Welcome back to our blog series on fun things to do in Door County this fall! Door County is a magical place with so many amazing activities all year round, but there’s something especially wondrous about a fall trip up to Wisconsin’s spectacular peninsula. The other-worldly colors, the crisp, cool air, a visit to Door County just can’t be beat.
Ellison Bay Pottery Studios has the handcrafted pottery that you’re sure to love, but we also have the inside scoop on places to check out in Door County. Stay tuned for some great fall activities, and stop by or shop online from Ellison Bay Pottery Studios today!
With the many Halloween-themed activities that happen in Door County, the end of October is an excellent time to visit — particularly for families with kids who love dressing up. Jack O’Lantern Days in Fish Creek is great for trick-or-treating, mask making, a costume contest, and even has live owls that kids can observe. Thrills on Third is another great Halloween opportunity, where Sturgeon Bay features activities such as pumpkin painting, walks through haunted houses, a costume parade, and slime making. Both of these events take place the weekend of October 26th.
Apple pies and crisps, cherry cobblers, pumpkin muffins, fresh seafood — whether you’re checking out a farmers market or dining at an exceptional foodie restaurant (which are truly everywhere in Door County), there are infinite foods to enjoy and try while you’re on the peninsula. For some truly unique and delicious meals, try the cheese curd pizza at the Wild Tomato in Fish Creek, a whitefish kimchi BLT from Wickman House in Ellison Bay, or some Swedish fare at Al Johnson’s — and be sure to check the roof for some surprise guests!
One of everyone’s favorite things to do in Door County is to visit all the wonderfully quaint shops that dot the peninsula’s streets. From clothing and local food items (cherry jam and homemade cheese, to name a few) to handcrafted pottery, you simply can’t go wrong when you spend some time shopping in Door County. Park your car in one of the staple towns, such as Fish Creek, Ellison Bay, or Sister Bay, and stroll around while window- or actual shopping. Not only are you finding some excellent souvenirs for yourself, you’re supporting local businesses as well.
Ellison Bay Pottery Studios offers free demonstrations for visitors! Our handcrafted pottery is unique in many ways — each piece is handmade and individual, but also functional, and can hold food and liquids, as well as go in the dishwasher and microwave. You can witness first hand the process that goes into making our handcrafted pottery, and find incredible gifts to take back home with you. Whether for yourself or for a loved one, a piece of handmade pottery is a timeless and thoughtful souvenir.
We’re located at the very northernmost part of Door County, in beautiful Ellison Bay. Stop by our store or shop our online collections — we hope to see you and are thankful for your business!Continue reading
Something that every Wisconsinite (and many an Illinoisan) know is that there’s no better place to visit than Door County in the fall. The incredible colors of the deciduous forests, the striking landscape of rock and water, a trip to Door County is one of unparalleled beauty. There are so many reasons to come up to the peninsula all throughout autumn, which is why Ellison Bay Pottery Studios has compiled a list of the best activities for the season. Take a look at our list, and while you’re driving around, stop by our Door County pottery studio for demonstrations, gifts, and incredible artwork!
“Stunning” is about the only word that best describes Wisconsin’s scenic peninsula. In autumn, the vistas become even more mesmerizing. Drive up Northport Road for some winding fall views, all the way up the peninsula. Make sure you spend some time at Peninsula State Park in Fish Creek — on a warm day, renting bikes is ideal. Heading east towards the Lake Michigan side, you’ll see some wonderful beach views and one of the impressive Great Lakes, which will probably make you feel like you’re standing at the ocean instead of the edge of Wisconsin. These are just some ideas, but there’s not a bad view in sight when you’re traveling up through Door County.
With ferry rides leaving every hour on the hour (from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.) from right here in Ellison Bay, you can traverse up to the beautiful Washington Island. Check out the hidden Stavkirke, an historic replica of a Scandinavian church, as well as Schoolhouse Beach, a pebble beach with crystalline water that’s sure to bring a sense of serenity to everyone who visits.
You’ll need to drive around on Washington Island, but it’s not a problem — cars can be driven onto and transported across the water!
Just down the road from our Door County pottery studio in Egg Harbor is the annual Pumpkin Patch Festival, held this year on October 5th and 6th. With live music, food and drink tents, carnival rides, and games for every kid to enjoy, it’s guaranteed to be fall fun for the whole family. It’s a pretty busy weekend, so it’s recommended to get there earlier. View the schedule of events here.
