By Laurel Ciohon
Undeniably, Door County is filled with natural beauty. The water, the rock formations, the trees – we are surrounded by physical manifestations of one of the most beautiful places on earth. Among that bounty, what most inspires Ephraim artist Fred Bridenhagen, a lifelong native, is the natural beauty that can only be found off the beaten path. There are so many untouched, hidden places that still exist, he says, you just have to take the time to seek them. “Let your senses take over. Listen for water running. Inhale the smells. It’s almost like an epiphany when you discover a new place. And it’s sort of crazy that they still exist,” says Bridenhagen.
As an artist who has never had a formal lesson, Bridenhagen has never failed to capture Door County’s beauty in his spectacular work. His newest collection of paintings, all done with oil paint on linen, portray these wild, off-the-beaten-path places. “People don’t take enough time to explore. We’re sitting on such a beautiful piece of the planet. I want to capture the wonderment that draws everyone here.”
Fred often doesn’t find his inspiration by going to the commonly-known landmarks or parks. He prefers to wander and get lost, to stumble upon Door County’s beauty where many have not traveled. He doesn’t share where his ‘secret spots’ are, but he invites you to do what he does – follow your senses, take in the beauty of your surroundings, and forget about the hustle and bustle of life for a while. Maybe you’ll just happen to stumble upon the inspiration behind one of his newest paintings.
Bridenhagen’s newest pieces, including his favorite, No Return, can be seen at Water Street Gallery in Ephraim. He works from original photographs that he takes in nature, and each painting takes 1-2 weeks to complete. He explains that his oil painting style is actually similar to a watercolor because he doesn’t use a heavy paint application. You’ll find Fred at the gallery most days, usually settled in front of his easel, working on his next painting. Stop in, say hello, and let Fred tell you in person about what really inspires him.