Barbara Bend, Fiber Sculpture Artist
barbbend.com, colorcrossing.com

I’m such a tactile person. When I’m out, I look for places where I can see and touch things, or have an experience that moves me.

ART ANYTIME OF YEAR

There are few places where I’m happier than when I’m outside. No matter where I am in the Valley, there’s a natural wonder calling out to me to explore it.

A place I return to, time after time, is Blueberry Hill, a remnant prairie south of Bayport. It overlooks the river and railroad tracks. It’s an amazing place to take photos, do Plein Air painting, or just sit and contemplate life. The Prairie Enthusiasts maintain the land and keep it in a beautiful, natural state. It just feels special and remote here, even though it’s within spitting distance of Highway 94.

I’ll sometimes head to Willow River State Park in Hudson to watch the birds and see the seasons change. In the summer, there’s a joyous chorus of birdsong and laughing children playing in the waterfall.

The Phipps Center for the Arts in Hudson is where I go for music and theater. The art gallery here is also quite exceptional (full disclosure: I’ve had work shown here! It’s an honor to be included).

Most days you can find me at a fiber artist studio in Roberts, called Color Crossing. There are 20 studio artists working here, and large floor looms, spinning wheels, and weaving and knitting yarns. Come check it out: it’s open by appointment and during the winter Holiday Show.

Nothing provides a cap to a creative day quite like a good craft cocktail. In my mind, you can’t beat LoLo American Kitchen or Pedro’s del Este, both in Hudson. Funky, hip, chill… What more could you want from your local bar?

SEASONAL ARTS EXPERIENCES

I’m an artist, so maybe I’m biased in thinking this, but a handmade gift is so much more meaningful than something from a big box store. Especially if YOU are the one making it.

In the fall, why not head to one of the places in the Valley where you can throw your own pots? Kinnickinnic Clayworks in River Falls and Mudslinger Pottery in Afton help beginners and experienced potters alike throw, glaze and fire their own pots. You’ll have a one-of-a-kind gift for someone special come holiday season.

Don’t you dare think that winter here means boring, dull, and gray, or being stuck in the house!

Head to any of the yarn shops in the Valley and you’ll be taken in by the warmth, camaraderie and creativity.

I am a sucker for a good yarn shop and I love Darn Knit Anyway in Stillwater. They have classes, open knitting sessions, and exquisite yarn. And they’re located in the Brick Alley building, which happens to be one of three buildings reimagined by local architect Michael McGuire. The other two are right nearby: Tin Bins in the old Commander grain elevator and the Dock Cafe.

Another fun, crafty wintertime activity is to blow your own glass holiday ornament at Casanova Glass Studio in Hudson.

So many art galleries have winter holiday shows, it’s impossible to recommend just one. Pick any weekend, starting in mid-November and running through about the third weekend in December, and you’ll find one-off artwork from local and regional artists that will be a great addition to someone’s collection – including your own!

Come springtime, the river isn’t the only thing that floods. It seems like all of the artists, who spent their winters indoors, perfecting their craft, want to throw open their doors and let their creativity spill out.

The artOPENer St. Croix Valley Studio Tour, along the St. Croix River between Afton, and Stillwater, is a prime example. For this one weekend in early May, you can actually go into an artist’s studio, see them at work, and buy finished pieces.

If you’re in the northern part of the Valley, the Earth Arts Spring Art Tour also takes place in early May, near Amery and St. Croix Falls. There are such talented artists on display at this tour, including metal and sculpture artists, and glass workers. The landscape is different up here, too. It’s hillier, the woods are more dense, the river is narrower. It’s a great drive.

If you love driving the winding, rustic roads in the Valley, the third weekend in August is one you should reserve on your calendar for the annual Plein Air Hudson event. Put on by SEASONS on St. Croix Gallery in Hudson, approximately 20 regional artists are invited to each create three Plein Air, or “in the open air,” paintings in three days. It’s a “who’s who/where’s who” event, culminating with the hanging and judging of the finished pieces at SEASONS. It’s art as sport!

If you really like to get off the beaten path, head to the Carpenter Nature Center Wisconsin Campus Art Show. This location is a little-known gem with beautiful prairies. The show is every bit as rewarding as the larger art fairs later in the autumn, with live music, food and drink, and, of course, great art.

MORE IDEAS FROM BARB

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