Tour de Fall

Two years ago I made a delightful discovery: there is such a thing an “artist studio tour” and fall is the time for them around here.


On a summer weekend with the family in 2011, we stopped in at the Brewery Pottery Studio in Mineral Point, WI, for two of the five of us to have a look-see. (Does this “conflict of interests” exist in your family too??)


I bought a perfect, lacy mug (above) made by the owners, Diana and Tom Johnston, and picked up a flyer for the simply-named “Fall Art Tour” in southwestern Wisconsin. Artists in adjacent towns would open their studios and put their works on display for sale. The two of us who shopped that day made a pinky pledge to try to make the tour.


The date didn’t work, but we were so enamored with the idea that in fall of 2012 we found another studio tour north of Milwaukee, and booked a room at The Stagecoach Inn in Cedarburg, an artist-haven sort of town. Our map led us to artists and their studios in old barns, in the lofts of old brick buildings, in their own unique homes, and in one power-plant-cum-architects’ studio. We talked and learned about each one’s art.


That was just the beginning. We were hooked. Besides, it’s hard to go wrong with ANYTHING in the fall in the Midwest, what with deciduous leaves and all.

We changed it up a bit this year in order to include all three of us girls, and picked YET ANOTHER studio tour, this time south of Saugatuck, MI. (We can nearly drive blind-folded around the tip of Lake Michigan after a two decades of such trips. Well, we probably COULD, if it weren’t for the semis.)


For fun, I checked for a place to stay. VRBO is “Vacation Rental by Owner”, and I highly recommend it. We found the tiny Saugatuck cottage, “The Nutshell”, bravely holding down its postage-stamp bit of land between Kalamazoo Lake and Lake Michigan. It was just right for three nuts.


Okay, enough about us. Back to the ARTISTS. This weekend was called the Blue Coast Artists Studio and Farm Tour, as local artists and local farms (apple, pumpkin, fruit, cheese, etc.) got together to hold a giant open house. All are located along the Blue Coast Highway in western Michigan, each just a short drive from the next.


The photo above is at Khnemu Studio, an 1890s farm-now-studio with solar panels enough to power artist Dawn Soltysiak’s electric kilns. (We had rain on the weekend, which did put a damper on photo-taking but not on our spirits! A deluge had passed through not 30 minutes prior to this set of shots.)


That’s Dawn above, in the blue plaid. She has just removed a bowl from the kiln (left) and is applying a special technique to it in the straw fire. One of the barns contained work by several potters, and we bought a few pieces. Hidden until Christmas, they are!


One fun part about this farm was the free-range birds, EVERYWHERE.








The  fellow above was a beauty. The hen below got a notion in her head about our ankles. Time to be on our way.


We stopped at Evergreen Lane Farm for a goat cheese sample — and ended up meeting the goats and Dash the horse, hearing the story of how Farmer Cathy started making cheese, buying two cheeses, and picking a half-dozen organic apples.


The boy goats (above) were too busy competing in King of the Hill to come meet us. The girl goats (below) were eager to see visitors and could barely hold still. We let them gum our fingers (no teeth on top!).




Farmer and cheese-maker Cathy (on the right) graciously lent Grace and me farm boots to hike back to the organic apple orchard — I think I mentioned the rain?


The fresh-picked apples and goat cheese staved off our late-afternoon hunger until we made it to our dinner destination in Fennville:


The Salt of the Earth restaurant. Wow, were they worth the wait. They collaborate with local farms to serve fresh produce, dairy, and meats from this agriculturally abundant area. Listed in the menu’s sidebar of partners, we found Shady Side Farm, where fellow blogger and wool-lover Lona and her husband raise sheep and more! I visited Shady Side last winter for sheep-shearing time.


The next morning, we made one last stop at the studio of Reverie Design & Craft, where Sandra and her husband are finishing construction of this cozy structure. Sandra makes beautiful and playful pieces of pottery. I bought a small “pot” for sewing tools in my work area. I love that it makes me think of artists in other places when I use it.


And that’s my story of an artists’ studio tour. I can see how each tour has its own personality. Last year in eastern Wisconsin, for instance, we saw much more two-dimensional work: a large variety paintings, and drawings. This year, lots of ceramics — and farm products!


Each artist’s story is unique and each path to and through their craft so full of thought, passion, unexpected turns of events, plans, and serendipitous associations. Very, very interesting and very fun.

So, YOUR TURN! Have you gone a-visiting like this? Do you have recommendations for intriguing places to go?