“Everyone is entitled to a home where the sun, the stars, open fields, giant trees, and smiling flowers are free to teach an undisturbed lesson of life.”
—Jens Jensen, Prominent Landscape Architect and Founder of The Clearing Folk School in Door County
There’s a secret getaway in Door County—well, maybe not so secret to those who are passionate about creating with their hands. It’s The Clearing Folk School, which was created to bring people back in touch with nature and each other.
Just outside Ellison Bay, The Clearing rests in 128 acres of woods and meadows bordered by bluffs. Landscape architect Jens Jensen (1860-1951) founded the school on his family’s property, creating a signature project that continues to bring together the core essence of his philosophy: that we’re a product of our environment and that our environment can influence our outlook on life.
After Jens Jenson’s death, The Clearing, under the steady hand of his personal assistant, Mertha Fulkerson, expanded beyond landscape architecture to include classes in the arts, crafts, humanities, and natural sciences.
The Clearing offers:
• A retreat not to escape, but to pause from the daily activities of work and everyday life.
• A chance to learn a new skill or to hone an existing one.
• A place where one can enjoy all the best Mother Nature offers and the space to pursue activities, arts, and crafts that satisfy the heart, mind, and hand.
There are year-long educational opportunities in three types of learning experiences. The Summer Program, which runs from May to October, offers weeklong, live-in classes. The Workshop Program serves as an introductory experience with one-, two-, and three-day classes, and runs from May to November. The Winter Program features one-day programs in January and February.
Each series includes a breadth of topics, so finding just one to focus on might be difficult. Each class is taught in a relaxed style that’s both noncompetitive and hands on. Join other enthusiasts to paint, write poetry, carve wood, weave, quilt, work metal, or other creative endeavors.
You should be ready to completely immerse yourself if you plan to attend a Summer Program class. The Clearing has a closed campus policy for resident classes, and cell phone use is discouraged, being limited to the parking areas. Visitors are limited in order to respect the retreat experience of those attending. But if you don’t mind disconnecting, it will be an experience you’ll remember and a connection with others who share your interest and passion.
Registration for the Summer Program has strict start dates and times, so read the instructions carefully. Differently abled students should look carefully at the descriptions for the grounds and buildings. The historic nature of the school means that stairs and rough ground are part of getting around.
The beauty of The Clearing lies in its location and surroundings. Situated near the tip of Door County atop a limestone cliff, the natural features of the property are enhanced by trails, council rings for gathering, a player’s green (drama), and labyrinth. And the historic stone and wood buildings with handmade quilts and furnishings make for a cozy stay. You’ll not find alarm clocks or televisions, but instead places to read, sit, and enjoy the peace and quiet.
Tours are given on most Saturdays and Sundays from May to October, so call ahead to confirm a tour time. Docents guide the two-hour walk around the property, so be sure to have sturdy shoes. The Visitor’s Center also offers a glimpse of the history and the ambience you’ll find if you attend a workshop.
In addition to The Clearing, Jens Jensen left behind a legacy in landscape architecture. You can see his hand in the Chicago area where he brought features of the natural, local landscape into focus in public and private spaces. His work reflects the sentiment that all people deserve access to the natural world and recreation outdoors as a healthy and necessary part of what shapes a person’s life. Chicago’s West Park System was one of his projects, and he advocated for the creation of the Cook County Forest Preserve and the Illinois state park system.
A visit to Columbus Park, now a National Historic Landmark, may be the best place to see many of Jens Jensen’s ideas translated into a landscape. The now 140-acre park features native plants, a prairie river, a natural players green (drama), and a stone bench or council ring to invite people to pause, contemplate, and talk to one another.
Jens Jensen also left his mark in Wisconsin designing the City of Racine park system and the Glenwood Children’s Park in Madison. He took the existing landscape and integrated recreational and ornamental features while honoring conservation.
Source: Jensen, Jens. Writings Inspired by Nature edited by William H. Tishler, Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2012.
Liz Wessel is the owner of Green Concierge Travel, which has information for honeymoons and other ecotravel at greenconciergetravel.com .