View from my window at the Country Inn Resort
Gingerly, I insert my hand into a large flat box filled with brightly colored thin glass slivers, worrying I’ll draw blood. I’m on the hunt for shades of blues and greens to make a glass fused nightlight at Hands On Art Studio in Door County, Wisc., where I’ve traveled on an art, theater, cheese and wine trek.
Until a friend suggested the get-away, I’d never heard of Door County (sadly, neither had others living South of the Mason-Dixon line). But ask a Midwesterner and they all turn green with envy. “We call it the ‘Cape Cod of the Midwest’ and used to take the kids every summer,” says my Chicago cousin, George Klein. “Wish I could join you.”
Once I arrive on the narrow finger-like peninsula that juts into Lake Michigan on the state’s Northeastern side, I understand why the county population of 28,000 triples during the summer months. Not only does the “Cape Cod” moniker fit, there are activities that suit visitors of all ages.
Named after the strait between Door Peninsula where the waters of Green Bay meet the open waters of Lake Michigan, the dangerous passage was known to early French explorers as Porte des Morts Passage, (“Door to the Way to Death”) or simply, “Death’s Door.”
Though never far from water, the topography is equally spectacular, especially in fall. Bright yellows, reds, oranges contrast with the quaint white inns and B&B’s that dot the countryside.
Making fused glass nightlight at Hands On Art Studio
For the moment, I’m engrossed in arranging the glass slivers onto a piece of clear that forms the base for the nightlight. The idea is to cut the pieces to size, but the glass tool isn’t cooperating. I prick my finger trying to score the paper-thin glass and it breaks in places I hadn’t intended.
Somehow I bumble through, putting a drop of glue on the back of each odd shaped piece and set it in place. They don’t fit cleanly so I fill in with tiny glass pebbles and add a few glass rods. The instructor assures me that once it fuses, my nightlight will be a masterpiece. When it arrived a week after I return home, I’m tickled with the results of my artistic endeavor.
Hands On Art Studio is a do-it-yourselfers dream. No reservations needed. No talent either. Just a desire to create a work of art whether fused glass, jewelry, metal sculptures, mosaics, spin art or woods, metals and ceramics. Each “artist” pays just $7 for an entire day in all four studio spaces at potter Cy’s “art farm,” plus the cost of the project. (www.handsonartstudio.com).
I could have stayed all day, but the next stop on my art trek is the Peninsula School of Art known as one of the most dynamic centers for visual arts education in the Midwest with over 2,000 students and university-level instructors. http://www.peninsulaartschool.com
Peninsula School of Art
The day I visit, an installation of 30 four-feet high hand blown glass ears of corn with bronze husks from Wisconsin artist Michael Meilahn, are suspended from the ceiling. They represent his view that genetic modification is necessary to feed the world’s growing population. Other than the sheer beauty, the neatest thing about the exhibit is that visitors are encouraged to touch the art. Along the perimeter of the room are stainless steel hand-driven sculptures by Anne Lilly of Massachusetts.
I’m intrigued by a group of seniors hard at work forming and painting clay soup bowls to be sold for $15 at Soup!, a one-day event that benefits the Children’s Outreach Program. Purchasers of the more than 500 bowls made by children and adults are treated to a soup party donated by area chefs.
The Door County Plein Art Festival every July is the largest outdoor painting festival in the Midwest and the School’s largest fundraiser. Forty juried artists complete five to 15 paintings outdoors and the School’s Guenzel Gallery hosts an exhibition and sale, with proceeds benefiting the educational and community programs of the School.
The Door is noted for its superior art galleries showcasing mid-western artists, and we wander in an out of at least a dozen. My inner artist succumbs to a hand-crafted vertical clock and a brightly colored iridescent pendant.
So Little Time, So Much to Do
With towns named Sturgeon Bay (which boasts the only stop light in the county), Fish Creek, Egg Harbor and Sister Bay and Ephraim (the only dry town), there is always something to do. Or not. You can relax on miles of shoreline, read and snooze in rocking chairs on the porch of your B&B, or engage in outdoor activities, like several friends.
One is uber-athletic and bikes, hikes and Segways along the beautiful woodland trails and shorelines. Another plays a round of golf. We are all set for a river cruise, but are curtailed by the inclement weather. Not to worry, we find plenty of solace in the local wineries and a microbrewery, in addition to a visit to the Door County Maritime Museum (www.dcmm.org) where we tour the lovingly preserved Tug John Purves, built in 1919, and peruse Pirates! and the history of area ship-building, both extensive exhibits.
Eat, Drink, Enjoy
Harbor Ridge Winery’s motto: “Solving the world’s problems, one sip at a time.”
No trip to Wisconsin is complete without a tasting of cheeses, wines and apples. We begin at the Orchard Country Winery & Market and find delicious varieties of both apples and wine, a prelude for lunch at Wilson’s Restaurant & Ice Cream Parlor (www.wilsonsicecream.com). I feel as though I’ve taken a step back in time with its table-side juke boxes and root beer floats of my youth.
Dinner is at Mojo Rosa’s in Egg Harbor (www.mojorosas-doorcounty.com) is one of the few Mexican restaurants on the Door and sister to two other restaurants, Villaggios, and The Village Café (in addition to the Pink Bakery).
For breakfast, it’s hard to beat Rowley’s Bay Resort and Grandma’s Swedish Bakery situated on the waterfront. The decadent pecan rolls were voted #1 in the state by Wisconsin Trails magazine. Indescribable. (www.rowleysbayresort.com/)
But don’t neglect a trip to Door County Coffee & Tea Co., (www.doorcountycoffee the Door’s premier coffee roaster . The food is as good as the coffee with flavors like cherry crème, bananas foster and raspberry almond that follow me home.
Always time for a tasting at Schoolhouse Artisan Cheese that features 30 cheese makers and 50 artisan cheeses. We all take home sample of our favorites. (schoolhouseartisancheese.com).
Grand finale of the fish boil at the Old Post Office Restaurant
The dining piece de resistance is an authentic Fish Boil at the Old Post Office Restaurant prepared outside over a roaring open fire. The 100-year old tradition was originally created to feed hungry loggers and settlers and remains alive and well in the Door.
Watching the process is part of the fun. Potatoes and onions go first into the steaming pot, followed by fresh Lake Michigan whitefish. When the oils from the whitefish rise to the top of the large black iron kettle, kerosene is added to the flames and the fish oil careens over the side, signaling the catch is ready to serve. The ooh’s and aah’s of diners and the clicking of cameras are followed by the best part – a delicious meal. (www.oldpostoffice-doorcounty.com)
For wine enthusiasts, follow the Door County Wine Trail: (www.doorcountywinetrail.com) and sip your way through the Door.
One of the trip’s special treats is seeing three original live theater performed by Equity actors: “And If Elected,” at the American Folklore Theater which is only performed during a national presidential election year; “Lombardi” at the Peninsula Players Theater, that pays homage to Wisconsin hero, Vince Lombardi, the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers who took the team from total defeat to total domination of the NFL, winning five league championships in seven years and two Super Bowls; and “Cheeseheads, the Musical.” All play to packed audiences, so make reservations in advance.
Quaint guest houses, B&Bs too numerous to count dot the highways and byways.
The White Gull Inn in Fish Creek
Country House Resort in Sister Bay
Fly into Green Bay, Milwaukee or Appleton airports and rent a car for the hour-plus drive to Door County. You’ll need wheels to get around.