Anne Emerson and Nell Emerson Jarosh of Edgewood Orchard Galleries in Door County, Wisconsin.

DOOR COUNTY MAGAZINE: SPRING 2010

Anne Emerson and Nell Emerson Jarosh of Edgewood Orchard Galleries in Door County, Wisconsin.

What draws visitors to a particular art gallery isn’t necessarily the location, the style of building, the type of artwork or the price point, although all those things can play into a final decision to stop in for a visit. Rather, the draw tends to come from a more primal sense — a feeling for the spirit of the place. If the spirit’s right, it will bring visitors back time and again.

Door County’s residents and visitors certainly feel this way about Edgewood Orchard Galleries, which earned “Most Intriguing Art Gallery/Studio” in Door County Magazine’s “Best of 2009” contest. Located just east of Juddville on Peninsula Players Road, Edgewood Orchard is celebrating its 41st anniversary this year and has remained in the same family since Irene Pamperin Haberland and her daughter, Anne Haberland Emerson, opened the doors on June 29, 1969.

From Haberland, to Emerson and husband Minnow, and now to granddaughter Nell Emerson Jarosh and husband J.R. Jarosh, that family has infused the gallery with joy, warmth, an abiding passion for the creative mind and a distinctive juxtaposition of energy and peacefulness. When I sat down recently with Anne Emerson and Nell Jarosh at Glas coffeehouse in Sturgeon Bay, Emerson said it wasn’t a surprise that her mother opened a gallery. Or that it ended up being this sort of gallery. The arts, she said, were in Haberland’s blood.

“She was born an artist,” Emerson said. “She was an art major at Milwaukee’s Downer College, and she wanted to be an actress in New York City, but her father said absolutely not. She was such an independent spirit. She always said it was so much fun to do your own thing.”

As a wife and mother of three, Haberland lived on Milwaukee’s East Side. When her husband died of leukemia, however, she turned her gaze to the 80 acres she owned in Door County.

“She asked me if I would help her open an art gallery in the old apple barn,” Emerson remembered.

So, the young Anne Haberland took a two-month leave of absence from her writing position with the University of Chicago Press. Within weeks, she knew she would never go back.

“I had found what I wanted to do,” Emerson said.

When the duo opened the Edgewood Orchard’s doors for the first time, they displayed the work of nine artists on floor pallets, they had no lights, and they were only open from 2 to 5 p.m. so Emerson could waitress during the breakfast, lunch and dinner shifts.

It took seven years to break even, but as Emerson pointed out, it was never about the money. She recalled her mother saying, “I’m too old to care about money, and Anne’s too young.”

Rather, their focus was on sharing the excitement of people’s creations — and on the people themselves.

“I knew I wanted to create an experience for people,” Emerson said. “And we wanted this to be a place where people would feel truly welcome and no judgment would be made. The experience of art should be open to everyone.”

While waitressing at the then-new Performing Arts Center in Milwaukee, Emerson met her future husband, a young architectural student named Minnow Emerson. She convinced him to join her in Door County once he received his degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and in subsequent years, Haberland and the Emersons tackled gallery projects one by one.

Minnow Emerson, with his architectural background, crafted an exceptional gallery space in the 1918 apple barn. Visitors today marvel at the leaded glass windows, glassed portico, carved doors, bricked courtyard with bistro tables and the light, airy gallery spaces overflowing with works from approximately 140 featured artists.

Those artists are more than exhibitors. They are friends, and Emerson said those relationships have been carefully cultivated over the years.

“All Mom’s friends were artists and writers, and we all believed if you trust each other, you bring out each other’s best,” Emerson explained. “It’s truly simple, the old Golden Rule.  These were the people we had over for dinner, and that’s the most fun. It’s very fulfilling.”

Many of the artists have known Emerson’s daughter, Nell Jarosh, since she was a small child spending time with her grandmother in the gallery’s antique jewelry section.

“You would sit there and never leave her side,” Emerson remembered with a smile. “Nell literally grew up in a basket on the desk.”

“I’m not sure where the memories end and the stories begin,” Jarosh said, chuckling. “But Grandma is hard to forget. She taught me all the gemstones in her antique jewelry. She would say, ‘Nell, this is peridot. Some people say peri-dot, but it’s peri-doe. There’s great power in peridot.’ I probably learned the gemstones along with my colors.”

Haberland passed away in 1978. And although her little granddaughter grew up with the gallery as her homeplace, Jarosh had different aspirations when she graduated from Gibraltar High School.

“I went to school to be a cosmetologist,” Jarosh said. “I lived in Philadelphia for three or four years. A relationship was on the rocks, so I thought I’d come home for six months to be near family.

“That was 14 years ago,” she continued. “The relationship ended, I fell in love with Door County all over again, and now I’m doing what I never thought I would do!”

In a poignant echo of Emerson and Haberland decades before, Jarosh decided she wanted to help at the gallery. As with her mother, that was the end. In 2004, Jarosh and her husband, who decided to leave a successful physical therapy practice, started the 10-year process of buying Edgewood Orchard from her parents.

