It’s the time of year that Door County locals love. Drivers zoom across the Sturgeon Bay bridges without backups, the wait time is zero at beloved area restaurants, and making a left turn onto State Highway 42 isn’t an exercise in futility. It’s time for visiting with friends and neighbors who were busy with their shops and galleries all summer, for enjoying hot toddies next to roaring fireplaces, and for watching the season’s first snows blanket woods, fields and beaches.

Door County artists love this time of year too, and not just because they actually have time to work on their art. Winter on Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula is a time of great inspiration, perhaps even more than its celebrated summer season.

“I love the look of winter,” said Kathy Glasnap, 64, a nationally recognized watercolorist who has a working studio and gallery in Fish Creek. “Things ‘pop’ so much better in the winter. Artistically, it’s more interesting than the other seasons.”

A self-taught artist, Glasnap said she always gravitated to the arts, designing bulletin boards and working on the school yearbook as a high school student. Although she wanted to go to college, her family wasn’t able to provide financial support — and that, she observed, was the best thing that could’ve happened to her.

“I practically lived at a local art store, and they offered me a job,” she explained. “I started painting and going to art shows.”

While she was living in Milwaukee, Glasnap had an opportunity to visit Door County and take a class at The Clearing with watercolorist Win Jones. That was 1970. She didn’t know it yet, but she’d just glimpsed her future.

After spending most of the 1980s selling her work at art shows, Glasnap decided she’d had enough of the grueling show circuit. It was time to move north and establish her own studio and gallery.

“I came up to Door County in 1992 and found my land,” Glasnap said. “My work had been in the Blue Dolphin since 1985, but I really needed a place to make a living without going to art shows.”

Glasnap moved to Door County permanently in 1995 and opened the Kathy Glasnap Gallery in 1996. She said she’s painted winter scenes from the very beginning, favoring the starkness of the trees and that “pop” of such familiar structures as barns and lighthouses.

“My studio overlooks the woods, which are so beautiful after one of those wet snows,” she said. “I also drive around after a snowfall. Nothing beats Door County in winter. I focus on rural America, and this is still such an untouched place.”

Today, Glasnap is well known for her peaceful watercolor scenes, which combine traditional form with a touch of Impressionism. In addition to selling her work through her gallery, she has regular commissions from The National Wildlife Federation, The Humane Society, Father Nature Cards and Artistic Greetings. Her greeting cards are widely recognized for their evocative, graceful depictions of winter and its denizens, including “Fred” the cardinal.

She said the greeting cards give her a lot of satisfaction, and even after all these years, she still draws tremendous inspiration from a Door County winter.

“If you ask traditional artists, most will say they like winter the best,” she advised.

Painter Jack Anderson couldn’t agree more. Anderson, 79, is considered to be one of the “Big Five” Door County watercolorists, along with Gerhard C. F. Miller, Charles L. “Chick” Peterson, Phil Austin and Austin Fraser. Anderson, famous for his traditional landscapes, said winter scenes are his favorite subject matter.

“Winter lends itself so well to painting,” he explained. “You have the drama, the contrasts. You can actually see the structure of the trees without all that green covering them up!”

Anderson said his art career began at the age of 4, when he started doing things with crayons that yielded encouraging responses from his family.

“I started to appreciate the act of producing art,” he said with a chuckle.

As a college student, he pursued an art major — although he noted that the comprehensive art degree focused on art education rather than on making a living in a particular medium. Around this time, the budding painter discovered watercolors.

“I loved the spontaneity of the medium,” Anderson explained. “It was fast. I didn’t have any patience; I wanted to get results quickly.”

While working as a teacher in Illinois, Anderson started admiring the artwork of Gerhard Miller. In those days, he noted, the “dean of Door County artists” was painting primarily in watercolors rather than in egg tempera, which would define his later work.

“He taught eight-week summer workshops, so I took a few with him in the early ‘60s,” Anderson said. “He inspired me. Really, he gave me my start.”

Like Glasnap, Anderson quickly learned that he didn’t care for art fairs. He and his wife, Sue, owned waterfront property in Gills Rock, where they spent weekends, holidays and summers. Seeking to produce art on his own terms, Anderson started exhibiting his paintings at the Sunset Restaurant (now the Shoreline).

