The Art of Slowing Down In Door County
Popelka Trenchard Glass
Jeremy Popelka of Popelka Trenchard Glass in Door County, Wisconsin, works his magic, demonstrating a centuries-old glass blowing technique for curious onlookers that have been cautioned to steer clear of the 2,000-degree furnace. He gingerly removes a radiant object that looks like it was just spewed from an angry volcano and rolls it in “frit,” the ground substance that adds color to glass. The big wow factor is when he blows a cobalt blue glass bubble through a blowpipe. Stephanie Trenchard, his wife and fellow artist, hands him a pair of tweezers, and he deftly shapes the molten glass into a delicate flower. The luminous piece is snipped off the pipe with a pair of steel tweezers called jacks, and there you are.
Popelka loves an audience, saying that, “Sometimes people see things as novices that are enlightening to your process and work.”
Art is not what has traditionally brought Midwestern tourists to Door County, a series of tiny, Norman Rockwell-like resort towns that dot a 70-mile long Peninsula bordered by Lake Michigan and Green Bay. No, they’ve flocked to the “Cape Cod of the Midwest” for state park hiking trails lined with wildflowers, lighthouse tours that highlight the area’s maritime history, cherry picking in bucolic orchards, and of course, those famous fish boils, a simple meal of white fish and potatoes that’s a nod to the region’s Scandinavian heritage.
But lately, a small but thriving arts scene has been generating lots of buzz, and visitors are discovering small galleries like this one are filled with treasures.
It’s like wandering through an enchanted, larger-than-life jewelry box sparkling with rubies, sapphires and emeralds. Multi-hued glass artworks in a variety of shapes and sizes are displayed on every surface, glowing in the sunlight like stained glass windows in a resplendent cathedral.
Popelka’s work is often inspired by the natural beauty of the area. He moved to Door County from foggy San Francisco in the 1990s, and he’s never lost his sense of wonder for this landscape of towering, glacier-carved bluffs, sand dunes, limestone rock formations and maple-beech forests.
“Door County offers a changing pallet of nature’s brilliance, and I really love having four distinct seasons that always keep things interesting,” Popelka said.
Want to make your own glass art? Glass blowing classes are available.
64 South 2nd Avenue, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. 920-743-7287, www.popelkaglass.com
Edgewood Orchard Galleries
Edgewood Orchard Galleries in Fish Creek is worth the trip just to stroll through the sculpture garden, a serene spot where nature and art unite. A quarter-mile-long path meanders through a boreal forest dotted with dozens of intriguing artworks, such as a larger-than-life, stainless-steel rabbit that seems to leap over waves of snowy trilliums and a steel bull that’s poised to charge into a thicket of white pines.
J.R. Jarosh, who co-owns the gallery with his wife Nell, designed the garden that he describes as “a welcoming bridge to the occasionally intimidating world of fine art.”
He wants everyone to feel that they belong, even those unprepared to spend thousands on a piece of art. Jarosh says after a walk in the garden, “some realize that a stroll through the inside space could be just as rewarding.”
The two-level gallery housed in a 1918 stone fruit barn features works by more than 150 artists, some nationally recognized. A wide variety of media, including paint, glass, clay and wood, are represented. Price points are wide ranging, so if that $9,000 painting you fell in love with isn’t in the budget, a $40 handmade necklace is a fabulous consolation prize.
4140 Peninsula Players Road, Fish Creek, Wisconsin. 920-868-3579, www.edgewoodorchard.com
The clapboard building that houses the Hardy Gallery in Ephraim is a work of art itself. Perched on Anderson Dock overlooking Eagle Harbor, the humble structure is covered in legal graffiti, a colorful collision of messages left by decades of visitors determined to leave their own indelible mark on the art scene - talented or not.
The practice started long before the gallery occupied this former warehouse built in 1858. According to local stories, it began around 1910 with sailors who painted the name of their ship and date of arrival on the building.
The gallery serves as a launching point for emerging local and regional artists, so art enthusiasts may not recognize artists’ names, but hopefully, they will recognize talent.
Perhaps that painting you purchased will be a masterpiece worth a small fortune someday. Or maybe, it will just be an eye-catching conversation piece above the sofa. Either way, you will have a cherished souvenir of your Door County visit.
3083 Anderson Lane, Ephraim, Wisconsin. 920-854-2210, www.thehardy.org The gallery hosts three shows a year, one juried.
Cappaert Contemporary Gallery. 7901 State Highway 42, Egg Harbor, Wisconsin. 920-868-3987, www.cappaertcontemporary.com
Plum Bottom Gallery. 7813 State Highway 42, Egg Harbor, Wisconsin. 920-743-2819, www.plumbottomgallery.com
Note that many galleries are open seasonally.
Door County Visitors Bureau. 800-527-3529, www.doorcounty.com