CULTURE CLUB: Winter in Door County

by MIKE SCHNEIDER, Executive Director, The Clearing Folk School

“What do you do up there during the winter?” 

That’s a question that almost everyone who lives in Door County – and stays here for the winter – has been asked, either by someone who does not live here, or by someone who lives here during the warmer months but spends the colder months elsewhere. 

The answer varies, depending on which year-rounder you ask. For many people who own and/or run a business, especially a seasonal business, the answer is likely to be some version of, “As soon as the season is over, I let out a long and loud sigh of relief. Then I collapse. Then I remember how to relax. That can take a while after a long season of long hours at work – and when not at work, then thinking about work.” 

For many others, the answer to the question is, “I enjoy the quiet season in Door County – the six months or so when we have the place to ourselves, more or less.” 

Even though many of the restaurants and shops are closed until spring, and the performance venues are either closed or have limited offerings, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do in Door County between Nov. 1 and April 30. 

In fact, there’s plenty to do – especially if you enjoy the great outdoors, which is among the top reasons why many people choose to live here. Door County is one of the best places in the state for hiking, thanks to our wonderful state and county parks, Door County Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy, The Ridges, Crossroads at Big Creek and The Clearing. 

From late fall through winter, the trails are much less crowded than they are from May through October. And the look, sound, smell and feel of the late fall and winter landscape is the perfect remedy for cabin fever, if or when it happens to set in.

For still others, the answer to the “winter question” is, “I take classes at The Clearing.” That’s been a common answer from many locals since 1976, when the Winter Program began, and it’s been around long enough to claim the title of being a “Door County institution.” The classes have always been taught by volunteer instructors, showcasing the incredible range of talent that we are so blessed to have in Door County.

Nancy Rafal wrote this about the Winter Program for its 2005 catalog: 

“December 3, 1975, is a day remembered fondly by a number of Door County residents. That evening, about 100 people braved a heavy, wet snowfall and crowded into The Clearing’s Schoolhouse. 

“In 1997, Frank Pechman recalled that meeting. ‘From the back of the room, and then forward like a wave, people were holding up their money, waving the bills and wanting to sign up! The Clearing in Winter was born.’ 

“The seeds for the “snowstorm meeting” had been planted much earlier. In the 1940s, Gerhard Miller taught painting throughout the winter in the Schoolhouse, and Mertha Fulkerson, [Jens] Jensen’s longtime assistant, met there with a group of weavers. 

“At a meeting on November 5, 1975, Frank Pechman, Jim and Phyllis Ingwersen, Donna and Gene Johnson, and Sid Telfer Sr. promoted the idea of winter classes at The Clearing. The group developed a plan for 25 classes that would run from January through March. They worked with a fever of commitment, cooperation and sharing which continues to infuse the Winter Program.”

The pandemic hit the program hard, but it’s on its way back, with 54 classes scheduled for the 2023 Winter Program. All classes are held during an eight-week period from early January through February. Some take place in the homes, studios or businesses of instructors, making it a truly community-based program, and it follows The Clearing’s long history of offering a wide range of classes in the arts, fine crafts, humanities and natural sciences.

The Clearing is pleased to have been, and to continue to be, one of the answers to that longtime question, “What do you do up there during the winter?” 

Look for the list of classes for the 48th Winter Program to appear at around Thanksgiving. If you have questions about the program, call The Clearing at 920.854.4088.

Peninsula Arts and Humanities Alliance, which contributes the Culture Club column, is a coalition of nonprofit organizations whose purpose is to enhance, promote and advocate the arts, humanities and natural sciences in Door County.

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