Schools of know-how
In resort areas, many people go home from vacation with a new skill.
© Beth Gauper
Students in a Clearing photography class visit a Door County beach.
In hindsight, it's good to be grown up and out of school: no more tests, no more books, no more teacher's dirty looks.
But it's also good to be a grown-up who's back in school, because schools have grown up, too. There are no tests and few books, and teachers are as friendly and attentive as cruise-ship hosts.
In fact, attending some schools is a lot like being on vacation.
Door County was aglow with autumn colors while I spent a week studying photography on the wooded campus of the Clearing, and it was prime ski season while I studied German at Concordia Language Villages in Bemidij.
I was away from home, staying in a beautiful setting, eating well, getting exercise, meeting interesting people — it sure felt like vacation.
I've also studied photography at a learning center high above the North Shore and at a retreat on a lake.
I've learned how to string snowshoes at a beautiful state park, skate-ski at a northern Wisconsin environmental center and improve my tennis game at a college campus in the Minnesota River Valley.
You'd think I'd be pretty good at stuff by now. But learning from people who really know what they're doing only drives home the fact I know very little. As Eartha Kitt said, "I'm always learning. My tombstone will be my diploma."
Next, I want to study glassmaking at the Grand Marais Art Colony and bread baking at the North House Folk School.
Why lie around on vacation when you can acquire a skill?
Learning the old ways
At the North House Folk School in Grand Marais, retired mechanical engineer Albert Knutson of Minneapolis is a veritable glutton for learning. First, he took a class on making moosehide mukluks.
Then, he learned how to make dogwood baskets, Finnish puukko knives, carved spoons, Swedish shrink boxes, Windsor stools, trestle work benches, birchbark berry baskets and artisan breads.
He took another basket class from Dennis Chilcote, a fellow engineer from Minneapolis, who showed the class how to harvest bark without harming the tree.
© Beth Gauper
At Shake Rag Alley, artist Judy Sutcliffe helps mosaic students.
And he planned to take a class on rosemaling, the Norwegian folk painting that, he says, originally was performed by itinerant men who traveled from village to village.
"I can't tell you enough how much I learn from those teachers up there; it's incredible," Knutson says. "They're so young for what they know, and I can't believe they know so much about the old ways of doing things."
Most of the classes take several days, so Knutson gets a room at Lund's Motel and eats meals at the Pie Place. Over the years, he has become a part of the North House community, even organizing a benefit when one of the instructors suffered a stroke.
"We're all good friends," he says. "I go up there, and it's old home week."
Like the North House, the Clearing in Door County was founded on the Scandinavian tradition of folk schools — but 62
years earlier, in 1935.
Like the North House, it's in a beautiful area that draws vacationers. Many of the vacationers eventually put down year-round roots, allowing the Clearing to draw instructors from a deep pool of talent.
"It's bottomless," says community-programs director Tom Bronsky. "It's such a super-enriched environment up here, you wouldn't believe it."
Many instructors are renowned in their fields; the instructor of "Atomic Energy and Atomic Bombs," Bronsky said, had worked
on the Manhattan Project.
In winter, classes are held all over Door County, but in summer, they're held in and around lovely stone buildings on the 130-acre wooded campus.
Courses focus on science, history, theater, film and religion as well as the arts, but the hands-on classes fill fastest,
says Clearing director Mike Schneider.
"There's nothing formal about anything here," Schneider says. "If you want to skip class, you can do that; I encourage it sometimes, on a nice day."
Winter is the time to sign up for summer courses at schools and centers in the region. At the Clearing, classes in watercolor, quilting and woodcarving fill especially quickly, though many people on waiting lists eventually get in.
For many people, learning or honing skills in beautiful areas — Door County, the North Shore, the north woods, Mineral Point, the bluffs of northeast Iowa — are special treats. And for others, it becomes a lifestyle.
"I fell in love with the people and the area," Knutson says of Grand Marais and its folk school. "And it just went on and on."
© Phil Westine
Students at the Grand Marais Art Colony work on Artists Point.
Trip Tips: Learning vacations
If the school is in a popular resort area and you will need lodgings, register as early as possible and make sure you can get a place to stay. Often, students can save money by camping nearby and paying the commuter rate.