Word got around, so the Andersons rented a lower-level space in a commercial Gills Rock fishing building in 1971 and opened their first art gallery. Then, in 1976, they bought property on Meadow Lane, just south of Sister Bay, and opened a gallery that featured Anderson’s work as well as that of Phil Austin and Jim Ingwersen, among others.

A year later, Anderson quit teaching so he could paint full-time. Finally, after nine years of splitting their time between Door County and Crystal Lake, Illinois, he and his wife became year-round Gills Rock residents in 1986. They owned and operated their Sister Bay gallery until 2007 (it’s now the Frykman Studio Gallery).

Nearly 100 percent of Anderson’s work comprises Door County scenes. As he puts it, he likes painting landscapes and “old things.” And, although he has painted peninsula scenes for decades, he said Door County remains a constant inspiration.

“A landscape you’ve seen 100 times can look different,” he commented. “The scenes are always changing, whether it’s due to light, temperature, water conditions or season. This is such a unique place.”

Winter on the peninsula is particularly special, according to Anderson.

“The changes can be so subtle,” he said, “and believe it or not, there’s a softness to winter. I take nature and give it a twist of the palette, my own interpretation, so there’s actually a lot of color in it.

“People don’t realize how many colors are alive in winter,” he continued. “Golds, lavenders. With winter, of course, there’s the solitude of it. But I also try to put the warmth of it into my paintings.”

Of the original “Big Five” watercolorists, Anderson and Charles L. “Chick” Peterson are the last two who are still living and painting in Door County. And, like Anderson, Chick Peterson said he draws tremendous inspiration from a peninsula winter.

“Winter is definitely an area that has attracted me,” said Peterson, 85. “It’s also a severe challenge. Watercolors are difficult to change; you can go darker, but not lighter. You have to preserve the whites — the areas of snow — from the outset. I find that classic, traditional training is vital.

“You need to have a draftsman’s drawing skills,” he explained. “I always do a number of preliminary sketches and then trace the final onto the watercolor paper. Then I know where everything white is going to be, and I can preserve it. It’s an intricate process.”

Born and raised in Elgin, Illinois, Peterson studied at The Art Institute of Chicago following his World War II military service in the Pacific. In 1949, he graduated from the American Academy of Art; for a short time, he worked in layout and illustration at Leo Burnett Advertising and Hart Schaffner and Marx, but he left the ad world to pursue a liberal arts education at Ohio’s Marietta College. He earned a Master of Fine Arts degree at Ohio University in 1954.

While working as a professor at Concord College, Peterson continued his own education during summer sessions at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He later became a professor of art and then department head at Marietta College, where he worked until 1973. That was the year he moved to Door County, his family’s vacation spot since the 1950s.

Today, Peterson is widely considered to be one of the leading artists in the limited-edition print industry, a renowned maritime artist and an accomplished master whose work can be found in museums, art galleries and private collections around the country. Peterson said he has increasingly become a watercolor artist over the years; like Anderson, he appreciates the speed of the medium.

“I have a formal education in oils, pastels and prints,” he said, “but I didn’t have much time. Watercolors were quicker.”

And his favorite subject matter? Ordinary people doing ordinary things, frequently in historical settings.

“I’m a generalist, a representationalist,” he remarked. “I’m interested in human activity.”
And some of that activity is, indeed, set in winter.

“I’ve always enjoyed winter, myself,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve enjoyed downhill and cross-country skiing, and I’ve camped all year round. My record was -13 degrees Fahrenheit in a sleeping bag!”

Peterson agreed with Anderson that the Door County landscape presents constant inspiration in the winter, with always changing atmospheric and seasonal conditions. He said he’s painted Anderson’s Dock “hundreds of times, in every media, in all seasons, with all activities.”

He reflected on French post-Impressionist artist Paul Cézanne, who reportedly painted Mont Sainte-Victoire near Aix-en-Provence 87 times, noting the many changes that would come across an otherwise familiar landscape. And, in Door County, he said he could relate to Cézanne’s 19th century observation: “The landscape becomes human, becomes a thinking, living being within me. I become one with my picture.”