Where can you find 65 artists in a concentrated area that touches three states? Only on this self-guided tour, which starts in Galena and continues to grow.
The allure and charm of the historic Galena, Ill., area has made it a favorable destination for many day trippers, weekenders and vacationers seeking solace, sports activities and a variety of enticing adventures throughout the year.
To add a little more magic to this beautiful region, a talented group of artists have created a new way for travelers to experience the greater Galena area in a very different way.
The Scenic Art Loop (SAL) in Galena was founded nearly eight years ago, and it continues to grow with enthusiastic momentum every year. It’s a laid-back, self-guided tour that shows off an arts community stretching from northwestern Illinois to southeastern Iowa and southwestern Wisconsin. It fulfills the demand for quality, unforgettable rural art experiences that many of Galena’s visitors crave.
Anyone following the tour is encouraged to use the specially created map through their own lens and special interests. Along the way, they’re sure to find unexpected surprises and treasure hunts within their own personally selected tours. The map is continually updated with studio locations and descriptions in all three states. Find it and download it on the Scenic Art Loop website, at scenicartloop.com. It’s an opportunity to see art, meet artists and even touch the artist within you.
Henry Matthiessen III, a premier photographer of Stoned Art Photography & Stone Candles in Dubuque, Iowa, is founder of the nonprofit All River Road Talent (ARRT). He envisioned bringing together local artists and providing a way for the public to access them all.
“I wanted to start a synergy of enjoying and appreciating the arts,” he says, adding that he wants “to lead by example and foster collaboration with artists by offering them positive networking and a chance to showcase their art directly to the public.”
Matthiessen encouraged photographer Amy May Laskye, CCP, who runs Amy May Photography in Galena, to join the effort. Together, they created the Scenic Art Loop map.
“Galena is an amazing place, but we want you to extend your vision past Main Street and to come out and see the broader area with so many places to stop,” says Laskye. “Take a beautiful scenic drive experiencing the rolling hills of the area. Hear the birds, feel the wind, smell the air. The area and the cultural arts here hit all of our senses.”
Matthiessen and Laskye focus on different kinds of photography. Their interests diverge the same as every other artist along this growing tour.
“I enjoy the post process of photography with an eye on Edward Hopper and even Cezanne,” Matthiessen says. “My intent is to stimulate your senses and heighten an awareness of the natural wonders of this unique region showcasing its beauty, drama and emotion.”
In addition, Matthiessen creates handmade, one-of-a-kind “stoned oil lamps” made from stone he harvests during road trips through the United States.
Laskye has an eye on commercial and real estate photography, portrait photography and fine art boudoir portraits. “I have always connected with people and want to capture something authentic, compelling and innovative,” says the self-taught photographer.
An integral collaborator of Matthiessen and Laskye’s ARRT team and the Scenic Art Loop is Stephonie Schmitz of SAO Dzynz in Dubuque. The photographer and graphic designer is also joined on the tour by many creative types who have found a niche in this scenic part of the country.
Many of these artists have honed their crafts right here within the Driftless Region, so named for the rugged landscapes, deeply carved river valleys and cold-water trout streams that were virtually untouched by glaciers thousands of years ago. A scenic drive through this corner of Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa offers spectacular views, epic sights and an inspiring atmosphere.
The Scenic Art Loop is the Driftless Region’s only year-round exclusive art guide, and it highlights more than 65 artists along its path. A meander throughout the region provides a peek into the studios of photographers, artists, potters, galleries, crafters, metalworkers, and painters where they unleash their hidden talents.
The imaginative art forms extend to the culinary arts with wineries, breweries, distilleries and restaurants, including Galena’s Chestnut Mountain Resort and Dubuque stops such as the Smokestack and the Brazen Open Kitchen. The performance arts also have their place as the tour highlights live music, theatrical venues and museums.
The Scenic Art Loop always keeps it fresh. Each first full weekend of the month, artists come together to host the Scenic Art Loop by ARRT’s Monthly Art Drive, which is managed by Schmitz. A new map is created each month to showcase the participants and offer the community a new art experience. You’ll find 10 to 20 artists are part of the mix, with the list always varying by season.
“We are excited to offer this twist each month,” says Matthiessen. “All we ask is that, if you are taking an adventure on our Scenic Art Loop, please call the particular artist you’d like to visit to make sure they are available to meet you at their studio.”
Since the Scenic Art Loop’s inception, Matthiessen has been a tireless champion and promoter. So far, the Art Loop has had support and collaboration from the Visit Galena visitors bureau and Travel Wisconsin, the official guide to Wisconsin tourism.
“We have become somewhat of a national leader through our unique Scenic Art Loop project,” adds Matthiessen. The Art Loop was recognized as “Best of the River Art Tour” by River Travel Magazine in 2021. It was also presented at the 2021 “Radically Rural National Summit.” A short video presentation produced by ARRT, which is available online, shows the huge impact the Arts Loop has on the 1.5 million tourists who visit Galena on an annual basis.
“ARRT creates an opportunity for us to create an awareness of the wealth of rural artist studios, galleries and businesses throughout the Scenic Art Loop,” notes Matthiessen. “It is also invaluable in educating artists on business and marketing best practices and creates a marketing synergy between artists. We have seen that artists who embrace the GSLA see an increase in their own revenues as well.”
Now that the Art Loop has a strong start and a foothold in Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin, Matthiessen believes it may be possible to expand into the southeastern portion of Minnesota. “Art groups in that area have approached us and would like to become a part of our Art Loop, too,” he says. “I’m excited that the word of our success is spreading.”
He’s even thinking that bigger and better things are ahead.
“I have been invited to attend the Wisconsin State Fair this summer and speak to the travel writers who attend. That will give us at ARRT and SAL an even broader platform to spread the word about our organization and all of the positive outcomes.”