The subject of this newsletter was not intended to broadcast, “All Things Wisconsin!” but sometimes that’s how it works. It’s easy to proclaim the Cheesehead State’s virtues; after all I’ve been a Packer fan all of my life (pre first grade does not count). Having explored the top and the bottom of it (been on the back of a Honda 750 struggling through sandy backroads of northern Wisconsin–remote bar in the woods notwithstanding–I was in my 20’s). More currently enjoying old rambling B&Bs; I know there is still more to discover!
And I’d like to make a claim that we, here in flyover country, do have coastline. Sort of. Technically, it’s shoreline because we’re talking a lake and a river. Lake Michigan, known as a sportsman’s paradise and the St. Croix, a National Scenic Riverway. Two significant bodies of water each in their own way. They frame Wisconsin quite nicely.
Okay, let’s look at a map and we’ll begin on the left side of the map. Normally maps aren’t read left to right–everyone zooms in to find where they are or where they want to be, but we’ll start on the left. The St. Croix River or Wisconsin’s Left Coast, named for the purposes of this story, is part wild river, narrow valley with cliffs, rocky outcroppings and primordial valley. The Wisconsin side is a little higher than the Minnesota side. Since 1911, this area has been under the watchful eye of environmental citizens groups (hence its continuous pristine beauty) and only recently has construction started to replace the old Stillwater (MN) lift bridge with a newer bridge that lets traffic flow more easily from state to state. Pros and cons of that legislation are to be set aside, but as you may guess the Left Coast has a fluid border with neighborly Minnesota. Hudsonians regularly accommodate Minnesotans who forgot to buy beer prior to Sunday football parties. Not to digress.
Wisconsin’s Left Coast is a fiber arts feast. Up and down the St. Croix, in its riverfront towns which herald an architectural style from the late 1800’s, there are some very special places to see. In the heyday of logging, Stillwater and Hudson were bawdy, raucous towns with all of the lively establishments that went with that lifestyle. Now, the culture is a nuanced contemporary spin on a lively weekend getaway. The river still plays a major role–but this time with pleasure boaters who flee the city on Friday nights and spend time cruising up and down the ancient glacial St. Croix river valley.
Let’s take a look at Hudson. If you are interested in wool in all its forms, there are a couple of places I suggest. Robbin Firth, who is a felting artist has a wonderful studio inside an equally wonderful art gallery/shop. Robbin uses fleece, wool fabric and her patented Palm Washboard felting tool to make unbelievable felted creations. Robbin teaches classes and is in the studio at Seasons on the St. Croix Gallery daily working her magic with wool. Stop by and say hi! Seasons also stocks weaving from Kelly Marshall, needlefelted figures by Christine McGinnis, decorative furniture with rug hooking by Kim Kaelin, baskets by Mariene Meyer and many more. Heading up the hill to Magnolia’s on Locust, which looks like a clothing store from the front, Paulette Wentzlaff has a fabulous wool room in the back. She dyes her own fabric from a white base or overdyes existing color and patterns. Paulette hosts workshops and classes year round.
Just for fun, I stopped into Abigail Page Antique Mall and discovered a treasure trove of vintage textiles. Cotton, linen, embroidered, crochet, woven, print and some older quilts. They stock quite a few–you’ll have to sleuth around the shop a bit, but it’s worth it. The prices are reasonable and the product is in good shape. It’s a dealer cooperative, but the whole place is well organized with great looking presentation. If you’re looking for an overdye project or printed fabric to use a base for your zen-like embroidery skills, check it out.
Heading east, I ventured a bit inland to Roberts. I’d heard of Color Crossing but hadn’t ever been there. Unfortunately, the shop was closed that day but now I know why it’s called Color Crossing! Right next to the train tracks. I’ve heard this shop caters to those who love fiber and yarn–with a special fondness for weavers.
The St. Croix was really high the day I was there as seen by the park benches and picnic tables. While this isn’t specifically related to fiber arts, it is a very interesting project and one that would lead you on an art adventure up and down the scenic St. Croix. It’s the Art Bench Trail. The Phipps Center for Arts in Hudson along with support from the National Park Service and the St. Croix Valley Foundation have involved communities and citizens of all ages. There are seven benches that showcase a local artists’ working with communities. More Info
Onward to Lake Michigan’s lovely shoreline–the Right Coast!
Okay, let’s check out the right side of the Wisconsin map and look for Cedarburg. A small town situated north of Milwaukee along Lake Michigan. In its early days, Cedar Creek played a major role in setting up the grist mill and a woolen mill which became the area’s commercial foundation. Recognized years ago for its charming stone buildings and beautiful surrounds, Cedarburg has been a destination for big city visitors (some on their way to Door County) and many buildings have been placed on the National Historic Register. As with many other picturesque communities, they flourish with a strong connection to the arts.
The fiber arts centerpiece of this area in Wisconsin is the Wisconsin Museum of Quilts and Fiber Arts (WMQFA). It is a reflection of the local heritage and culture and at the same time, represents some of the best fiber art in all of Wisconsin. The idea for the museum was originally seeded in 1988 when a group of quilters in SE Wisconsin founded the Wisconsin Quilt History Project. The mission of the Quilt History Project was to preserve the history and creativity expressed in quilts. The group went on to document the stories behind 8000 quilts and published an award-winning book, Wisconsin Quilts: History in the Stitches, (second edition 2009).
In 2001, the group purchased a farm east of Cedarburg. With its seven original stone and timber structures, the Hoffman-Boeker farmstead was an opportunity to preserve historic buildings within the Cedarburg area and to offer plenty of room for future museum expansion. Ten years later, the museum opened its doors with a newly refurbished barn that acts as gallery and education center. The gallery space is beautiful with the high barn ceiling and aged timber walls. It’s dramatic and the quilts look very much at home here. More Info
WMQFA has a very active events and education calendar with book signings, quilt exhibits, classes and a special workshop they call University Day upcoming in October, 2014. The topic is wool–all about wool! WMQFA is a very active community partner, too. Currently they are partnering with the Cedarburg Library to make a community quilt that will hang in the public space.
The Cedarburg Woolen Mill is also not to be missed. Located in the heart of Cedarburg along the creek, the mill has been in operation since 1864. The mill uses vintage machinery patented in 1860 and when it’s in operation, it runs very quietly. It is fascinating to watch the machines work. The mill makes wool batts crib to queen size without stretching. Farmers can send their fiber to the mill freshly sheared or cleaned and carded. Tours are available, please contact Kay Walters for specific information. www.cedarburgwoolenmill.com
Downtown Cedarburg is very charming with stone buildings, chocolate shops and plenty of coffee shops. I’ve stayed at the Washington Inn and the breakfasts were very yummy. If you feel like driving up the shore to Kewaunee County, there are eighteen barn quilts on historically significant farms such as Century Farms where the farm has been in the same family for 100 years. It’s noted they hung most of the quilts on the barns in the middle of a snowstorm (#Frozen Tundra). Here’s a tour map.
The Fiber Arts Trails are not only about fiber, but local history, too. As I was gathering info for this road trip story, I came across a website that is devoted to historical markers in Wisconsin. More Info
Have a great time!
“A sacred landscape is not simply a backdrop for action, but rather a place filled with names, associations and memories that link together everything present there. Humans become linked to the rocks, trees, animals, rivers, mountains and these bonds guide future human interaction with that place.” –Christopher Tilley, A Phenomenology of Landscape: Places, Paths and Monuments