Posted Dec 2, 2009; 3:57 AM
Holiday season inspires Door County artists
Winter-themed works sold in local galleries
By Heather Freckmann
Conventional wisdom must be having a difficult time keeping up with the Door County art community. For years, visitors knew the best time to visit local artists and see their latest work was between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Then, with the explosion of Egg Harbor’s Pumpkin Patch and the Sister Bay Fall Festival, the color season became the most popular time of year.
These days, that line in the sand has shifted almost into the new year, with art enthusiasts, tourists, and both seasonal and year-round residents seeking out their favorite artists in November and December for seasonal work.
A surprising number of Door County artists now count holiday- and Christmas-themed art among their specialties.
David Frykman of Sister Bay’s Frykman Studio Gallery is renowned for his original, one-of-a-kind wood carvings, crafted primarily from local Eastern white cedar, finished with oil and acrylic paints and signed by the artist. His artwork incorporates Santas, Santa faces, Santa plaques, ornaments, angels, snowmen, Father Christmas and evergreen trees.
Frykman said he carved his first Santa in 1994, and his family influenced that direction in his professional life.
“I have an old photo of my Aunt Florence, who was a sculptor by profession, and my mom holding a stuffed Father Christmas they had made for some contest in Duluth, Minn.,” he recalled. “I never saw that Santa, other than in the picture, and I don’t even remember meeting Aunt Florence, but I grew up with her work all around the house. Talk about inspiration.
“I honestly learned sculpture at my mother’s knee,” he said. “We were always making something. I recall helping as she constructed a 2-foot-square street-corner scene for a Christmas newspaper contest in the 1950s.”
Frykman said nothing makes him happier than seeing someone smile in response to his artwork.
“People do like to smile,” he said. “I’ve never done well with grouchy Santas.”
For information, call (920) 854-7351 or visit www.frykmangallery.com.
Also in Sister Bay is another mainstay of the Christmas art scene, Pipka’s of Door County. Owner Pipka Ulvilden has created and taught art for more than 35 years, and her chosen mediums include paintings, collage and jewelry. She has built a reputation as a Christmas Santa designer, producing 5- and 6-inch Santa collectible figures, 4-inch Santa ornaments and 3-inch miniatures. Her artwork also includes specialty Santas, angel and Madonna figures, collage ornaments and cards.
Ulvilden’s family came to the United States in 1949, fleeing post-war Europe and building a new life in a small-town in North Dakota. Of Czech and German descent, they maintained many traditional customs, and Ulvilden has said that their Christmas traditions particularly influenced her future as an artist.
“I realized people were hungry for something that represented their heritage, their roots,” she wrote.
Ulvilden incorporates Old World designs into her original artwork, and she frequently travels to Europe during the holiday season to experience different countries’ authentic Christmas celebrations.
For information, call (920) 829-9235 or visit http://www.pipkasofdoorcounty .com.
Farther north, in Ellison Bay, Clay Bay Pottery offers mugs, tiles and plates with holiday themes. Owners David and Jeanne Aurelius feature their own work in the popular gallery, alongside that of 10 other artists.
David Aurelius said they have been creating holiday-themed artwork since they founded the gallery in 1976.
“We love to create mugs, bowls, lamp ladies and handbuilt pieces and tiles,” he said. “It brings us great joy.”
He also reported that the gallery’s regular clientele proves particularly loyal during the holiday season.
“People come back again and again,” he said. “They say, ‘It wouldn’t be a real trip to Door County if we didn’t stop at Clay Bay.'”
For information, call (920) 854-5027 or visit www.claybaypottery.net.
Moving south to Fish Creek, artist Erik Rinkleff features a series of holiday-themed wood carvings at his Rustic Fish Gallery, which he owns and operates with his wife and fellow artist, MaryAnn.
“I’m a creative person, I love to design, and I enjoy working with wood,” he said. “I’ve always carved Santas and snowmen, because, when I first got started, all my carvings were gifts for family and friends.
“Everyone likes the holiday carvings,” he said. “It’s the same in the gallery. I’m a caricature carver, and I try to have a variety of farmers, fishermen, woodsmen, wood spirits and so on, but the Santas and snowmen are what most people want.”
Rinkleff’s artistic process is an organic one, and he said he truly enjoys it.
“Every once in awhile, right in the middle of the carving, I’ll try something new or go in a completely different direction,” he said. “When this works out, those are the pieces I like the best, because they are such a surprise.”
According to Rinkleff, the gallery’s customers enjoy looking at the detailing of his chip-carved pieces, especially those that are chip-carved on eight sides.