“I suppose I was born to do it,” Jarosh reflected. “It’s really all I’ve ever known.”

“You understand artists,” Emerson said, turning to face her daughter. “You’re really holding your own.”

Eyes shining, she enthused, “We never expected her to take it over. We’re just thrilled. It’s so much fun to see new ideas percolating, to see it with new life.”

One new addition is the sculpture garden J.R. Jarosh created in 2007.

“People call it their ‘serenity garden,’” Nell Jarosh said. “I’m so excited about J.R., because he really followed his heart.” Laughing, she added, “He started it two years ago, and I have a feeling it will be a lifelong project!”

The feel of the displays also has changed. Emerson said she can see her daughter’s unique touch.

“I like the way Nell displays,” she said. “It’s a great pleasure. People ask if it’s hard to let go, but not at all. Forty years is long enough. Now, I get to walk in the door and see it fresh. I’d never had that experience before, because I was doing it.”

One thing that has remained constant is the relationships.

“Good relationships, the ethics of it — we have that reputation,” Jarosh said. “We are 80 to 85 percent consignment. People don’t do that anymore, and we wouldn’t be able to do it now if we were just starting out.”

She said her childhood experiences in the gallery taught her the importance of developing and maintaining solid, trusting relationships with the exhibiting artists.

“The real friendships we’ve developed with artists…” Jarosh hesitated and turned to Emerson. “Well, I watched you do it.”

“And now they’re yours!” Emerson exclaimed. “Those relationships are the whole foundation. To have respect for what the artists are doing, for the work. Understanding it as a creative emanation from human beings, not as a commodity.”

The customer relationships are equally important.

“They’re extended family,” Jarosh said of the customers who return to Edgewood Orchard season after season. “We’ve watched their families grow. Some people stop here before they even check in at their hotels.”

“One woman was feeling down, and her husband says, ‘We have to stop at Edgewood Orchard,” Emerson marveled. “They said it was the light, the openness — the warmth of people recognizing you. Once, Nell ordered an earring for someone who lost one. She got a card saying, ‘You guys rock.’ That’s what it’s all about.”

And the gallery remains accessible. As Jarosh explained, Edgewood Orchard is still a place where there is something for everyone, from $6 up to $75,000.

“We’ve picked up some fun lines,” she said. “Table art, jewelry, paper products like journals and stationary.”

“One lady said, ‘I love it that I can give something from here as a gift and still afford it,’” Emerson related. “It was a happy experience for her.”

If every gallery has a personality, Edgewood Orchard is a true original. After perusing the galleries, guests are free to stroll through the sculpture garden, sit and visit with friends in the courtyard, sip complimentary coffee and even bring along a picnic lunch. Those seeking a more lively atmosphere need only look to the calendar and plan to attend an opening reception (see sidebar). There, they may mingle with the Jaroshs, the Emersons and family and friends from around the Door community, enjoy beverages and hors d’oeuvres and even meet some of the artists.

“The biggest thrills of our openings is to introduce the artists,” Emerson said. “Especially for us, because we value each other’s friendship and vision.”

A more recent thrill was the collaborative effort Emerson and Jarosh undertook with their artist friends to produce the second edition of their popular “An Artist’s Food for the Soul” cookbook.

“Our last cookbook raised $76,000 for programs to feed the hungry,” Emerson said. “This one has raised just under $60,000 so far, and if we sell them all, we’ll raise $150,000 for children’s programs.”

The cookbook, “an artful collection of recipes to feed your body and soul,” sells for $24.95. One-hundred percent of the proceeds go to charity.

“We have a cookbook fund with the Door County Community Foundation,” Emerson explained. “It’s really our way of saying thank you.”

She and Jarosh encouraged anyone interested in purchasing the cookbook to contact the gallery for details.

“It was a fun project to work on together,” Emerson said.

“From start to finish, it probably took 18 to 24 months,” Jarosh commented, “but the last six months were really hard work.”

“The end was wild,” Emerson said, chuckling.

“We wanted it for our 40th anniversary party, the pig roast, and 1,000 people RSVP’d,” Jarosh remembered. “We worked through the night and drove it to Castle-Pierce in Oshkosh at literally the 11th hour!”

The warmth and easy camaraderie between mother and daughter was contagious, as was their palpable joy in — and passion for — the family business. All three generations have brought tremendous heart to Edgewood Orchard, and this is doubtless what visitors feel every time they walk through the gallery doors.

“We love it,” Jarosh said. “There’s nothing else I’d rather do. If you have to work hard, why not do something you believe in?”

Turning to Emerson, she added, “It’s brought us closer together.”

Emerson smiled.

“It’s a common experience,” she said simply.

And that, in the end, is the essence of Edgewood Orchard Galleries. It’s a destination that provides more than art for purchase. It provides a common experience for artists, gallery owners, staff, customers and casual visitors — one of great art, great people and great spirit.

To learn more about Edgewood Orchard Galleries, call (920) 868-3579 or visit www.edgewoodorchard.com. The galleries are open May 1 through October 31.