Dawn Soltysiak welcomes visitors to her khnemu studio most any time, but there’s no guarantee she’ll be at her pottery wheel. “I might be cleaning a chicken coop,” laughs the artist, whose solar-powered workspace and kiln occupy an historic barn on her 1890’s Fernwood Farm Estate near Fennville. It’s a working, 30-acre farm with peacocks, llama, horses, ducks, cattle, and yes, chickens, that need tending.

That’s one reason Soltysiak participates in the annual Blue Coast Artists Fall Tour of Studios in southwest Michigan, this year (2016) set for 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 1-2. On that weekend she and the other artists along the 12-stop, self-guided driving route will be in their studios, actively demonstrating their crafts, engaging with visitors—even serving refreshments.

“All of the studios will be open, people can talk to each artist during the tour,” says Soltysiak of the 27th annual event. “I’ll do Raku firing, they’ll see fresh pots come out of the kiln.” The free tour features pottery, ceramics, glass and mixed media artists, jewelry makers and painters at work in historic schoolhouses, a town hall that dates to 1892, rural settings and vintage storefronts. It’s a behind-the-scenes peek at the creative process and the environments that inspire the artists.

The Arts and Eats Tour, also in southwest Michigan, guides visitors to art studios and galleries (including some Blue Coast Artists), but this self-guided driving art tour spotlights additional cultural attractions plus culinary and agricultural gems tucked into the rolling countryside. The sixth annual event is free and takes place from 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 15-16.

Further expanding the pleasure trail concept, the Lake Huron Discovery Tour showcases the history, arts, and natural, culinary and other wonders of the northeastern Lower Peninsula. Over the Columbus Day weekend, from Friday, Oct. 7 through Monday the 10th, communities, cultural and outdoors organizations, artists and businesses host dozens of activities and events for this art tour along the 200-mile US-23 Heritage Route that hugs the Lake Huron shore from Standish to Mackinaw City.

Tim Pritchard, an artist and owner of Domaci Gallery in Rogers City, is excited to participate in the second annual event. Year-round, his gallery showcases the work of 60 professional artists, but on the October holiday weekend he will again invite youngsters to unleash their creativity by creating chalk art masterpieces on the sidewalk outside of his shop. “The kids get so excited,” says Pritchard of the fun, if temporary, art project. “They really get into it, and the parents do, watching them.”

The Lake Huron Discover Tour meanders through old logging and maritime towns, past sandy beaches and photogenic lighthouses. The River Road Scenic Byway branches westward for 22 miles through the AuSable River Valley, with designated turnouts for taking in the bluff top views, especially beautiful during fall color season.


Can’t make it to one of the scheduled art trail events? Follow the Art & Craft Trails guide produced annually by Crooked Tree Arts Center of Petoskey and Traverse City. It lists 50 art studios, galleries and centers across northwest Michigan, including Three Pines Studio in Cross Village, perfect for making your own art tour.

Gene Reck, a ceramics artist, and his wife Joann Condino, who creates fiber art, conceived Three Pines Studio as “a working studio in the Arts & Crafts tradition.” The inviting cottage is also a gallery for their work and that of more than 40 northern Michigan artists. It’s a beehive of artistic activity all year-round, so visitors are fairly certain to see Condino dyeing fabric, Reck turning out functional pottery, or visiting artists at work.

On Oct. 1, their 7th Annual Great Lakes Glass Pumpkin Patch Day, “There are pumpkins everywhere,” says Condino of the multi-color orbs made by local glassblowers Lynn Dinning and Harry Boyer. “In our studio, throughout the gardens. There’s music and food. It’s an incredible fall festival.” Collectors return each year to choose among the hundreds of pumpkins priced from $40 to $450. “People just love pumpkins,” says Condino. “Because they’re not only in orange, there’s no seasonal attachment. It’s about the shape, color and form.”

The glass pumpkins are so popular that they’re now available throughout October, a perfect reason for a fall color season drive to Cross Village along M-119, the scenic “Tunnel of Trees.”

THREE PINES STUDIO threepinesstudio.com

ART & CRAFT TRAILS crookedtree.org

This article originally appeared in the 2016 fall/winter issue of Experience Michigan magazine. The contents of this article were checked for accuracy when it was published; however, it’s possible some of the information has changed. We recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the destinations, attractions or restaurants mentioned in this article.

No portion of this article or magazine may be reproduced without prior written permission by the publisher.


Kath Usitalo is the author of three books, “Secret Upper Peninsula: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure,” “100 Things to Do in the Upper Peninsula Before You Die” and “100 Things to Do on Mackinac Island Before You Die.”

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