Year in Review: Between Pandemic and Politics, Art Remained Relevant

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, as Charles Dickens famously penned for the opening of A Tale of Two Cities

The worst of times were brought on by a global pandemic that at first caused galleries and studios across the county to delay openings. When they did reopen, it was under conditions that did not encourage leisurely browsing inside galleries or drawing crowds to inside spaces to enjoy art shows.

But that was just one tale during the 2020 season for Door County’s art world. The other tale was one of creating innovative ways to help residents create art at home and participate in virtual art showings. And when customers did begin returning to the peninsula, many were new visitors and younger; some were regular customers with canceled vacation money to spend on art; and others were working from home or spending more time there and wanted to add color and interest to their personal environments, if only as curated backdrops for videoconferences. 

By the time the trees had shed their leaves, it all added up to a season when art was appreciated, observed and created; when sales were higher than anticipated or better than normal; and when new visitors who had discovered Door County’s thriving arts community helped to lay the groundwork for its future success.

As Chad Luberger – owner of the Plum Bottom Galleries in downtown Egg Harbor and on Plum Bottom Road south of Egg Harbor – told us in August, “We’re anticipating a kind of explosion next year.”  

Mural Unveiled at The Clearing

An unexpected large crowd Celebrating the grand unveiling of Artist Ram Rojas new mural in the Jens Jensen Center at the Clearing Folk School in Ellison Bay, Door County, Wisconsin. Photo by Len Villano.

In a sign of the times before COVID-19, the unveiling of a mural that Ram Rojas had been working on since spring 2019 for The Clearing in Ellison Bay was unveiled at the Jens Jensen Visitor Center before a crowd of more than 50 people. The mural – which spreads across five walls around the balcony space within the visitor center – depicts Jens Jensen, founder of The Clearing; the iconic three pines west of the main lodge, with two of the walls depicting the forest edge looking down to the three pines; and Martha Fulkerson, who helped Jensen establish the school and kept it going after his death at her loom. 

A New Reality Dawns

Life began to change dramatically in early March. On the morning of March 12, the Miller Art Museum hosted Write On, Door County’s free Art/Speaks program on ekphrastic writing – writing in response to art.

The Art/Speaks events were held quarterly throughout the year at a rotating selection of venues – most frequently at Edgewood Orchard Galleries, the Kress Pavilion and the Margaret Lockwood Gallery. The coverage of the March 12 event at the Miller Art Museum seemed like it was from another time, another life. It was the last in-person event of that kind for the year.

Virtual Art Shows Debut

In April and early May, preparations continued behind the scenes for an eventual season opening. New artwork had been shipped, but artists who normally delivered their work in person were not doing so until the travel restrictions were lifted. 

Some organizations were canceling summer-season events while others delayed their decision, hopeful they might still be able to stage regular activities. Meanwhile, galleries began to increase messaging about their online resources and outdoor facilities, and virtual art shows made their debut. 

On May 16, the Ellison Bay Virtual Spring Arts Crawl took place as live Facebook events. The Miller Art Museum also made creative adjustments to its 46th Annual Salon of Door County High School Art, which opened virtually May 11 and was available for viewing through July 6. In June, the Hardy Gallery made a decision to open for an eight-week season, July 11 – Aug. 9.

Art at Home and To Go

COVID-19 did not cancel art in Door County; it simply required it to be done in a different way. Those different ways began to emerge in June. Two of them included the Peninsula School of Art’s Family Fun Fridays and Art Prompts through its online programming. Hands On Art Studio developed art-to-go kits containing ceramic and glassware projects that could be completed from the safety of home. And the Hardy Gallery proceeded with its 13th year of the Community Mosaic Project, encouraging submissions of mosaic-like installations in any medium that fit on a six-inch-by-six-inch canvas. 

20th Annual Plein Air Festival Welcomed Artists in Late July

photo by Len Villano

For 15 years, the Peninsula School of Art had presented the Door County Plein Air Art Festival, and 2020 was no different. In many ways, painting “en plein air” (French for “in full or open air”) was the ideal arts activity during a time of social distancing. 

Although the plein air artists, collectors and fans could not gather in the same way this year – and the live auction was held virtually – the festival still provided artists and art lovers with an opportunity to appreciate plein air work together.

Some In-Person Shows, Classes Held Safely

Some artists found ways this year to hold small shows and classes. One example was the Door Prize for Portraiture: the annual portrait show that Cheryl Stidwell Parker has run for the past 10 years. The show didn’t offer any food or wine, and it required masks and social distancing.

Another example was the classes that local artist Ed Fenendael offered. His watercolor workshops at Morning Mist Studio at Windmill Farm were smaller this year, with painting stations spaced widely for safety, and everyone wore masks. Because it was one of the few teaching venues open, Fenendael said bookings were strong.

Sales Surpass Expectations at Local Art Galleries

Word came from several galleries by late August and again in early October that sales had surpassed expectations, and in some cases, they were even higher than at the same time the year before. Gallery owners said they were seeing increased traffic and new customers, and repeat customers who weren’t traveling too far afield were remaining loyal through online orders. Outdoor gallery spaces were also more popular this year where they were available. 

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