In addition to the Pumpkin Patch Festival, there are tons of other fun fall festivals to check out in Door County each fall. The Apple Festival in Sister Bay, the Townline Art Fair in Ephraim, the Autumn Lighthouse Festival featured at the Maritime Museum — the list goes on and on!Our next blog will cover even more incredible fall activities for you to enjoy. Door County is a magical place to visit, and you can make your trip even more special by stopping by Ellison Bay Pottery Studios. With demonstrations and ideal Door County pottery gifts that everyone will love, this is one stop you don’t want to miss on your trip. We look forward to seeing you, but if you can’t make it this time around, shop our collections online! Continue reading
This year, as all we know, has been full of major changes and huge announcements that have rocked the world. We’ve got the biggest one of all to announce:
John’s short story begins way back in 1966, the Dark Ages to some. While John was hanging out with friends in the pottery studio at the Peninsula School of Art in Fish Creek, a friend said ’You should try this, John’ meaning throw on the potters wheel. John threw a dog dish. He. Was. Hooked. What big changes can you look for? You'll see them in the gallery, in our newsletter and blog and social media especially Instagram which is particularly good for images. But first, more about John. Without him and his hard work I'd have nothing to tell you.
After finishing college and a year in graduate school he knew he wanted to be a studio potter so in 1967 he talked to Abe Cohn, a Wisconsin master potter with a studio/gallery in both Milwaukee and Fish Creek about an assistant’s position. After 6 years with Abe and his wife Ginka he bought the property in Ellison Bay and started his own studio and gallery: Ellison Bay Pottery.
So for me, for us, here, this is a very important milestone. It’s wonderful to look at photos of the barn as it was and as it is today. John has wonderful stories of how it was to live in this big wooden tent with no well and no septic and no heat for three years. He worked hard to create the gallery and then studio in the first year so he could be in business as quickly as possible. His living quarters came last, but eventually everything was done. All the while he was working in his studio developing his skills, his ‘voice’, distinctive his style, his signature, his glazes. Surrounded by his various cats and dogs that made up his ‘Ellison Bay Pottery and Pet Farm’ he was often guided by those adorable creatures. This is Bibs giving John a should massage, or suggestions.
After all those years of creating a successful design and recognizable signature, we as artists are faced with choices: To continue down the safe road or venture off into the unknown. Stretching creative muscles isn’t easy and coasting on past successes is very, very easy. It’s also boring. No one wants to be bored, or boring!! So I’ll reveal a few new things we’ve been working this month.
Ikebana Mug Dish
John and I are in the middle of developing a new ikebana. It’s going to be completely hand-built. Look at these photos as a potter’s sketchbook. We expect to see changes. The first iteration will be fired and ready to show you soon and then we begin change it again! These photos are of green-ware: pottery that is just drying and not even close to what they will look like when completed. The mug has a new foot (that's what we call bottoms of things) and a different surface design. My square dishes are continuing to evolve.
While we are committed to functional pottery that can be used every day, the need to make decorative ceramic art is deep. John is working on a series, which he is currently calling his 'Planet' series which is beyond exciting to me. These were shot in the studio, not very good lighting. But their shapes don't need good lighting.
There was a time, years and years ago, when Ephraim was our family's vacation destination. Then my folks bought a hotel in Ephraim and I started cleaning bathrooms. I got summer jobs in the tourism industry, mostly housekeeping and dish-washing and as a server. I went to college and finally married and moved to Baileys Harbor to become a ------ dairy farmer/dairy farmer's wife. Yeah. How did that happen?
Years after that, once I sold the cows and machinery, I moved myself and my four children to Ellison Bay and married a potter. It didn't take long before I noticed that the seasonality of my previous dairy life was similar to our studio and gallery life.
On the farm in Baileys Harbor, the job I hated the most was picking stones in fields, preparing them for planting. Hate is a strong word, I understand that. But it doesn't even get close to how much I loathed that job.
