It’s 7 p.m. on a Friday in the dead of winter, at the epicenter of activity on this night in Door County. The Hands On Art Studio in Fish Creek is abuzz with people painting white wear and glass as they munch free pizza, sip beer and bop to music by the Big Mouth Trio.
In blue T-shirts and matching caps, Hands On Studio owners Cy Turnbladh and Karon Ohm flit about the action in the 4,000-square-foot art barn and two smaller barns nearby, greeting guests and helping them find materials for their projects. Cy squeezes paint for people in the ceramics studio while Karon, in the nearby jewelry barn, gives instructions for the proper use of tools for fusing glass.
“It’s Rock and Roll Art Night so I’m guessing between the art barn and the glass and metal studio we probably have 90 people here tonight,” Cy says. “It’s a great crowd. It’s good, it’s fun!”
Visitors make themselves at home, spreading out hors d’ouvres they’ve brought, shaking paint bottles in time to the music and singing along:
Goin’ to see my smiling face
On the cover of the Rolling Stone!
Two women come in from the outdoor deck with a couple of ceramic pieces they just splatter painted.
“You grab your glaze and you just throw it at it,” says Amy Teich, who runs a dental lab in Sturgeon Bay. She shows off the rectangular ceramic tray she decorated with tossed streaks of red. “There’s really not that much artistic ability in it. As with all art, less is more.”
Her friend, Jane Shefchik, a job cost manager at PortSide Builders in Sturgeon Bay, is along for her first trip to Hands On.
“The music is good,” she says. “It’s enjoyable to just let loose and try something new.”
Turnbladh started the Hands On Art Studio 13 years ago and within a year moved the business into the big barn two miles east of Hwy. 42 on Peninsula Players Road in Fish Creek. The idea caught on quickly and has been expanding ever since.
“We call ourselves play coaches,” says Ohm. “We give you permission to get away and just play. We really try to create this fun environment and use our energy to work with adults and get in touch with your childhood again. It’s like recess.”
Beer, soft drinks, popcorn and ice cream are available in the Starving Artists Snack Bar on the first floor of the big art barn. Free pizza is served on Friday nights, when Hands On is open for adults 21 and older. They don’t take reservations and don’t mind carry-ins.
“It’s pretty free-wheeling,” Ohm says.
When the spirit moves them, Cy and Karon take to the dance floor as guests clap to the music, well past the scheduled clean-up time of 10 p.m.
The action at Hands On proves that life does not end after Labor Day in Door County.
The Fish Creek Winter Festival was in full swing the night of our visit, an event that Cy and Karon and many of their fellow local business owners helped organize.
A late night calls for overnight lodging for out-of-towners, and the choices are many, with special winter prices that save 30 to 40 percent over summer rates. We enjoyed a comfortable two-bedroom suite with a fireplace at the Newport Resort in Egg Harbor, and indulged the next morning in the workout room followed by a sauna, then a swim in the sunlit indoor pool.
On the drive back into Fish Creek the next day, giant colorful kites heightened the excitement of Winter Festival. We found Cy and Karon in the party tent, running a spinning wheel for a fund-raiser. The pair seemed to be having every bit as much fun as they were having just 12 hours before.
Both are committed to making Door County top of mind as a year-round getaway.
“We really work at us being a destination after Nov. 1,” Ohm says. “We help you just forget yourself for a little while. We’ll help you play!”