Having worked together on an 80,000-square-foot bathroom renovation, Jillaine Burton and her husband, Andrew Seefeldt, are comfortable taking on large projects and working at the same pace: fast. So when they moved to Door County, taking on the 10-acre Woodwalk Gallery property was exciting, not daunting.
Burton and Seefeldt took over ownership and management of the gallery in 2015 from founders Margaret Lockwood and Allin Walker, another husband-and-wife team. Their former jobs were at Kohler Co. – where one of their last projects was renovating the entire company’s bathroom space in all the factory buildings – and they made the move up here when Burton helped to establish the Open Door Bird Sanctuary.
Burton said, “When we started to get more volunteers and programs, I had to get up here. Finding a suitable job was challenging. And I thought, ‘I think we’re going to have to buy our job.’ Someone emailed us a link to this property … One of the most appealing things is that there was art, music, events and a lot of potential for growth.”
What Burton saw as appealing was what Lockwood and Walker created from smaller beginnings in Juddville. Woodwalk Gallery started in 1994 in the old Juddville school building at the corner of Highway 42 and Juddville Road. The gallery originally showed Lockwood’s work with some additional art from St. Louis artists. Needing more space, Lockwood and Walker bought the property on County G, the current location, in 2007 and expanded the business to include serving as a venue for weddings and a summer-long concert series.
When Lockwood and Walker decided to sell the gallery in 2014, it was a growing business and a seven-days-a-week job to run the property. Burton credits their previous job experience for their willingness to run the established gallery. She said they were used to having “different projects all the time and a broad skill set, from project management to construction.”
Having multiple skill sets and interests lends itself to adapting and growing the business. Seefeldt has landscaped the property and created a new side business (see the sidebar); they’ve added gallery space where Lockwood’s studio used to be; and they’ve added events to the already busy summer season. They continue to host weddings and the Jeanne Kuhns Woodwalk Concert Series; they now host the Open Door Bird Sanctuary’s annual Hoot-e-Nanny fundraiser; and Woodwalk will serve as a featured site for the Door County Plein Air Festival and as the home base for the Door County Medical Center’s House and Garden Walk.
Burton reached out to Door County Underground to offer Woodwalk as a venue for three pop-up dinners as well. She said, “I heard about them last fall, and the dinners were already over. I love eating. My husband said to me, ‘Don’t you think they’d want to do one here?’” So plans were made, and Woodwalk will host dinners in July, August and September with produce from some of the Woodwalk gardens used in the meal.
In addition to growing events, Burton and Seefeldt have also nearly doubled the artists they represent. Some of the Woodwalk mainstays are still represented, but they now show the work of about 75 artists who represent all media and all sizes. This is something that Burton believes in and is proud to offer: art that’s accessible to all. She said, “I’m not in the luxury art market. We have a variety of sizes and pricing – it’s accessible at all levels.”
In another 25 years, Burton hopes the business maintains a balance among all of its offerings. She said, “In a place like this where it’s a multifaceted business, if you can find a balance where the scales are balanced really nicely … that’s what I think is a success. There’s always room for growth, but it doesn’t mean you have to get bigger to be the best, grandest version of who you are today – and that could be a little different than yesterday.”
With all the activity and growth, it would seem that Burton and Seefeldt wouldn’t find a quiet moment of peace, but that’s not entirely the case. At their four-year mark, they’re settling into their new space and business. “This year we get to sit back a bit – not relax, but a lot of the pieces of the puzzle are in place.”
Woodwalk Gallery’s next exhibit, Woodwalk 25th Anniversary Celebration, runs May 24 – June 23. It’s a group show featuring the past and present work of Margaret Lockwood and all the current Woodwalk artists.
A reception will be held May 26, 4-6 pm, with refreshments, hors d’oeuvres, music by the Griffon String Quartet and closing remarks from Lockwood. For more information, visit woodwalkgallery.com.
When I sat down to interview Jillaine Burton of Woodwalk Gallery, one of my questions was about running a gallery without being an artist. That was one of the differences between her and the previous owner, Margaret Lockwood, who showed her own oil paintings at the gallery.
Burton said that you don’t need to be an artist to be good at running a successful gallery, but it’s necessary to have a little creativity.
“I don’t think you need to be an artist,” Burton said. “You do need to have an understanding of what’s in front of you to make it look good inside. You want to create an inviting, exciting environment. So you don’t need to be an artist to do that.”
What I didn’t know, but found out through the course of the interview, is that Burton and Seefeldt are artists of a different sort: they’re furniture makers. Shortly after taking ownership of Woodwalk Gallery, they created Woodwalk Rustics to make and sell one-of-a-kind furniture pieces from reclaimed and found wood.
Burton said, “My husband is a wood geek. You know how kids bring home animals? He brings sticks in the house, and I’ll say, ‘You can only have five in the house. Go put it somewhere else.’”
Putting it somewhere else meant into the gallery. They began making display tables, with Seefeldt doing the construction and Burton doing the staining and finishing. Once the tables were installed in the gallery, they were asked about where they were from, and Woodwalk Rustics began taking shape.
They now have 13 pieces – all the wood furniture on the main level – at the Kress Pavilion in Egg Harbor. And soon after these pieces were created, they made tables for Hatch Distillery.
Growth of the furniture business has been through word of mouth, and Burton estimates they’ve made about 60 pieces total.
One of their newest ideas is to make the head table for the bride and groom for Woodwalk weddings. Once the couple, who gets to pick out the wood and design, uses it for their wedding, they can take it home to use as their dining room table. They’re making their second table now, and it seems like an ingenious idea and a perfect blend of their businesses.
For more information, find the “Woodwalk Rustics” tab at woodwalkgallery.com.