I’ve also started offering in-house collaborations at Sourced as well,” she says. “I’m partnering up with the other makers to combine our talents and come up with new creations to offer our customers. That’s been fun for us all to think up new ways to expand our talents!”
Stephanie Trenchard – one half of Popelka Trenchard Glass – says while she and Jeremy Popelka are both originally from Illinois, Door County was always a second home for her.
“I had spent a lot of time in Door County as a child and worked here over many teenage summers after my father relocated to Sister Bay,” Trenchard says. One of the reasons she eventually made the area her permanent home is because of what an artist-friendly place Door County can be.
“Outside of New York City and Santa Fe, Door County is one of the few places where artists can support their families with their creative practices,” she explains. “Also, being more affordable, Door County offers artists the opportunity to do more community involved events, such as mentorships and demonstrations for the schools.”
4. The Chance to Learn and Make Your Own Art
There’s a good chance a trip to Door County will bring out your own creative side. So make sure to bring a sketchbook. But if you want to take it a step further and improve your artistic skills – those opportunities exist too.
Door County could very well be the place where you discover your inner artist. That’s one reason why Popelka Trenchard Glass offers demonstrations and glassblowing classes for visitors who want to give it a shot.
“The classes have been very popular,” Trenchard says. “About 80% of our students are first-timers who are looking for a unique experience. It is also a good bonding opportunity for parents traveling with teenagers. We also have a few returning students who want to delve deeper in the craft and we can teach them a large variety of techniques.”
Another Sturgeon Bay establishment that serves as both a resource for artists residing in the Door Peninsula as well as a place to learn is Artists Guild – Door County’s Premier Art Center.
Several employees at Artists Guild in downtown Sturgeon Bay are certified Art Material Professionals. They lead classes teaching students basic techniques and tips using the “medium of the month.” That class is called “Art Fundamentals.”
“Instructors from Artists Guild provide for students a basic understanding of that medium and offer students a chance to test-drive the materials,” explains co-owner Sarah Bradley.
A step up from “Fundamentals” is the class “First Steps,” which helps aspiring artists in pursuing their own artistic journeys. If you’d rather have some one-on-one instruction, Bradley says that can be arranged too.
“For those who prefer a more specialized experience, Artists Guild offers private lessons for children and adults, accommodating those on a strict schedule or with specific needs.”
Plus, you’ll even be able to get all the supplies you need right there!
5. Pairing Art with Door County Wine
Yet another aspect for which Door County is known is wine-making. There are wineries, orchards and even vineyards all over the country roads criss-crossing the peninsula.
You may not think the Wisconsin climate would be ideal for growing grapes, but wineries such as Door 44 Winery in Sturgeon Bay do just that using “cool climate” varieties. Door 44 is the sister winery to Parallel 44 Winery and Vineyard in nearby Kewaunee County.
There’s also Red Oak Vineyard on the south side of Sturgeon Bay. They’re a winery known for following the traditional wine-making process, which you can observe when you stop in for a little wine tasting.
One of the most-recognizable Wisconsin wineries can also be found near Sturgeon Bay. Door Peninsula Winery is located in Carlsville and it’s also home to Door County Distillery which offers spirits inspired by local flavors and traditions – from Door County brandy to cherry moonshine!
Door County is an excellent place for growing cherries, as we all know. So if you’re doing a wine tour, you have to make sure to sample some cherry wine. One place you can certainly do that is at the Artists Guild in Sturgeon Bay.
Among the opportunities they offer is a Bottle and Brush event, which takes place every Friday night. You and your friends bring your favorite wine and snacks – the Artists Guild will provide the paints, brushes, canvases and direction.
“While less of a class and more of a ‘night out,’ Bottle and Brush draws a wide crowd looking for a creative outlet,” Bradley says.
What Do You Love About the Door County Art Scene?
There’s a lot to love. We just couldn’t fit it into one article. So this is where you come in.
Tell us about the kind of art you’ve discovered in Door County. Who is your favorite artist? Have you ever taken an art class while visiting the area?
Leave us a comment and become part of the story!
This article is brought to you by the Sturgeon Bay Visitor Center – committed to promoting the many experiences Sturgeon bay has to offer. Visit sturgeonbay.net and follow Sturgeon Bay Door County on Facebook for more.