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Art Saves an Enchanting Forest • by Amy Sperry Faldet

I know as I step there is a thank-you on every breath. I know that I feel a magic here as I could never feel anywhere else. It is a clearing of the mind and a filling of the heart to be part of Jens Jensen’s legacy, a student at his Folk Art School named appropriately, “The Clearing” in Ellison Bay, Wisconsin.

Art Saved This Land
It is something that lives with you and comes home with you, the creativity, the art, the nature, the conservation of a pristine northern forest on a point of land most never think of. I am a winter student of this legacy. I walk through the elven woods and my breaths crystallize in the pure January air and I marvel at how simple choices and much work have saved this point in Northern Wisconsin. Art saved this land, 125 acres are here free of needless edifice and artifice. As I sit to write this article on this cold, crisp, January day in 2010, it has been 75 years since Jens Jensen decided to begin his endeavor and create a school of art and landscape craft that harmonized with its surroundings, bowed to the setting sun each day, and spoke quietly of all there is to learn from each other. It has been over 50 years since that fateful day when Mertha Fulkerson couldn’t walk away from all that Jens had dreamt could be and saved “The Clearing” for the future, yet, you can feel them say “You’re Welcome” as you say “Thank you” and say “Thank you” to which you say, “You’re Welcome.” I feel welcome nestled in the stone cottages made from the generous Earth. The Three Sister trees nestled in the Craftsman style framed window overlooking the bay wave as if to say, “We are glad we are here. We are glad you are here.” Listen, you can hear them with their quiet grace. Here is their story and what they watched evolve. The trees that Art Saved have stories to tell ...

“The Mission of The Clearing is to provide diverse educational experiences in the folk school tradition, in a setting of quiet forests, meadows and water. The Clearing is a place where adults who share an interest in Nature, arts or humanities can learn, reflect and wonder.” (1) The Clearing Folk Art School was the unique vision and dream of Jens Jensen, a Danish-born immigrant who was an integral part in getting the bill passed that resulted in the Park Forest Preserves for Cook County (2) after beginning as a park manager and becoming one of the most innovative, creative and respectful Landscape Architects Chicago has ever known. Jensen in his later life wished to teach his students how to create landscapes and edifices that were at one with their natural surroundings. “Within a quarter of a century, Jensen saw the beginnings of the death of the wilderness.” (3) It became imperative to Mr. Jensen that there be a place of land preservation that held space in virgin woods looking over cliffs to the setting sun in which people could understand “The Clearing” of the mind. It would take a special place to create a living example of how to live with the pristine woodland and become better humans, as a result. It would take special teachers to bring art, philosophy, landscaping, Nature studies and contemplation to the far reaches of northern Door County, Wisconsin.

Jens Jensen and his secretary, Mertha Fulkerson had exactly those special qualities and attracted other superbly talented instructors. Mertha wrote in her journals, “Mr. Jensen was an original thinker with an appealing personality, attracting to himself many of the writers, poets, architects and artists who were making a reputation for Chicago as a center of intellectual activity during the 1920’s and 1930’s ...” (4) There were “... such notables as the Swedish sculptor Carl Milles, Sherwood Anderson, Eliel Saarinen, Vachel Lindsay, Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, the dancer, Sybil Shearer” (5)and many others who would visit him in his Chicago studio. “I remember telling Mr. Jensen, on his return one day after I had been in his office for a short time, that his friends were a bunch of ‘radicals and anarchists’... Mr. Jensen roared with laughter, and told me to listen and learn. I did. My years in his office were my education and although there was no inkling then of what the future might be, my exposure to the wide-ranging minds of the people in Jensen’s circle was excellent preparation for the responsibilities that lay ahead.” (6) She became a teacher, manager, cook, hostess and conservationist under Jensen’s employ at The Clearing. Jensen sent her to the Cranbrook School of Weaving in preparation for the move to Ellison Bay, WI and The Clearing.

Mertha Fulkerson was responsible for the woods’ eternal “thank-you” upon the death of The Clearing’s creator, Jens Jensen. For she made it possible to preserve the 125 acres by working with The Farm Bureau so that The Clearing’s mission and essence remained true to Jensen’s vision. In 1974, The Clearing was added to the National Registrar of Historic Places by the United States Department of the Interior. The Clearing is a place which gives “... us an opportunity to expand our souls to the highest stretch that we are capable of. In this place that they built, Nature and art are so cunningly combined that a truly human dwelling is the result.” (7) It is a simple thing to go somewhere. It is a common thing to come together for the sake of art, camaraderie, and learning.

It is an uncommon and profound thing to experience The Clearing Folk Art School. It is an uncommon and profound thing to realize that art saved this enchanted forest with its fairytale stone buildings. The spirits I sit with tonight in this cozy common room in the main lodge murmur of how these retreats to The Clearing raise their lives to a level unprecedented. Judy Hasheider, who as a friend and teacher to my Mother, is the reason I have The Clearing in my soul for she is the one who brings all of us to this magical place, remarked in different ways that it is rare when a place in which you create leaves a feeling, a sweet, spiritual dusting on what you make there. I agree. The Clearing does this for me as an independent study student.

Yes, The Clearing is part of each pencil stroke and walks across my journal pages now. It is part of my creative breath. It gives me inspiration anew.

Sharing it with my Mom gives me unwavering joy, vitality, and priceless memories. I breathe thank-you and those around the fire with me smile over their knitting, their handwork and books. I am not sure if they heard my “Thank-you” or if like The Clearing itself, it is just something they can feel. When I leave the lodge this evening, with a glow on my cheeks and in my eyes and as I walk guided by faery lights and snow under my feet covering the flagstone walk, there is a “Thank-you” on every breath and a “Your welcome” in the trees.

It soars over quiet night and the schoolhouse in the dip and the cliffhouse and returns after its joyous swirl to whisper, “Thank-you” and we who for a short while walk through the woods to our Snow White cottages, we all say, “You're Welcome.”


Oh Amy, your writing is so beautiful, you are the most amazing person I have ever met. Spending the day with you and other friends yesterday is just what my spirit needed. I am thankful for you. Cresendoh I am sure is an answer to a lot of people's prayers.

Rena Askey
Belleville Wisconsin

I feel the same about your spirit and creativity and I am honored to have had my words published within your art in Somerset Studios! Thanks for sharing my birthday with me and our beautiful friends. You are a treasure.
Blessings and light, Amy

What a wonderful tribute to a man ahead of his time! I hope to some day have such a wonderful experience as you! Amazing~
I am glad you shared this wonderful story and that fact that this week, we honored Earth Day, makes it very special!

Thank-you Ellen. I feel honored to let my footsteps fall there. Thanks for your words. Blessings.

I can imagine the clearing in my mind. Through your words I sense the space and the trees whispering.
Thank you fir sharing your experience and feelings.
It is a long time since I have been in nature such as that you speak.
But I carry the vibration in my heart.
Kat x

How fortunate we are for all of those whose vision and passion conserve and create a place such as this. I am truly touched by your words, Amy! Thank you so much for sharing 'The Clearing' with all of us!
Your friend ~ Zuzu

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