Door County's soil is mostly rock with a little dirt thrown in. If you've gardened here you'd be nodding in agreement. Look around as you drive through the county and you'll see those cute rock fences. Those were made by farm families every spring. Parents and children, and if they could afford it a hired man, would walk out or ride the bucket attached to the front of a tractor, to the first field to be cleared of stones. A seed planter can be damaged by rocks and stones in the field, so this was a very important, never ending, chore. Winter with it's freezing and thawing heaved new rocks and stones up from the core of the earth to make my life a living hell each spring.
In small fields we'd fill up the bucket on the tractor and Dave (my first husband) would then drive it over to the rock fence that seemed a little thin and drop those rocks. With larger fields, we'd pull an old manure spreader into the field and fill that up. We'd each carry a white plastic five gallon bucket and fill it. Then walk over to the spreader. Dump. Repeat. Our two older kids shared the bucket and would help each other carry it to the spreader, but they needed Daddy to pick it up for them. They were probably better at picking rocks than I was because I was so crabby about having to do this task.
It was a cold, damp, dirty, hard job. But vital to our survival and success on the farm. We all worked together as a family, something that built a strength in our family.
When I moved my family to Ellison Bay, it wasn't obvious to me just how much my life on the farm, with it's cyclical nature, would have prepared me to life in the tourism industry. Farms had better months for milk production and pottery galleries have better months for pottery production and income generating.
The seasons corresponded as well. January milk production would drop based on the fertility of our cows and, as everyone knows, Door County is totally closed after Christmas. (That's a joke by the way. It's people's perception that everything is closed so they don't come up and then businesses have to close for the winter because no one comes up; that's the Circle of Life--cue the music).
What we did on the farm in the winter was maintain and repair machinery. We deep cleaned the milk house and updated records. Researched how to get a better yield with better seeds and how to improve the genetics of our cow's offspring and keeping our cattle healthy consumed us and increase milk production. I'd spring clean the house in the winter so in the spring I could be outside picking those damned rocks.
In the studio we learn what pottery sold the best last year, what glazes were most popular, what new items we've been thinking about should be made. We create plans for events, for inventory building, for maintenance and repair inside and outside of the gallery. Paperwork. Improvements in the business, advertising to try and to drop. And we make pottery, lots of pottery, so that our shelves are full when we open the doors in May, or April, or whenever people start driving down the driveway a lot and we put up the open sign for good.
Building an inventory can feel not so arty and more like a business, yet we have to think of what we do as a combination of creativity and taking creative risks and practical pragmatic decisions and jobs that must be done. In order to keep our creative muscles strong we give ourselves some time each day to play with clay, to experiment with textures, or shapes or watch a YouTube video on a different way to fabricate a box or mug. There are jobs that are not so cool such as recycling scraps of clay using the pug mill, with smells really bad and is loud. That's John's job. Keeping the inventory straight is mine. All of these little things combined plus commitment to going to the studio and working every day is both ordinary and extraordinary.
I mentioned the job I hated on the farm was picking stones. One of the reasons was that there are so many sizes, from grapefruit sizes to Cadbury Egg size and smaller. We had to have a limit or it would have taken days to clear one field of all stones and rocks. But there was an upside. Sometimes I would find pink quartz. Sometimes I'd find granite rocks. Sometimes I would find amazing fossils. If I could get over my disgust with this essential job I could get into the treasure hunting excitement that even my kids, who were under 10, had. Learning about the geology of Door County became a passion of mine. I've always collected rocks and stones and they moved with me for over 40 years. I remember where I got each one. My Mom collected stones and rocks, as did my maternal Grandmother and they kept those collections close, like lining up the precious stones on the window sill in front of the kitchen sink overlooking the garden they came from.
Then one day I meet a potter and begin learning a completely different aspect of stones. Of granite. Learning where clay comes from. How it's created, by the earth, over millions and millions of years. How we can transform this sticky plastic material into a kind of stone when we fired it just to it's melting point.
I miss so much of my previous farming life: working with my children in the barn or field. Dealing with my 'girls' in the barn and out in the field. Fetching my 'girls' in the pasture at 4:00 am every morning and seeing shooting stars and amazing northern lights. Slipping into the barn at 10:00 pm to give them one more slice of hay.
Then I think of how I, right after dinner, slip into the studio to cover up some project I've been working on, watch John at the wheel, sketch my ideas everywhere, write, meet people who fall in love with John's work, greet returning customers. I get to create a display in the gallery. We get to have a picnic on our porch for lunch every day during the busy season.
