Destination Learning: Diverse offerings in the Arts, Crafts, and Humanities

Door County is known throughout the Midwest, nationally and even internationally as a premier vacation destination. The natural beauty, outdoor activities, boating, shopping and thriving arts and crafts bring millions of visitors to the peninsula each summer.

For many visitors to Door County, the peninsula represents the ultimate in idleness. Time spent in Door County means lazy days at the beach, quiet time sitting and fishing, bobbing up and down on the waves on a floating raft or a boat, sitting on a park bench in Ephraim, watching the sun set while licking an ice cream cone.

For other visitors (and residents), however, the draw of Door County is personal growth and continuing education, the enrichment of learning. Door County is the destination for those looking to learn a new skill, engage their intellect or improve their craft. The county has numerous longstanding and successful continuing education institutions that lure visitor and local alike with a broad diversity of offerings in the arts, crafts and humanities.

The Clearing, Peninsula Art School, Bjorklunden and Sievers School of Fine Art. While there are others, these four destination learning spots in Door County offer countless resources for personal enrichment and enlightenment. Each has its own distinct history and focus, yet collectively they provide a continuing educational experience unique to Door County.

The Clearing

The Clearing, bell, Door County, Ellison Bay, Jens Jensen
The bell at The Clearing Lodge.

Jens Jensen, a Danish-born landscape architect, founded The Clearing in Ellison Bay in 1935. Many consider him to be the most important American landscape architect, and The Clearing his greatest work. Before founding The Clearing, Jensen achieved international recognition for designing many of Chicago’s public parks and grandest private estates. He was a driving force in establishing the Illinois State Parks system and the Cook County Forest Preserves.

Jensen began acquiring the property that would become The Clearing in 1919 for use as a summer home. At age 75, after closing his Chicago business in 1935, he achieved his longtime dream of establishing The Clearing as a place where city people could come to renew their contact with nature. Situated on 128 wooded acres, The Clearing is on the National Register of Historic Places, and all the buildings on The Clearing campus are log or native stone, blending with the rustic, natural setting.

The lodge includes a lounge and library, dining room and guest quarters for visiting instructors. Smaller buildings provide dormitories and private rooms for students. The Clearing places an emphasis on community building through its workshops. Students share most meals together during the time of their workshop and summer visitors are encouraged to live on the grounds, with limited space available for “commuter” students.

Jensen believed that environments have a profound effect on people, and that an understanding of regional ecology and culture is fundamental to clear thinking. These precepts continue to guide the programs at The Clearing. Classes involve direct experience with nature, creative expression, thoughtful study and contemplation.

Open to everyone age eighteen and over, The Clearing offers year-round courses in natural sciences, fine arts, skilled crafts and the humanities. There are intensive writing workshops, painting and drawing classes, wine and cooking classes, music appreciation, naturalist workshops exploring the county and much more. Each year, more than 1,000 people attend classes and programs at The Clearing. The folk school experience at The Clearing is a unique combination of rich history, tradition and beautiful woods and vistas, all taking place in an atmosphere of living and learning together.

Peninsula Art School

Peninsula School of Art, Fish Creek, Door County, Door County art school, Door County art, art in Door County

Peninsula Art School began its life in 1965, when Chicago artist and art-enthusiast Madeline Tourtelout purchased the three and a half acres in Fish Creek where the school presently stands, reorganized the property, and named it Peninsula School of the Arts. The school offered summer workshops in a variety of media, taught in conjunction with University of Wisconsin-Green Bay as an accredited program.

Financial troubles forced Tourtelout to close the school in 1971, but she kept the buildings occupied as summer artist studios. Persistent in her dream of creating an art school in Door County, in 1978 Tourtelout donated the buildings to the Peninsula Arts Association. In June 1980, the Peninsula Art School reopened with a summer schedule of eighteen classes and a series of weekly children’s workshops. The faculty that year included renowned Door County artists Gerhard Miller, Bridget Austin, Charlie Lyons, Charles L. Peterson and Phil Austin.

The school’s earliest teachers were highly skilled artists and artisans, and their imprint is still seen and felt throughout the school’s operations. Several of these early faculty member serve on the PAS Board of Directors and continue to teach in its studios, including art history lecturer Charlie Lyons and Bridget Austin, one of the school’s most popular instructors in its most popular medium, watercolor painting.

Over the years, the curriculum expanded and summer classes became increasingly popular. In 1995, the continuing success of PAS signaled the need for more classroom space and year-round buildings. Up to this point, summer-only workshops were held in the two original un-heated buildings erected by Tourtelout in 1965. An ambitious building campaign resulted in a state-of-the- art structure which houses four painting studios, a ceramics studio, a metals studio, a darkroom, administrative offices and the landmark round barn design of the Guenzel Gallery.

