My last teaching of the year was at a location that I also traveled to in April of this year—Woodland Ridge Retreat in Downsville, Wisconsin. In April’s post I shared how owner, Chris Daly, has established this retreat center for women to gather for creative get-aways. I recommend referring back to that post for an easy read about the retreat center, the walking trails behind it, and the little town of Downsville itself. This was my third time teaching here and each time Chris has moved forward with her artistic vision for the center.

In contrast to my previous week’s class at Art Quilt Tahoe where there were ten instructors, this is a one-instructor deal in a self-contained rambling building. One can park a car and not touch it for the duration of the five days—class, dining, and lodging are just down a couple hallways from each other. In other words, my walking shoes were traded out for the other pair of shoes I brought along, my slip-on Crocs.

It’s the kind of place where fuzzy slippers are not uncommon. I once again took advantage of the home-like quality of the space to pad down to the kitchen in my p.j.’s, get coffee going (if my student Sally hadn’t beat me me to it), and set up for the day’s instruction in the early morning quiet.

After all the early morning walks at Lake Tahoe, I was lulled into a more relaxed pace at Woodland Ridge. The rooms look onto acres and acres of woods, paths, and ponds and include quilts that Chris herself has made. I found myself inspired to kick back and just watch the day arrive with a book in my lap and a cuppa in my hand.

And also as before, Chris plied me with meals designed with my vegan diet in mind—with something for everyone included. Every meal was mouth-watering though I only got photos of the roasted butternut squash and quinoa salad above. I couldn’t resist that impressive mass of color as Chris turned to set it out on the buffet.

My heaped plate and friendly faces waiting for me to join them at lunch.
A close-up of Janet Pittman’s collaged rose (also pictured at the beginning of this post) as she starts to add some glitz.

Meanwhile, the classroom was getting filled with fabric and lots and lots of color. For some reason, I’ve found that my classes this fall have displayed an increased interest in adding extra details with sheer netting and touches of glitter—as with Janet’s rose above. I did discuss adding sheers in a September post and also earlier this year in January. Maybe that’s why. In any case, students are taking advantage of such fabrics in adding highlights, shadows, and some sparkle accents to their fabric collages.

Knowing exactly what fabrics to bring to class can be a challenge. My only advice is to go with your gut feeling (since the possibilities are endless) and resolve yourself to the probability that the fabric you end up needing will be left at home. It’s a Murphy’s Law sort of thing, but in a fabric collage class, it’s not a disaster. Finding unexpected solutions just stimulates the creative juices.

Such was the case for Katheryn Russi below, and her selection of fabrics above. She arrived with a blue moose in mind—and a selection of fabrics to create it. However, after a day, she did a sea change to a warmer pallet of yellows, reds, and greens, and seemed to be much happier. She had worked out what was holding her back—the coolness of the blues (if I remember correctly). Anyway, this meant she was now wishing she had brought more of those warmer colored fabrics. Step in her classmates. Fabrics get donated and swapped all the time—everyone’s in the same boat and quilters have generous souls.

This time of year there seems to be an abundance of deer on the road. In class it was moose, two big guys. There was Katheryn’s above, and Nancy Birger’s below. You can see the progress of these fellows, and the rest of the great class projects, in the student work slide show below.

Nancy got far enough along on her moose portrait to get a background in place. In the photos above and below, you can see the various configurations of the abstracted landscape approach that Nancy took. She chose fabrics that gave the impression of water and distant woods, cut them into strips and squares, got down and started arranging.

Student Work Slide Show

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Often, friends and family members will take my classes together. In this class there were a group of friends, as well as these two sisters above, Jackie and Dorene. Not only their smiles, but their subject matter is related—birds and flowers.

They both got to the backgrounds too. Behind Dorene’s swan, the pond is collaged with multiple fabrics glued in place onto the foundation fabric, like she did with the swan. On the other hand, Jackie found one piece of beautiful sunset dyed fabric—from the retreat’s own shop of Chris’s hand-dyed fabric. In this case, Jackie cut away her bird—an indigo bunting—and the sunflower head from the excess foundation fabric, gluing them instead onto the new background. Beautiful results both ways.

The class worked hard into the nights. I got an interesting photo from across the outdoor yard—from one arm of the building to another. The fabric collages look like paintings from this perspective.

The last evening of class, I caught a ride with former Woodland Ridge student Nancy Blake, to the nearby town of Menomonie, WI. There was a special artist holiday sale at the Mabel Tainter Center for the Arts that weekend.

I’d heard of this theater but never seen it. It lived up to it’s reputation. What a spectacular building and theatrical space for any sort of event.

Below left, Nancy poses with a quilt she made a few years back as a fundraiser for the Arts Center. Nancy, by the way, had been cooking the wonderful meals at the retreat for us all week. She’s multi-talented. Anyway, we had a great time checking out all the artwork.

I fell in love with a wire and found-object bird by a young woman, Jenna Hestekin, who is talented in a wide-variety of art media herself. Jenna’s “Blue Bead Bird” has come home with me and was re-named “Mabel” in honor of the Mabel Tainter theater.

