by Paula O’Kray
Well, that summer went fast, didn’t it? Did you spend time having fun? Ironically, that’s what makes it go by so darned fast.
I spent a lot of my summer making things. I get a lot of joy from creating, and spent a lot of the pandemic shutdown revisiting skills I had neglected for a while. Crocheting blankets was my main distraction, along with binge watching shows like The Sopranos, Outlander, and The Great British Baking Show.
I also spent time making baskets. Some of those beautiful baskets, much like the many colorful crochet blankets I produced, made their way to friends as holiday, birthday, and thank you gifts.
Once a year, though, I make time for a major creative recharge. I found this little gem a few decades ago, and although I’ve missed a few years here and there, I still try and make time to get there. It’s a four-day workshop called Woodlanders Gathering and it’s held at Shake Rag Alley Center for the Arts in Mineral Point, Wisconsin.
Woodlanders is an incredibly fun and creative time with nearly 40 nature-based workshops to choose from. Classes offer the opportunity to make rustic furniture, garden structures, baskets, or you can try your hand at blacksmithing, woodcarving, working with fiber, gourds, and more. It’s a joy to spend the weekend with other nature-loving folks, and the atmosphere is warm and welcoming.
Shake Rag Center for the Arts is a beautiful place nestled into a hillside with lush gardens, tall trees, historic buildings, and a natural spring-fed stream. It’s the perfect place to recharge. I’ve been attending on and off for some 20 years now, and it’s a reunion of old friends for me.
When I first discovered Woodlanders, I went alone. I wanted to attend, but I didn’t want to have to beg one of my friends to tag along. So I booked my classes and a room for the weekend and walked off that scary cliff, not knowing a soul when I arrived.
It only took a few minutes before I realized I had found my tribe. Creative people are full of great ideas, and get a lot of strange looks and “no’s” for the most part—but I found the atmosphere very supportive and friendly, and the best thing was that no one ever said, “No.” It was more like, “Let’s try it and see what happens!” I could hardly believe it.
Over the years, I have made a lot of beautiful things, and it feels great when someone admires something in my home and I can respond, “I made that!”
Like so many other events, Woodlanders was canceled last summer, and I was eager to make up for lost time. When the class schedule was published online in January, I reviewed the offerings with great excitement and made my choices. I decided to go all out and spend five days immersed in my favorite creative environment. I couldn’t wait for July to come.
I went a day early to meet up with other creatives and enjoy a dinner together. True to form, as we were waiting for our food, Lindy, who is always up to something good, pulled out a Sharpie marker and made a circle on the paper tablecloth. Then she handed the marker to LeeAnn, who was on her left. Each person was to add something to the circle and watch it evolve as the Sharpie went around the table.
The drawing got funnier and funnier as the ladies interpreted each previous addition, and by the time our food arrived, we were all laughing and having a great time. And all we did was pull out a Sharpie. See what I mean?
Thursday morning, after checking in and getting my rustic name tag—a slice of wood with a pin glued to the back—I grabbed some of the free refreshments and headed out to my first class. I was making folded copper earrings that morning and ended up making a beautiful necklace with earrings to match! Even the instructor was impressed; always a great compliment.
Friday I did something unusual for me. I took an all-day class. I’m a bit like a little kid when it comes to learning a new skill, and I need to see results quickly or I become frustrated or bored. I’m always a little worried that if I don’t like a class I signed up for and it’s an all-day class, I will just hate it for eight hours instead of four.
I had always admired the art made in one particular class, so I finally bit the bullet and went for it. It was a bottle cap fish art class, and boy, was it a good time! We spent a good part of the day flattening the colorful bottle caps the instructor had provided and shared a lot of good stories and jokes.
At one point, our instructor sang us a very long and funny limerick-style song about a Finnish lad who didn’t like saunas but ended up happily married anyway. It’s unexpected moments like this that add to the Woodlanders weekend magic.
Mineral Point has a lot of great restaurants, and my friends and I typically choose one evening to hang out at Midway Bar for the amazing pizza they serve. The best thing about that was all the people who dropped by to say hello while we were there. It was a great evening, and we laughed and reminisced for hours.
Over the next few days, I created printed cards with a rubber stamp I carved myself, created handmade soaps and scrubs that smelled amazing and were so simple to make, and painted a gourd to look like a stone bowl. I was amazed that I had created such a beautiful piece of art. We used various leaves to create elegant nature prints on shirts and chiseled out designs in hyper tufa to make a beautiful garden walking “stone.” It felt amazing to be back and “making” again.
These were just the classes I took—there were dozens of others, and each day people would display the art that they created in the main lunch area for the rest of us to enjoy. They feed us well at Woodlanders, and in the evenings, there is music to enjoy if you feel like just hanging out with a lovely bunch of people.
Having had my yearly refill of art and friendship, I headed home through the beautiful hills of the Driftless Region with a very happy heart, already looking forward to seeing everyone next summer.
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