In addition to the schools listed below, many environmental learning centers offer classes and also lodgings. Classes also
are available at arts and heritage centers, historic sites, state parks and wildlife refuges.
Often, it pays to become a member and get a discount on classes. And many schools offer an early-bird discount.
North House Folk School in Grand Marais. Inspired by the folk schools of Scandinavia, this school on the Lake Superior
harbor holds hundreds of workshops in traditional artisanry throughout the year and sailing in summer.
Cost includes instruction only; students find their own lodgings and meals nearby. Students on a budget can camp next door in
the municipal campground, which includes an indoor pool and sauna.
For more, see Artistic Grand
Grand Marais Art Colony in Grand Marais. Founded in 1947 by a professor from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, this school offers year-round workshops in the visual arts, including calligraphy, collage, printmaking, outdoors landscape painting, ceramic tile, fused glass and book arts.
Students find lodgings and meals nearby. For inexpensive places to stay, see Mom-and-pop motels of Grand Marais.
© Beth Gauper
At Concordia Language Villages near Bemidji, each campus reflects the language spoken.
Concordia Language Villages
near Bemidji. This sprawling lakeside complex north of Bemidji has separate campuses
for each language, with architecture in the style of the country. The excellent cuisine also is in the style of each
Youth attend the camps in summer, but adults can attend weekend and weeklong camps the rest of the year, many in May and
September. Languages are Finnish, French, German, Norwegian, Spanish and Swedish.
For more, see Going abroad in
Tennis and Life Camps in St. Peter. These camps have been held on the campus of Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn., for more than 30 years. The camps, which combine sports with sportsmanship, have a very high teacher-to-student ratio and are very popular.
Camps last four days and are held for youths 11-18, adults and families with children from age 8. Cost includes
dormitory lodging and meals.
In this region, there are also adult camps in sailing, whitewater kayaking, golf, running, hunting, fishing and race-car driving.
For more, see Second-chance jocks.
© Jen Johansen
Tennis camps for adults are held on the campus of Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn.
The Clearing in Ellison
Bay. This folk school in Door County has a gorgeous setting on Green Bay and offers many programs in the arts, nature
and humanities. In summer and fall, six-day classes include meals and lodgings in lovely stone cottages.
Students on a budget can camp nearby and pay the commuter rate, which includes all lunches and dinners on the first and last
day. In winter, commuter classes are held at venues around the county.
For more, see Classroom in the
Peninsula School of Art in Fish Creek. This art center on 10 acres, founded in 1965, offers year-round classes and workshops in studio arts, including ceramics, metalsmithing, photography and especially painting.
It also offers lectures, hosts the Plein Air Festival in July and holds free Family Art Days on the third Saturday morning of
each month. The public is welcome to visit the gallery and gardens from Monday through Saturday.
Bjorklunden near Baileys Harbor. This Door County estate on the shore of Lake Michigan, near Baileys Harbor,
is owned by Lawrence University and offers weeklong seminars in many subjects.
Summer seminars begin in June and include such topics as literature, politics and philosophy; at the end of August, topics become lighter, with seminars on film, water-color, fiction writing, bridge, drawing and nature.
© Beth Gauper
A student in a watercolors class works on a painting at the Clearing in Door County.
Students can stay at the lodge. People who want to save money by camping nearby can pay a commuter rate, which includes lunches and Sunday dinner.
For inexpensive lodgings, see Where to stay
in Door County.
Sievers School of Fiber Arts on Washington Island. This Door County school, founded in 1979, offers classes in weaving, knitting, quilting and spinning and also in basketry and woodcarving. Classes are held in the restored 1895 Jackson Harbor Schoolhouse and two new studios.
A turn-of-the-century timber barn serves as a women's dormitory and has a kitchen students can use.
Madeline Island School of the Arts in La Pointe, Wis. From May through October, this school on a restored dairy farm offers five-day classes in photography, drawing, painting, fiber arts and writing.
Students stay in four-room cottages next to woods and meadows. Breakfast and lunch is included in the rates. The campus is
For more about the area, see Madeline's magnetism.
