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Explore Wisconsin's Northwest Heritage Passage

It takes a little searching to find the hundreds of artists and galleries scattered around northern Wisconsin on the Northwest Heritage Passage. But for arts aficionados with a taste for serendipity, it’s well-worth the trip.
Robbin Firth creates and displays her fiber art at Seasons on St. Croix Gallery in Hudson, Wisconsin.
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A stoneware fountain greets visitors to Brickyard Pottery.
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Shops, eateries and galleries fill downtown Hudson, Wisconsin.
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Chickens range free during the day, then sleep in an International Harvester van.
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Reaching the Day/Dunlap Studio in Arkansaw, Wisconsin, means leaving US-63 for country roads winding past grazing Holsteins and through woods sprinkled with wildflowers. At the end of a red dirt road, chickens search for bugs near a coop that looks a lot like the remains of an International Harvester van. That’s the sign you’ve reached the studio of Linda Day-Dunlap and Bruce Dunlap. Inside, chickens ride motorcycles across Linda’s ceramics and nest in some of Bruce’s nostalgia-infused paintings.

This type of creative discovery is common in the northwest part of Wisconsin (Eau Claire is 35 miles northeast of Arkansaw; the Twin Cities 66 miles northwest). More than a dozen other artists work within a few miles of the Day-Dunlaps, and nearly 200 can be found in this region on what’s known as the Northwest Heritage Passage.   

The Passage is a loose driving tour across an area about 170 miles wide by about 230 miles high—roughly one-fifth of Wisconsin in all. Visitors find quilts, prints and blown glass as well as maple syrup and goat-milk gelato at small riverside galleries, studios on remote wooded properties and family farms.

You won’t be able to see everything in a weekend, but it’s worth the trouble to find a few artists that sound interesting and then set out.

Travel the Passage

If you’re considering the trip, use these three tips to make the large region accessible:

1 Get the book For this trip, it’s well-worth dropping $19 (plus shipping) on the folksy handbook cataloging the route’s artists and studios. Visit heritagepassage.com to buy (deep breath) The Wisconsin Passage: An adventure in the handmade, homegrown and historical offerings of Wisconsin from the Mississippi River to Lake Superior. The 2011 printing is a little out-of-date. Some businesses have folded; many others are open “by appointment or by chance,” so call ahead to the places you wish to see.

2 Take a tour Each spring and fall, artists in Pepin and Pierce counties open their studios to all comers for the Fresh Art Tour, organized by Linda Day-Dunlap and other local artists (freshart.org). Use tour stops as your starting point, then branch off to see other nearby artists and galleries.  

3 Follow the highway Two-lane US-63, running northeast/southwest, provides a great drive through the heart of the Passage. You’ll find many stops right off the highway. Roadside signs point out detours to sites like Brickyard Pottery just outside Barronett (brickyardpottery.com), and the book highlights other stops, such as the Wisconsin Canoe Heritage Museum in Spooner (wisconsincanoeheritagemuseum.org). 

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