I break my teaching into two seasons, Winter/Spring and Fall. Between those seasons lie the Holidays (November-December) and the Summer (July-August) when I either don’t teach at all or only teach occasionally. I’m about half-way through my Winter/Spring teaching engagements, having just returned from two weeks in Wisconsin. While in the Land of All Things Cheese, I was hosted by Woodland Ridge Retreat and the Wisconsin Museum of Quilts and Fiber Arts.
Next week I’ll talk about the Museum classes, but this week I’ll stick to Woodland Ridge Retreat. This was my second visit to Downsville, having been invited back by the lovely and energetic owner Chris Daly. Chris exudes enthusiasm—she really enjoys her job, in all its many parts. She is a fellow fiber artist, her forte is fabric dying (a couple of her pieces are in the background of my crocodile quilt, Crocodylus Smylus), as well as the visionary, owner, and chef, of Woodland Ridge. She has made her dream a reality and knows how she wants it to grow in the future. As a fellow entrepreneur, I admire that.
Chris’ vision includes running a retreat center where women can share camaraderie and creativity. Her ongoing 5-day fiber art retreats happen throughout the year. Chris is a low-key sort of person that puts you at ease, plus whips up delicious meals. For this group, Chris had extra help from Nancy Blake, a student of mine from my last trip to Downsville (you’ll see her finished collage quilt in a future Finish Line post!). They even put extra effort into creating dishes for me, a vegan, to enjoy as well. It is much appreciated.
The Woodland Ridge venue is unique (in my experience) in that everything is contained in one interior, connected, and private space: lodging, dining, and workspace. You can work any time, day or night, without leaving the building. There’s a small student kitchen with refrigerator and amenities including snacks and coffee and tea. I often got up early, brewed coffee, went to the classroom, and set up for the day in pajamas and slippers—with fresh coffee in hand. Sometimes I met another early riser and sometimes not.
For breaks there are walking trails behind the center. Paths takes you through woods and across pond-studded prairie which is in the process of being rehabilitated to native species of prairie grasses and flowers. In the above photos you can see a watercress stream “flowing” through the late-winter woods. The color was striking—and the watercress delicious.
I also like that the classes there are limited to twelve students. This is the size of my own retreats here in Maine. While larger classes do seem to turn out fine, it can be more stressful for both me and my students. It’s simple math: the fewer students there are, the more attention I can give to each one.
In the photos below, smiles came easy since the projects were well on their way, the “messy/scary stage” having been successfully surmounted. Pictured left to right clockwise: Ellen Parrot with a portrait of her granddaughter; Nancy Patush and her handsome feathered fellow; Lisa Hinde posing as a family portrait with a collage of her grandmother and mother as a child; and finally myself and Barb Vlack and the portrait of her skier grandson. Barb is a traveling instructor as well and was my host and guide when I visited Prairie Star Quilters, just outside Chicago last June. I so enjoyed seeing her again and sharing some early morning coffee with her. Come to think of it, one day Barb never did get out of her pajamas. Woodland Ridge is that sort of place.
Woodland Ridge Retreat 2017 Student Work Slideshow
Thanks to all my students for allowing me to photograph and share their creative process. Enjoy.
There were times to venture out of the retreat center as well. One evening a group of us drove to Eau Claire to dine at Mona Lisa’s Restaurant. Chris, Barb, and I did our best to imitate the enigmatic smile of the original Mona Lisa.
Downsville itself, home of Woodland Ridge Retreat, is a sleepy little midwest town that has woken up a bit more since the last time I was there in September 2015. The little coffee shop is open early enough for those who prefer a walk down the road for their morning cuppa, and Simply Dunn pottery studio is open for a lunchtime stroll next door to admire their showroom in a restored octagonal schoolhouse from 1895. View those and more in the slide show below. I expect when I return in November of this year, there may be even more changes.
I’ll leave you with a recording of springtime birdsong and Canada geese calls from April 2, 2017, when I also had my first sighting of sandhill cranes, honking and flying overhead. That was the morning I left Downsville for Cedarburg—the second half of my Wisconsin story. Stay tuned for those two classes in next week’s blog post.