Shake Rag Alley Center for the Arts in Mineral Point. The charming center in this southwest Wisconsin arts community holds classes throughout the year in nine buildings, some from the 1840s. They include workshops in mosaic; rustic furniture; acting and directing; gourds and baskets; hooking, dyeing and felting; and paper and polymer.
Rooms in the 1840s Coach House and Mousehole Cottage can be rented, and there are many inns and cafes nearby.For more, see Slinging cement in Mineral Point and Beauty in Mineral Point.
School of the Arts in Rhinelander. This weeklong arts program for adults, sponsored by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Liberal Studies and the Arts, has been held since 1964 in this northern Wisconsin lake-resort town.
© Beth Gauper
In northern Wisconsin, Treehaven teaches north-woods skills.
Classes/workshops are offered in art, computer skills, music, photography, writing, theatre and mind, body and spirit.
Classes are held in July at James Williams Middle School, and students are responsible for their own lodgings.
For more, see R&R in Rhinelander.
Tomahawk. This northeast Wisconsin natural-resources education center, operated by the University of Wisconsin-Stevens
Point, offers weekend retreats in such skills as snowshoe-weaving, knitting, yoga, quilting, orienteering and
It's 15 miles east of Tomahawk, Wis., and just north of the Lincoln County stretch of the Ice Age National Scenic
Trees for Tomorrow in Eagle River. This environmental-learning center in Eagle River, Wis., holds many workshops, including stained glass, quilting, photography, rustic furniture making, rug hooking, basket weaving and willow chair building.
Two-night workshops include lodgings, meals and instruction.
For more about the area, see Full throttle in Eagle River.
Wild Earth School in Hudson. On a farm on the eastern outskirts of Hudson, Wis., George and Emily Vondriska teach woodworking, cabinetmaking, bowl turning, parent/child birdhouse making and Adirondack chair building. Lunch is included in daylong classes.
For more about the area, see Getaway on the St. Croix.
Driftless Folk School, Viroqua, Wis.: Southwest Wisconsin is a hotbed of organic farming, and this school focuses on
building sustainable lifestyles. Most of its classes are half-day or one-day and are held at the homes and farms of the
instructors or in the Landmark Center in Viroqua.
For more about the area, see Valleys of Vernon County.
© Beth Gauper
In Mineral Point, Wis., Shake Rag Alley Center for Arts & Crafts hosts many classes and workshops.
Decorah. This Norwegian "home in the west" in the bluffs of northeast Iowa has 15 historic buildings, a crafts and
education center and a four-level museum where students can see examples of traditional Norwegian folk crafts.
Classes in rosemaling, woodworking, fiber arts, fine arts, food traditions and knifemaking and blacksmithing fill quickly,
especially those taught by instructors brought from Norway.
Students must find lodgings in the area, which is renowned for canoeing and other outdoor recreation.
For more, see A pocket of
Villages Folk School in Bonaparte. This school in the 12 historic Villages of Van Buren, in the corner of southeast Iowa, teaches year-round classes in folk arts, as blacksmithing, chair-caning and felting, and such fine arts as raku pottery and sculpture.
Porcupine Mountains Folk School near Silver City, Mich.: This year-round school is in beautiful Porcupine Mountains Wilderness
State Park, on Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula.
Workshops are held at the Folk School Building, near the Union Bay Campground and the Kaug Wudjoo Lodge. Accommodations within the park include the lodge, cabins, yurts and campsites, and there are resorts nearby.
For more, see Afoot in the Porkies.
Three Sisters Folk Art School: On the Illinois River in
Chillicothe, just north of Peoria, this new school offers classes in quilting, knitting, weaving and crochet.
It also hosts a Mountain Dulcimer Weekend in February and a Folk, Fiber and Friends Weekend in April. Accommodations are
available in town.
Road Scholar: The national Elderhostel organization's programs now are called Road Scholar Adventures in Lifelong Learning. They're open to adults 21 and older but still targeted to older, primarily retired adults.
They combine travel with learning, offering an incredible selection of low-cost programs in art, history, language, music and outdoor recreation.
In this region, programs include such courses as a five-night class in Lake Superior culture and history, with lodgings at
Naniboujou near Grand Marais; a six-night birding trip by trail and canoe near Eagle River, Wis., with lodgings at
Trees for Tomorrow; and a five-night course during the Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona.
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