“Most appreciate the time that goes into each piece,” he said. “When I’m carving in the gallery, I’ll hear ‘Oh my gosh, just look at the detail in this one.’ That’s the best feedback you can ask for.”
MaryAnn Rinkleff has her own specialty through Little Fish Studios — greeting cards, including a series with holiday themes. Each features her original photography.
“I started shooting in 2001 when I moved to Door County,” she said. “Holiday cards were a no-brainer addition to my greeting card line; people are always looking for a different type of holiday card.”
The cards feature meditative imagery, primarily of plants and flowers.
Also in Fish Creek is the Kathy Glasnap Gallery. Glasnap, a self-taught watercolorist, opened her cottage gallery in 1996, and her work is regularly commissioned by the National Wildlife Federation, the Humane Society, Father Nature Cards and Artistic Greetings. Known for her depictions of rural Americana, Glasnap has become well-known for her holiday greeting cards.
“In 1992, the National Wildlife Federation found me and asked me to do their holiday cards,” she said.
When her NWF contact left and formed Pumpernickel Press, the press took over Glasnap’s cards. She said NWF still uses her cards, but today, the organization obtains them through the press. The cards are printed on recycled paper with an embossed weave texture, using soy-based inks.
Visitors to the gallery may also see a few of her original prints from which the holiday cards were made. For information, call (920) 839-2110, or visit www.glasnapgallery.com.
Sturgeon Bay-based artist Marjory Allingham also inhabits the world of holiday-themed art with her Old World-influenced Christmas ornaments, which she has crafted for two decades.
“I buy plain ornaments — blown glass, leaded crystal — from the Czech Republic and paint on them,” she said. “They were available in Germany for a long time, and then all of a sudden, I saw them in a catalog here.
“Sometimes I’ll do a holiday design on a pin,” she added, “and I’ve painted Christmas cards and copied them on the computer.”
Allingham’s ornaments are available for purchase in Sturgeon Bay through the Miller Art Museum’s Holiday Gift Shop. Her work also appears at the Stone Harbor Resort gift shop in Sturgeon Bay and at Dovetail Gallery in Egg Harbor.
Sturgeon Bay artist Pat Olson offers holiday-themed pieces; her whimsical paintings have been licensed specifically as designs for the gift industry.
Her gallery is at 624 Kentucky St. For information, call (920) 743-8148.
Many of these artists are deepening their involvement in the holiday season through local events.
Clay Bay Pottery will show its work at the Friends of Gibraltar Holiday Art Fair in Sister Bay, scheduled for Nov. 27-28 at the Sister Bay Village Hall. It also has joined forces with Ellison Bay Pottery, Gills Rock Stoneware, Turtle Ridge Gallery, Newport House Gallery and The Clearing for the Ellison Bay Arts Holiday Open House that same weekend.
During the open house, participating galleries will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and have special offerings for visitors, along with refreshments like eggnog at Turtle Ridge and hikes at The Clearing.
“Each gallery has specials, such as drawings for free art and new pieces just for the holidays,” said Diane McNeil of Ellison Bay Pottery.
According to McNeil, Ellison Bay Arts started a series of art crawls seven years ago to bring focus on the community arts scene.
“We are a small town but have quite a concentration of working artists that is unique to Door County,” she said. “Also, we believe Ellison Bay is how Door County used to be: a little quieter (with) a slower pace that inspires all the artists living and working here.”
This year, the Door County Maritime Museum and Lighthouse Preservation Society hosts a Holiday Ornament Showcase at its Sturgeon Bay facility. The showcase, a silent auction to benefit the museum, incorporates work of about 40 artists in clay, fabric, enamel, pottery, wood, glass, metal, beads, ceramics and sculpture.
And the work includes more than ornaments. According to Lucy Richter, who worked with the museum to coordinate the holiday fundraising event, unique art items include prints by Karsten Topelmann and Cal Bonniver.
The silent auction concludes at the museum’s Dec. 8 Holiday Member Mixer. For information, call (920) 743-5958 or visit www.dcmm.org.
And, finally, the Miller Art Museum in downtown Sturgeon Bay is once again hosting its Holiday Gift Shop, which opened Nov. 14 in conjunction with the museum’s latest traveling exhibition, “Birds in Art.” The gift shop includes ceramics, cards, ornaments, jewelry and much more; it will be open through Dec. 30.
To learn more, call 920-746-0707 or visit www. millerartmuseum.org.
It’s a good time to visit artists in their studios and get a closer view of their works in progress.