Weaving a Tradition: The Life and Times of the Maple Grove Gallery

Sometimes, when you search long enough, you will find exactly what you are looking for.

This is how Gloria, and her husband George Hardiman, came upon their little shop called Maple Grove Gallery on the corner of County Road F and Maple Grove Road in the middle of the Door peninsula.

One summer, more than 35 years ago, the Hardimans decided to look for a place in the country, something along the lines of a store downstairs and living space upstairs. It preferably had to be within a day’s travel from their residence in the twin towns of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. Up they traveled along the coast of Lake Michigan, on the Michigan side. Down they traveled along the Wisconsin side. There was nothing to be found that appealed to them. Then on their last stop, friends suggested they take a trip to Door County and that is where they found their dream.

“It used to be an old general store,” remembered Hardiman, “deserted for many years and no one living upstairs. A real fixer-upper with no plumbing and a wood burning stove. But the moment I saw it, I knew it was just what we were looking for. We loved the old fashioned high front to the store and the general country appeal of the place.”

This was in 1969 and after three years of working hard to get the building back into usable shape, they were ready to open the doors and introduce the Door County visitor to the beautiful fiber art of Gloria Hardiman.

During those early years the official summer trading season was much shorter than what it is today. It started on July 1st and ended on Labor Day. That was it. But as Door County became better known and steadily grew as a vacation destination, the summer retail season lengthened as well.

At first Hardiman’s gallery hours followed the Door County summer season. Then, in 1995 when her husband retired from his teaching position in Illinois, they moved to Door County permanently and Hardiman was ready to open her store full time.

With constant attention, Maple Grove Gallery has grown into a Door County landmark as a lovingly preserved historical building.

Dan Eggert,  Maple Grove Gallery, Door County, art in Door County, Door County galleries
Photo by Dan Eggert.

“We are very particular about not changing the character of the building,” Hardiman said. “The old general store look is so much a part of its appeal and we have continued along that line by filling the place with antiques. It gives that feeling to people who stop by that this is a part of the old American lifestyle. Our customers appreciate that.”

The combination of using antiques as a backdrop to display the richly woven shawls, throws, hats and exclusive outfits, and the general ambiance of the building, is what has turned Maple Grove Gallery into a nationally renowned gallery showcasing one of the most remarkable collections of fiber art. Gloria Hardiman is the principle artist and her signature weaving style in a mixture of earthy or rainbow colors, embellished with delicate threads of metallic yarn, is very distinct.

Together with her own weaving art, there is also a sample of work done by some of the finest Wisconsin weavers on display. This is complemented by a personally-selected collection of ceramics and handmade art jewelry. Everything shown spells out “classic style,” perfect for the discerning buyer who is looking for something unique that will remain fashionable for many years. Classic style is the trademark for which the gallery has become known.

Hardiman has been a weaver for more than 35 years. “I started out weaving for myself or as gifts for friends,” she recalled. “In those early days I was part of the Champaign-Urbana Spinners and Weavers Guild and those were exciting times. The university had a fine weaving department and the teachers and young graduates constantly tried new ideas. Those were good design influences from highly-skilled professional weavers and being part of such a group was an enriching environment in which to grow as an artist.”

As an artist Hardiman creates from a wide range of inspirations – color, textures, nature, paintings, anything that catches her fancy aesthetically. To her, being a weaver is similar to being a painter, where you choose colors from a color palette to create pleasing effects within your medium. However, as a fabric artist, it is the texture and color of the woven fabric that dominates the design and purpose of the final product.

While the artist’s technical competency is important, the emphasis of fiber art is mainly on the artist’s choices – in particular, how the type of material was used and how the cloth texture was incorporated into the design of the finished piece. This is why you will not find bolts of woven cloth at the gallery, but rather a fine display of wearable and usable art.

Weavers are selective about their yarns and traditionally the European mills supplied the best yarns, at least 70 – 80% of the novelty yarn market. They produce a broad range of colors and textures. However, the US mills have experienced a revolution in production over the last fifteen years and beautiful yarns are now locally available, on par with what comes out of Europe. In general the industry has grown tremendously and as with many art genres, has changed over the years. There is a much wider range of material available today and materials are lighter in design.

Dan Eggert, Maple Grove Gallery, Door County, art in Door County, Door County galleries
Photo by Dan Eggert.

Looking back on the last 35 years, Hardiman is modest about her achievements. “I believe when the time is right, the doors will open,” she said. “Everything has worked out that way. I love what I am doing and as the world of fiber evolves and changes, so will the business goals of this gallery.” The life and times of Maple Grove Gallery can certainly attest to that.

Maple Grove Gallery is located at N. 9098 County F Fish Creek, WI 54212. Hours are 10 am to 5 pm. Telephone: (920)839-2693.