Irene’s Story

Edgewood Orchard Galleries opened its doors June 29, 1969. It was an enterprise concocted mostly by my mother, Irene Pamperin Haberland, following the death of my father, John. Where she was like Auntie Mame, he was quiet, constant, a family doctor born on a Wisconsin farm in 1898, a gentleman whose wish was to serve, who made house calls and sat with the dying. We grew up in Milwaukee across the street from St. Mary’s Hospital where he practiced his entire life.

Irene was once described as “always a lady, but never bound by convention” and that is an accurate description. She loved people, she loved art, and she loved life. Born in 1902, she was a college graduate, an art teacher, and an immensely loving wife and mother of three. She took flying lessons in the ‘20s, charted horoscopes, and backed Broadway plays. She had a lifelong love of the theatre, and people such as Edward Everett Horton and Ethel Waters stayed at our house, where the table was always finely set for eight. Believing a woman should have spending money of her own, she raised 300 canaries on the third floor of our Terrace Avenue home. Our grade school class took field trips to our house. In 1959, she took out a loan to buy 80 acres in a place called Door County. She said she had fallen in love with some trees. When people wondered what on earth she would do with that much land she replied, “Walk on it.”

When my father died, in the winter 1967, this independent spirit said she had “lost her gyroscope.” She thought she might join the Peace Corps (Africa), but then wondered if I would help her open an art gallery on the Door County land. I took a two-month leave of absence from my work as a young writer at the University of Chicago Press, and friends from near and far came to help prepare the old 1918 barn for this new adventure.

Mom had a section of antiques at one end of the barn and I traveled to art fairs and universities all over the Midwest meeting artists and bringing back their work. These were not the days of business plans and when we opened the doors, we had no lights but we had champagne. There were only a few artist studios here at the time and there was great camaraderie—Madeline Tourtelot at the art school, Abe and Ginka at the Potter’s Wheel, Charlie Lyons at the Paint Box, jewelers Tom and Amanda DeWitt, the glassblower behind Ray’s Cherry Hut, the potters on the hill nearby. Lots of us had other jobs, and I began one that would last for several years—waitressing at Maxwelton Braes and the C&C Club.

It took seven years to break even, but only a few weeks to know I wouldn’t be going back to Chicago. With no planning and no conscious preparation, I had found what I wanted to do. “We’re so free,” I overheard my mother say from behind the counter one day. “I’m too old to care about money, and Anne’s too young.”

That winter I moved to Milwaukee to pursue my newfound waitress career (at the just-opened Performing Arts Center) and had the good fortune to meet Minnow Emerson, an architecture student at UWM with plans to head to Alaska. He made a detour the next summer and came to Fish Creek instead. There we married, had a wonderful daughter, Nell, a wonderful son, Tucker, and a string of good dogs and cats. Minnow took the old stone barn and created a place of serenity and inspiration, adding leaded glass windows and carved doors, a courtyard, and then building a second gallery to mirror the original. And year-by-year more wonderful artists, many of them developing national reputations, trusted us to show their exceptional artwork.

Irene died in 1978 at the age of 76. She had nearly 10 years in the gallery and truly loved every minute she was here. “People involved with art don’t age,” she said, and I believe that’s true. Each day brought new people, new artwork, new adventures, and she set the tone—whatever you do in life, make it fun and a chance to connect with interesting, good people. The little girl, Nell, who loved her grandma so, was only four when Irene died, but she knows her inside and out from the adventures they shared sitting together in that back antique section. Now she and her husband, J.R. Jarosh, own and run the gallery. They are parents of wonderful twin girls, Abigail Irene and Anna Elizabeth, who love to draw and wonder when they can start to exhibit their originals at Edgewood Orchard!

J.R., once the well-loved physical therapist at Scandia Village in Sister Bay, has found a new life that draws on all his talents. As a Master Gardener, he has created the beautiful gardens you see all around the gallery, and he’s brought artwork outside by building an award-winning sculpture garden that winds a little farther each year. His dry-stacked stone walls are lovingly built using rocks from Irene’s back 40—better than a dowry.

And I look at Nell, the warmth of her smile greeting all who walk through the door, the happiness she radiates as a young wife and mother, the magic she brings to creating the exhibits, the colors, the shapes, the beauty of it all. She grew up in the gallery and has been part of it for many years. But now it is fully hers, with J.R., and it is their thoughts and their ideas and their dreams you will see coming true. Nell is her own person, but when I look at her behind the counter, placing a piece of jewelry just right, I can’t help but see myself as a young woman and, best of all, feel the warmth and openness and honesty that keeps Irene’s spirit alive.

In many ways it feels as though life has come full circle. The gallery is now approaching 50 years old and Minnow and I are once again with little children, but now they’re grandchildren! Nell and J.R. and Abby and Anna live 10 minutes from us, and Tucker and his wife Anne, both chiropractors with a clinic just two blocks away, have two young boys—Hobbs and Walter. And there’s time, too, for renewed adventures, Minnow back in the studio with his woodwork and leaded glass, and me picking up the pen again and also working to build a Writing Center just a block away. No matter what lies ahead, we are grateful beyond words for the life of beauty, and friendship, and love that Edgewood Orchard Galleries gave us, and we say thank you to all who have been part of it.

~ Anne Haberland Emerson