If you drive northwest from Madison about 200 miles, you could find yourself in the historic, wooded little town of Downsville, Wisconsin (west of Eau Claire, south Menonomie, about an hour from the Twin Cities). And if you are interested in creating quilts and other kids of fiber art in a idyllic setting, you're in for a real treat.
Woodland Ridge Retreat (www.woodlandridgeretreat.com) is just about to celebrate its first anniversary, and owner Chris Daly has created a remarkable place for workshops and retreats. Spacious, serene lodging, group meals, and two beautiful classrooms are all housed in this peaceful contemporary building.
Between the brick entryway wall and the brick chimney to the right (above), you'll find two contemplative walled gardens that can be seen from the classrooms and sitting areas.
Inside each classroom is a fireplace, a huge design wall, adjustable tables and adjustable upholstered chairs for each of up to 12 students, Ott lights, and a wall of windows overlooking one of the gardens. Here I am (below) demonstrating some hand stitches for the seven students I had in my three-day retreat/workshop in July. I was honored to be the first instructor to run a workshop at Woodland Ridge Retreat.
With the huge design wall available, we could talk about work I had brought with me for display, and each student had lots of comfortable work space with a view.
For the three days we were working on samplers exploring the theme "Dots & Dashes: The Language of the Handmade Stitch," and I was so pleased with what each student was able to accomplish.
Marty, from Madison, brought along some of her embroidery to show the group. I find these hand-embroidered leaves (below) just beautiful. Marty showed us the box of threads she keeps in order to have a wide range of colors for subtle shading in her stitching.
Susan, also from Madison, brought some of her beautiful and whimsical embroideries to share too. The one at the bottom right was done with needle-punch embroidery, and the other three are hand embroidered with a mix of stitches. All were done from sketches she created.
In addition to three days of class, terrific meals, and time to hike, stitch, and rest, we also took a field trip over to the Mississippi River to see Cultural Cloth (http://culturalcloth.com/) in Maiden Rock, Wisconsin. Two local women started the beautiful shop as a way to help women in developing countries create hand-crafted clothing and home decor that can provide them a living wage and build both community and the economy in their areas. They've done a wonderful job. The store is full of colorful textile work from countries across the globe, and the owners are thoughtful, engaging, and engaged people to meet.
A little closer to Woodland Ridge Retreat (right next door in fact) is the home of Simply Dunn and Dunn County Pottery (http://simply-dunn.com/), a pottery studio and shop that was created and has been run by John Thomas for over 40 years. As with Woodland Ridge Retreat and Cultural Cloth, Simply Dunn exudes a feeling of warmth, compassion, gentleness, and subtle artistry. In the brief time I spent talking with John I was so impressed with his kind, gentle spirit and with the lovely, elegant functional pottery he creates.
There is a little shop in the small red building (above), and John's studio is in the building below. He also has a large wood-fired kiln in a nearby building. A few of us got to see him setting it up for firing, which was a real treat.
The main shop is housed in a historic schoolhouse. The windows in the picture below look out over a wooded valley and John and his wife's huge vegetable garden. The schoolhouse is also used for regular yoga classes, meditation sessions, and other gatherings.
A sunrise hike along the Red Cedar State Trail (http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/redcedar/), just a short walk down the road from Woodland Ridge Retreat, was a perfect way to start my final day of teaching there in July.
I'm very much looking foward to returning to teach another workshop in early 2015, and I encourage you to explore this peaceful, beautiful, soulful retreat center and community.