In northern Wisconsin, Drummond to be exact, Sara Balbin walks from a small side door of her studio to her art workspace. It is outdoors; a large saw, stacks of steel objects and an array of projects in mid-progress surround her.
Visitors turn off Blue Moon Road and onto a small driveway that winds through the leaves; sunlight fills the spaces. After a half mile or so, the road makes a circle around a large green space. Balbin looks up and greets her guests. Her sculpture, which fills the yard, reaches upward. Nearby is a small lake and scattered in the bushes and tall grass are objects of art. Sculpture. Metal mobiles hanging from low branches. Her lovely-yet-rustic studio is a juxtaposition between peaceful harmony and a shouting energy. Balbin’s white cat meanders by, stopping to jump in an open car door and then back out again.
This is Dragonfly Studio where the Wisconsin wildflowers and ferns host soaring metal birds, dragonflies of course, and object d’arts. The artist uses materials scavenged from nearby Apostle Islands, where farmers and other workers laid down their implements and stopped their tractors one day and simply left them to rust in the open air. Balbin conducts art workshops on these islands and often brings home found objects abandoned in the fields.
Born in Cuba and raised in Chicago, Balbin has been teaching, mentoring and busily creating for years. Her studio is filled with sculpture, paintings, masks and life-sized leather sculptures. Balbin has work on display publicly in Duluth, Bayfield, Cable, Hayward and other cities.
“My inspiration is my Cuban heritage, the Ojibwe culture and the environment. I did not choose the arts, the arts chose me,” she said. Visit Balbin’s website, www.sarabalbin.com, for more information.
The Blue Moon Art Tour, held every Labor Day weekend in Cable, Wis., was founded by Balbin and three other artists. None knew each other at first; they each were drawn in their own way to the supple creativity of these Wisconsin woods. One by one, they found each other and among them spreads an enormous array of talent, direction and stimulation.
These artists love the woods, the lakes and the waters of Lake Superior. Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is made of up 12 of the islands with only Madeline Island a developed and commercial area. Seclusion, simplicity and outdoor adventure await tourists who seek the delicate balance between art and nature.
The Tour is hugely popular, with hundreds of visitors who drive, bike or walk between the four artists’ studios. Balbin is joined by fellow artists Diana Randolph, Sara Qualey and potter Reg Behrends.
Behrends has been a working potter since the ‘70s; earning a living and supporting a wife and two children, both of whom he put through college. His pottery is his full-time profession. Behrends not only offers beautiful ceramics at his gallery, he also has a healthy wholesale pottery business across the country.
“I started in high school and in college, I decided I would do this the rest of my life,” he told me on sunny afternoon. He grew up in the area and in 1974, opened his shop. He creates functional, high-fired pottery that is both oven and dishwasher safe.
“You have to live on Blue Moon Road to be in our tour, and we’d all have to agree,” he added.
Behrends praises clay as a medium - “It’s fun,” he said, “and it lets me work with a quick spontaneity.”
Mugs, bowls, lamps, casserole dishes, sinks, pitchers - all are available through the website, www.bluemoonpottery.com. Behrends happily will customize any order.
Qualey’s mother was a painter who focused on still lifes. Qualey has followed her mother’s artistic example and her bright, clean and neatly organized studio is filled with deeply emotional and satisfying still lifes of such everyday items as tin cans, colanders, apples, a box, dishes and eggs. All these and more captured in vivid, loving detail.
A graduate of the University of Minnesota, Qualey spent nearly 20 years as a graphic artist in Rochester, Minn.
“I didn’t do much painting then; all my energy went into graphic arts,” she said.
Her musician husband suggested they look in the country for a place to live. “Let’s move to the north woods and do music and art.” They moved to Stone Lake and in 2000. “We decided we wanted a bigger piece of land and a smaller lake,” said Qualey. They built the house they live in, off Blue Moon Road.
“I knew there were artists living in the area but did not realize we were all on Blue Moon. All these nice, creative, interesting people - well, it is a wonderful, encouraging place to work.”
Qualey’s work is primarily oil on canvas although she does some pastels. Her artwork is available for purchase in galleries and on her website, www.saraqualey.com.
Capturing the scenery of northern Wisconsin in a careful, evocative style is Diana Randolph. Randolph, a native of New Jersey, also lives on Blue Moon Road. The list of her exhibitions and juried art shows is lengthy. Her work in is the permanent collections of the state of Wisconsin, hospitals, universities and private collections. Randolph is also a poet, playwright, teacher and writer.
“The artists on this tour inspire each other,” she says. “Reg was first; he claimed this land. Then it was me, then Sara Balbin and last came Sara Qualey.
“People like to come see where we work and our sales are very good during the tour. It is a third of my annual income,” she added.
Randolph paints oils, acrylics and pastels. Her studio, Once In A Blue Moon Studio, is filled with art supplies, paintings, works in progress, books. It is a lively and yet peaceful place. Her work is available for purchase on her website, www.dianarandolph.com.