By Pat Dillon
There are as many ways to see fall color as there are fall colors in Wisconsin. Each area of the state has its own personality – flat farmland, driftless hills, river valleys, woodlands and wetlands, lakes – you get the idea. This is not unlike the multitude of artists who reside in rural communities; some are well known around the state but with seldom-seen studios.
Wisconsin’s fall art tours combine our never-ending quest for viewing peak color with our curiosity of creative people whose inspiration is often derived from the earth. You’ll see kilns and potters’ wheels, canvas on easels, wool and cotton woven into looms, woodworking shops and many other artist tools and mediums. Some artists offer demonstrations and refreshments. All websites provide downloadable maps.
An autumn drive through Wisconsin’s small historic agricultural towns is, in itself, a cultural arts event during peak leaf season. The experience is richer when combined with stops along the way featuring the seldom viewed studios of South Central Wisconsin artists. The Annual 14 South Artists Fall Studio Arts Tour takes you into the studios of artists in towns from Evansville to Blanchardville to Verona.
When the glacier made its way through Wisconsin 12,000 years ago it carved out a legacy of land formations geologist call eskers, kames and drumlins. You can hike and bike 1,000 miles of these along trails that are now covered with mature forests, restored prairies and run along wetlands and waterways. The Art Along the Ice Age Trail: A Tour of Working Studios in Central Wisconsin features the Hidden Studio Arts Tour, a group of artists that live within close proximity to these land formations. Hikers and birders can mingle with the natural landscapesand then enjoy various interpretations of nature through clay and paint, glass and fabric.
The Falling Leaves Art Tour is aptly named for the artists tucked into the rolling hills in communities surrounding the August State Wildlife Area, a 2100-acre marsh and woodland of mixed hardwoods primed for fall color. This tour of Northwestern Wisconsin art studios takes you through Amish communities, so slow down for the horse drawn buggies. These West Central Wisconsin artists will reveal their expertise and how their art is made for travelers during this rare opportunity.
Mark Twain brought the lower banks of the Mississippi River into every town in America, but Wisconsin’s upper river valley has no less beauty and intrigue. The Fresh Art Tour takes you to artists who work near the confluence of the Chippewa and Mississippi Rivers, along the river’s banks and up into the valley’s bluffs.
The fall color can also be viewed from 500-plus foot look out points standing along the Great River Road National Scenic Byway (Hwy 35) from Fountain City as you travel north. The tour starts in Pepin, reaches out to Durand and ends at Bay City.
The Nature Conservancy calls the Baraboo Hills, one of the most ancient rock crops in North America, “The Last Great Place.” Nearby the Wisconsin River snakes through neighboring communities, each its own individual backdrop for fall color. The Southwest Fall Art Tour represents some of Wisconsin’s premiere artists living among this diverse Wisconsin landscape. Find them between family farms, rushing rivers and quartzite outcroppings from Mineral Point to Baraboo.
October’s urban landscape shouldn’t be overlooked during peak leaf season. The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art helps get Dane County artists visible and the city of Madison stirring at autumn’s crescendo by sponsoring Gallery Night. More than fifty venues, including studios, galleries, coffee houses, and retail stores, will feature demonstrations, installations and exhibitions in every medium imaginable.
The Earth, Wood and Fire Tour features the work from many Cambridge and Rockdale pottery studios that have helped put those communities on the map, plus other South Central Wisconsin artists tucked among its rural roads, the Rock River and the little lakes that define the area.