There was a time in Door County before art galleries, but there was never a time that people couldn’t appreciate the beauty of the peninsula. When the snow melted from the fields and the pink and white blossoms popped on the trees, the temptation was there to record it on paper or canvas . —Lorraine Mengert, Door County’s Art History
For over a century, Door County has worked its magic on artists, nurturing their creativity and inspiring their work. Peninsula School of Art’s roots go back to the years after World War I when faculty from The Art Institute of Chicago began spending summers in Door County to paint and teach. One of the earliest was Art Institute of Chicago professor, F. DeForest Schook, who established a school in Baileys Harbor in 1921.
A school named the Fish Creek Art Colony - with workshops held on the porch of the White Gull Inn - was founded in 1934. Among its first students was Madeline Tripp (Tourtelot), founder of Peninsula School of Art. Classes in landscape and still life painting, and figure composition were conducted there by Vladimir Rousseff, a prize-winning painter from the Art Institute of Chicago.
In 1940, Schook joined the faculty in Fish Creek, and in 1943, former student, Madeline Tourtelot, founded the Ephraim Art School. Though Tourtelot spent the 1950s at the Saugatuck Summer School of Painting in Michigan, in 1964 she returned to Door County to found the Door Harbor School of Art in Fish Creek.
In 1965, Madeline purchased three and a half acres where the School presently stands and founded the Peninsula School of Art. Her passion for art, creativity and living life to the fullest gave rise to legendary stories, a wealth of creative talent in Door County and the rise and fall of several artistic ventures that coalesced into the School as we know it today. These early days were described by historian Jim Legault in this way:
There were children’s classes, photography workshops, pottery, jewelry, painting, drawing, sculpture and fabric printing classes. Instructors from around the country taught credit and non-credit courses...The atmosphere was free, serious, experimental and conducive to getting a lot of work done. The darkroom was used continuously. There were always lights coming from the jewelry room,… raku firings at night, sculpture being cast in the yard or a kiln being opened… and the continuous exchange of ideas and information between students, faculty and artists in residence… Madeline directed the school, set the tone and made it work…
Tourtelot ran the Peninsula School of Art until her retirement in 1971. She donated three acres of land and two studio buildings to the Peninsula Arts Association (PAA) in 1978. Under the direction of dedicated art student and tireless volunteer, Betsy Guenzel, the School was reorganized. With the help of her husband Paul Guenzel and other members of the PAA's Art School Committee, the Peninsula School of Art became a non-profit organization and continued to thrive. High caliber faculty established Peninsula School of Art’s reputation for excellence in fine arts instruction.
By 1995, the success of the growing school signaled a need for more classroom space and year-round availability of arts instruction. Through hard work, generous donors and dedicated volunteers, the dream of a year-round school and the Guenzel Gallery became a reality.
In 2005 and 2006, Peninsula Art School acquired two adjacent parcels of land— a total of 7.5 acres—giving us a 10-acre campus. We have begun to plan for future expansions and facilities additions, allowing us to serve a growing audience and offer improved programs and equipment to our students.
From its grassroots beginnings over 50 years ago, Peninsula School of Art has grown to be one of the most dynamic, important centers for visual arts education in the Midwest. Today, the School welcomes nearly 1,500 students ages three and up and over 10,000 visitors annually. The campus now includes five painting studios, a children’s art studio, a ceramics studio, a metals studio, traditional darkroom, art resource library, lecture room, administrative offices and the landmark Guenzel Gallery designed to replicate the historic Wisconsin “round barns.”
The Madeline Tourtelot Archives and Study Center preserves and exhibits artwork and historical artifacts from the earliest days of the Peninsula School of Art