When Nancy and I got back to the retreat, most of the class still at work, they came out to see what we had found. Weirdly enough, someone pointed out that my student Susan Deshensky (below right), was wearing a t-shirt with #freemabel printed on it. She was a good sport to pose for me with my Mabel-bird in hand.

Before people started dispersing on the last afternoon, we all gathered together for a class photo—including Chris and Nancy. Two student works were mobile at the time, the cat and butterfly, the others are my sample quilts.

Pictured left to right: back row—Susan Deshensky, Katheryn Russi, Becky Manske, Jackie Lehto, Dorene Beck, Nancy Wick, and Mimie Pollard; front row—Chris Daly, Sally Murray, Nancy Birger, Martha Hendrichs, Nancy Blake, Janet Pittman, me, and Suzanne O’Brien.

The week came and went with most of the days on the cool and cloudy side of weather. Perfect excuses for not getting out for my morning walk. I know some of my students did get out at different times on the restored prairie and pond trails behind the retreat center. So with them as inspiration, I got up and out on the last possible morning. I didn’t take many photos, but a few are below. If you scroll over them and click, a larger image will pop up.

On that walk I was pleased to see the watercress stream I first saw on my visit in April. It was in stark contrast to the early spring woods then (below left), same as now in late autumn (below right). It occurred to me that between then and now, all the woods had greened up and an entire growing season had come and gone. Time passing.

Sunset on the final day of classes and my final evening in WI. Students had left and it was time for me to go home too.

But wait! It’s Saturday night and the lights are rising on the stage at the State Theatre in Minneapolis. Chris and her husband Mark, took me to rock concert! The Kansas 40th Anniversary Leftoverture Tour! I haven’t been to a rock concert in years—decades! What a treat. What a way to end my stay at Woodland Ridge Retreat and my year of teaching! Both Chris and I put on tye-dye outfits and we were ready to rock and roll.

The State Theater in Minneapolis is beautiful and quite a different venue from the concerts that I went to decades ago. But then so was the audience—more grey hair—but I’m not a blond anymore either. There was quite a mix of ages, with some elementary age kids in tow, teens, and lots of mid-life folks.

And then the lights went down and there they were—Kansas. Except for two original members, the band isn’t the same line-up from 1974 when I first listened to them, some left and others were added in the 40+ years since. But it’s who they are now, and they sounded great.

“Carry on my wayward son, for there’ll be peace when you are done, lay your weary head to rest, don’t you cry no more.”—Kansas

It was fun, it was awesome, it was full of color (and I do love color). There was the energy of the audience, and the band, and the lights—for two hours! We drove back with a new Kansas CD playing. I went to sleep and woke up with music in my head. Weeks later, and it’s still there. Thanks, Chris and Mark.

There was a long haired fellow boarding my plane from Minneapolis the next morning, his only luggage an electric guitar. Hmmm… I knew he wasn’t one of the Kansas band members, but I asked about the guitar anyway. Coincidentally, he plays the music of Styx with one of that group’s original members. Whaddya know, another band I was fond of in my yesteryears.

Below is a six minute medley of a few of the songs from the concert. The audience was given the okay to record video, so I did—just short bits of the show—like a musical collage. If you like the band Kansas too, then “Carry On Wayward Son,” to “The Point of No Return”. 😉

Kansas – from the 40th Anniversary Leftoverture Tour: State Theatre – Minneapolis, MN

Rock On.


  • Hi Susan,
    This week’s post is everything I love about waking up to your blog on Saturday! Part student work and technique, part travel and local color and always interesting and fun to read. What a wonderful way to finish your teaching and travel year! Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks again, Juliet! Keep the comments coming, I’m enjoying the short little “visit” with you every week too! And yes, a great finish to my teaching year—thanks sharing your time with me in September!

  • Loved the photo from outside looking in. Reminds me when we take the time to look back, or up, we can see such a different perspective. Talent all around….again.

  • Thank you so much for all the information that you give on your blogs, I thoroughly enjoy every moment,and the beautiful scenery that you share with everyone. I must say that I do find that your students are very talented, of course they have the best teacher don’t they ? You really are a source of inspiration , I should love to take one of your classes, Well,perhaps one day.

    • Hi Sandra, thanks for the compliments. I’m lucky in that my students are very attentive and really buckle down and work hard! Hope you can take a class someday too.

  • As always, I love sitting down with my morning coffee to read your latest blog. I hadn’t heard Kansas in years or even knew they we’re still around. How fun. Listening to your video sure brought back some old memories.
    Happy Holidays to you and Tom.

    • Hi to another Kansas fan! Music certainly does bring back memories, doesn’t it. Glad you enjoyed the video—Tom just rolled his eyes when I asked him to put it together for me. Best of Season to you too, Becky!

  • I was at your first retreat at Woodland Ridge and, like you, I have always found it to truly live up to the meaning of retreat. I wind down, immersed in the creative environment. Chris makes it look effortless, creating a place for us to escape our daily pressures and focus on the art and ourselves.

  • I love reading your blogs and so look forward to the time I might be able to attend another one (or two or three!) of your classes. Thanks to your students for sharing their work…so very inspirational!! Thank you, Susan!!!

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