Woodwalk Gallery Enters New Hands

Andrew Seefeldt jokes that the first change people will see at Woodwalk Gallery when the season opens May 1 will be a billboard in front of the rustic gallery-venue-concert space:

“Answer to the first question: We’re not changing anything.”

It has been a well-rehearsed line for Seefeldt and his wife, Jillaine Burton, since the couple officially took ownership of the gallery last May. But the arts community here would be forgiven for not noticing the change – Woodwalk’s former owners, Margaret Lockwood and Allin Walker, just finished their last season managing the gallery in October, allowing Seefeldt and Burton a season to watch the inner workings of hosting artist receptions, weddings and the popular Woodwalk summer concert series.

Now six weeks before the opening of Woodwalk Gallery’s 2016 season, Seefeldt and Burton are putting the final touches on the very small changes they hope will enhance what has long been a well-respected part of the Door County arts community.

“Woodwalk Gallery is a really great art gallery, it’s a really great wedding venue, and it’s a really great place to have concerts,” Burton said. “Those things came into play each at different times but have become part of the brand image of Woodwalk Gallery. Margaret and Allin really built a wonderful foundation for us to elevate, to enhance it, to make a little bit more cohesive picture.”

The Woodwalk Concert Series will remain part of the gallery's offerings. Photo by Len Villano.

The Woodwalk Concert Series will remain part of the gallery’s offerings. Photo by Len Villano.

The new owners come to Egg Harbor from Manitowoc, where Seefeldt recently retired after 27 years as facilities maintenance team leader at Kohler Company. Burton continues working part time at Kohler in the architecture and interior design department.

While Burton points to 25 years of visiting Door County as proof of her familiarity with the community, it wasn’t until five years ago when she co-founded the nonprofit Open Door Bird Sanctuary with Rob Hults that she considered making the move to the peninsula.

As things picked up with the sanctuary’s programming and plans for construction, Burton and Seefeldt realized it was time to take a leap. They began searching for jobs and when that proved fruitless, they came to the conclusion of so many Door County transplants before them.

“We kind of came to the conclusion that if we were going to be able to support ourselves adequately, we would need to buy our jobs,” Burton said. “So then we shifted our mentality to buying a business.”

A few months later, they heard that Woodwalk Gallery was for sale.

“We saw it in January when there were two feet of snow on the ground,” Burton said.

“It was 10 above outside,” Seefeldt said. “But we saw through all of that. It really wowed us.”

While neither considered themselves artists, they come to the gallery with histories rich in creativity and the arts – Burton was once a professional ballet dancer, has a fashion design degree and for a time, worked in the fashion industry. She also has a design-build background in remodeling while Seefeldt owned his own landscaping business in Manitowoc.

“You’re working with the same principles an artist works with, just different mediums,” Burton said. “I think I have enough of that perspective to appreciate what everyone as an artist is doing.”

They also have the perspective to appreciate everything that has come before them at Woodwalk Gallery, thus their focus on creating a more holistic picture of what the business is all about – offering a beautiful country space for guests to appreciate art, nature and music.

To do that, they planned a few slow and subtle changes to the landscape and building: more sculptural work indoors and out, and converting studio space into display space for artwork and a “ready room” for brides and musicians, along with placement of a pergola in the meadow to offer another option for wedding ceremonies on the property.

Wedding rental days are being expanded to Thursday through Sunday, and the couple is hoping to attract more than just nuptials to their venue.

“There are lots of other things that we would love to have,” Burton said. “For instance, the Sevastopol junior prom is going to be here in May. The kids approached us and I just thought that was so cool … we want to have this kind of thing.”

Door County musician Hans Christian will perform during the gallery's opening reception for its first show, "Metamorphosis," Memorial Day weekend. Photo by Andrew Seefeldt.

Door County musician Hans Christian will perform during the gallery’s opening reception for its first show, “Metamorphosis,” Memorial Day weekend. Photo by Andrew Seefeldt.

Woodwalk Gallery will also continue its collaborations with other Door County organizations. This summer, they will host four Midsummer’s Music Festival concerts and plan to add a special twist to each of them.

“For each one of the concerts, a [Woodwalk Gallery] artist volunteered to do a custom piece based on a selection of music from the concert that evening,” Burton explained.

Each piece of artwork will be unveiled during the concert and the artist is invited to give a brief talk on their creation. The first exhibition of the year will open Memorial Day weekend and be accompanied by the music of Sturgeon Bay musician Hans Christian.

Titled “Metamorphosis,” the show, dreamed up by Lockwood and Burton, will represent the evolution of not only the gallery’s artists but of the gallery itself.

“Everyone is participating and it will be a small photo of an early piece of work of theirs next to what they do currently,” Burton said. “Basically to kind of celebrate the same transition in ownership but the name is still there, those artists are still the same people but it’s evolved and maybe showing something that they think is better than what they did originally. Just a cool way to celebrate that transition.”

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