Best time to walk the dog?
Early morning when the air is crisp and pungent with the the mix of smells and aromas from the grasses, the apple and cedar trees, the late summer flowers.
Bo is interested in that squirrel scrambling up the tree, the tasty treats (we call them bugs) on the ground and those smells only he's aware of. I want to stop listen to the few birds that are talking, the far away sound of cars on the highway, the silence of the trees around me.
He wants to go.
I woke up before the alarm, again, to the sound of the sandhill cranes to the east discussing something. Weather? Which route to take today? Who leads? Is there a leader? I don't know. Their call transports me millions of years ago. I try to imagine this land that I live on before people were here. Before the ice age that changed everything for this place. I can't.
Every morning is special here. If I can get up early enough, I can own the silence. At the end of August there's an urgency to get up early and not miss one. Winter is coming, and it's just as wonderful to sip my coffee outside on a brilliant blue sunny winter morning, but the moments don't last like today's.
When I can sit outside on my painted bench and take a Door County mini vacation.
Hurray----It's summer in Door County and...........
it's hot and humid right now, I left the air conditioner in the gallery on this evening and I'm sitting in coolness enjoying myself and writing this letter. I think I'll sleep here!
Door County was called the "Air Conditioned Playground of the Midwest" years ago for years but not anymore. We have steamy hot days and nights when the fan doesn't do much but move the sticky air around.
Anyway, that's not the only thing that's hot here at the studio. We just had a firing and John unloaded the kiln today. You can go over to our Facebook page and see the new pots right now.
Work in Progress......
Here's one John and I created together. We think it's amazing. Can't even tell you how I felt when I saw it this afternoon. Stop in the gallery. We'll have the pots on the shelves by Monday.Or you can wait a week and come to our Anniversary/Birthday party on Saturday, August 22 from 1-5 and party with us as we celebrate 41 years here at EBP and John's 72nd birthday. I wrote a blog post sharing my thoughts on anniversaries and birthdays which you can read here.
We'll have cupcakes and refreshing beverages and stimulating conversation all afternoon. Please come.
Our September 'AMOST PERFECT POTTERY SALE' is coming up soon. It's one day only--Saturday September 12, 10-5. I'll send a reminder early September, but put it on your calendar.
ON THE BLOG!
A delegation from Jingdezhen was in Door County in July and they came up to our studio for a short talk and visit. (Eleven years ago Jingdezhen and Door County became Sister Cities; and two years ago John and I were members of a Door County delegation that were guests of Jingdezhen.) The delegation consisted of doctors and an administrator and they were most interested in learning about our health care system in Door County. They got to experience a good ol' Door County potluck and brat fry, visit some of the our parks and meet people. I've got more about that experience on our blog.
Thank you for reading.
One more thing. We're on TripAdvisor and we'd so appreciate it if you would leave us a comment or review. If you have a suggestion or criticism, email us. We're always looking to improve everything we do. Thank you very much.
I mark my days, weeks, months, years by what's happened in the past. Two years ago this October we went to China. Twenty-one years ago John and I married. Seventeen years ago John's Dad died and my Mom died. There are birthdays and holidays and weddings scattered throughout these years. It's easy to forget how much my past influences my decisions today, so making a point of remembering these moments and even celebrating them brings my attention to how important they are to me now.
Actually, since we work hard every day making pottery, mowing the lawn, washing the dishes, weeding the garden, talking to customers, demonstrating in our studio, vacuuming the gallery floors, sweeping the cobwebs that re-appear daily, making a big deal of an anniversary may even seem like one more chore on my To Do list. And I even groan and whine to myself, why do I have to throw a party, again.
Because we should pay attention to what we've done. We should honor the hours spent in the studio or gallery or on the lawn mower, that kept us here for forty-one years. We should stop and appreciate our own selves, and then share that amazement with our friends. We are amazed that it's already been forty-one years in Ellison Bay at EBP.
It IS a big deal, and on Saturday, August 22 from 1-5 we're going Celebrate our 41st year here AND John's 72nd Birthday all at once. We're going to eat cupcakes and sip something cold and refreshing and toast ourselves and YOU, all of our friends. We'd enjoy ourselves a whole lot more if you were here to celebrate this with us.