Classes are now offered year-round in painting, watercolor, drawing, ceramics, sculpture, metals, papermaking, photography and more, serving over 1,200 students each year. There is a very popular summer children’s program, which includes an annual workshop that concludes with the children marching in the Baileys Harbor Fourth of July Parade. The Guenzel Gallery houses an always shifting program of innovative exhibitions, showcasing local, regional and national visual and fine crafts artists and is a draw on its own for tourists and artists alike.


Bjorklunden, Door County, Lawrence University, Baileys Harbor

Björklunden vid Sjön, translated from the Norwegian as “Birch Forest by the Water,” is a 425-acre estate on the Lake Michigan shore just south of Baileys Harbor. A place of great beauty and serenity, the property includes meadows, woods and more than a mile of unspoiled waterfront. Carlton and Winifred Vail of Highland Park, IL, built Björklunden between 1929 and 1931 as a personal, family retreat. Carlton Vail died in 1932 and in 1934, Winifred remarried to Donald Boynton. The blended Boynton family enjoyed the property for many years. In 1963, Donald and Winifred bequeathed Björklunden to Lawrence University. The Boyntons made the gift with the understanding that Björklunden would be preserved in a way that would ensure its legacy as a place of peace and contemplation.

Björklunden now serves as Lawrence University’s northern campus, hosting retreats and seminars for Lawrence students throughout the academic year. Since 1980, Lawrence has sponsored a summer series of adult continuing education seminars at Björklunden, interrupted only by a 1993 fire in the estate’s main lodge, which was then rebuilt.

The two-story Björklunden lodge is a 17,190 square-foot structure containing a great room, seminar and dining rooms and a kitchen, as well as fourteen guest rooms. In addition to the main building, the Björklunden estate also includes a small wooden chapel built in the style of a late 12th century Norwegian stave church (stavkirke), handcrafted by the Boynton family between 1939 and 1947. The chapel is modeled after the Garmo stave church at Maihaugen in Lillehammer, Norway.

The magnificent lodge and idyllic setting create a peaceful learning environment. Seminars address topics in the arts, music, religion, drama, nature and more. With challenging and compelling subjects this summer like “Just Deserts: Behind the Scenes of America’s Legal System,” “1421: Did China Discover America?” and “The Good, The Bad and The Unbelievable: The Chicago Political Tradition,” Björklunden’s programs live up to their motto of “a vacation with a focus.”

Sievers School of Fiber Art

Sievers School of Fiber Arts, Fiber Arts, fiber art, Door County, Washington Island, Door County, art in Door County, Door County gallery, art school in Door County
The Sievers School of Fiber Arts.

Located on Washington Island off the northern tip of the Door Peninsula, Sievers School of Fiber Art is the most remote of these four learning destinations in the county. Founded in 1979, Sievers School of Fiber Arts is an internationally known, three-season visual arts and crafts school. The school offers weeklong and weekend classes in all the fiber arts and provides encouragement and enrichment to students of all skill levels.

The Sievers School was started in 1979 by Walter Schutz, at the age of 79, to compliment his wife’s weaving hobby (Sievers was her maiden name. Schutz liked the way that Sievers rhymed with “weavers.”) That first year, the school drew 33 students. By 1989, they had over 460. Over the past ten years, the school has averaged more than 650 each summer. In 2003, Sievers offered 91 classes in seven categories including: Basketry/Woodcarving; Handmade Paper; Knitting/Spinning/Dyeing/Felting; Quilting; Stitchery/Wearables; Surface Design/Creative Design; and Weaving.

Howard and Ann Young are the current owners of Sievers and Ann serves as director of the school. Ann’s involvement with Sievers began in 1979, when founder Walter Schutz asked her to be general manager of the school. She became an enthusiastic weaving student and later taught basic weaving. Over the years, she became more and more involved in the school’s operation, and when Walter retired in 1987, Ann and her husband Howard took over. In 1989, Ann added a retail consignment shop, selling the fiber arts and fine crafts made by the teachers and students.

“We began our school in 1979, making our home in the refurbished Jackson Harbor Schoolhouse, which dates back to 1895,” said Ann. “In 1982 we added a turn-of-the-century landmark barn, which we renovated to house a studio and dorm facility. These buildings were joined in recent years by two beautiful new studios.”

2004 marks the 25th anniversary season for the Sievers School, which they will be celebrating throughout the summer. “We hold a reunion for our students every two years, called ‘The Gathering,’” said Ann. “This year it will be September 24th and 25th and we will be honoring Mary Sue Fenner, one of our teachers who has been with us since the beginning.”

From arts and letters to watercolor and weaving, music and the humanities to food and nature, these four learning destinations of Door County have a great deal to offer residents of and visitors to the Peninsula. These continuing education destinations emphasize the restorative powers of nature as an integral part of the learning experience. They each recognize and celebrate the ability of the natural beauty of the peninsula to both inspire and encourage artists, crafts makers and thinkers to achieve their best. From humble beginnings, each has grown to become a recognized destination for learning, enrichment and personal growth. All four recognize and celebrate their origins and history while continuing to move forward and grow.

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