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Studio tour reveals 'hidden gems' around Lakes Country

The exterior of The Arthouse, located on Rush Lake in Ottertail. Marie Nitke/FOCUS1 / 5
Artist Shirlee Aho Daulton, inside her Rush Lake studio in June. In her hand is homemade paper, crafted with onion and corn husks. Marie Nitke/FOCUS2 / 5
Turtle sculptures, jewelry, clothing, fish prints and other original works line the walls and shelves inside The Arthouse. Marie Nitke/FOCUS3 / 5
Shari Krause, of Pine Mill Furniture near Ottertail, holds her personalized "Diva Doll." She custom makes the dolls with the buyer's own jewelry and personal trinkets. Marie Nitke/FOCUS4 / 5
A shot of the inside of Pine Mill Farm Furniture. Examples of the Krause's woodworking and design can be found all over the studio. Hanging to the left of the doorway is one of Shari's original paintings. Marie Nitke/FOCUS5 / 5

The annual Art of the Lakes studio tour isn't just for art lovers.

Anyone looking for a good excuse to get out of the house, drive through some of the region's most scenic areas, and meet salt-of-the-earth people who do justice to Minnesota's 'nice' reputation, will be delighted by this best-kept-secret event of the summer.

This year's tour will feature the work of 37 artists at 26 locations extending from Perham to Alexandria, making it the biggest yet. The tour has been a summer staple in the area for the last several years. This year's tour will take place July 20-22.

Featured works will range from fine furniture to handmade jewelry, pottery to t-shirts, paintings to sculpture, and everything in between - and all as unique as the artists themselves.

Take The Arthouse, for example. This little hidden gem of a gallery is nestled into tall trees next to the artist's summer cabin on Rush Lake. Visitors to the charming, cottage-style building will be greeted by butterflies flitting through a front garden.

Inside, the walls of this tiny two-story studio are covered with creative works of all kinds. Artist Shirlee Aho Daulton, who has operated The Arthouse for about 25 years, is skilled at many crafts. She paints, sculpts, makes paper from plants, creates jewelry, and even does fish prints. Often, the fish she uses she caught herself, right there in the lake behind her studio. 

"It's very eclectic kind of stuff," she says of her work.

Outside The Arthouse, Daulton's daughter, Sandra Schaughnessy, displays her wares. A pottery instructor at the Edina Arts Center, Shaughnessy keeps the front patio stocked with her raku and soda-fired bowls and other pottery. 

Inside and out, the place is covered in creativity. But the real treasure is Daulton herself: as friendly as they come, this "100 percent Finn" encourages all her visitors to sign her guestbook. Be sure to do so if you visit.

Just down the road from there, on County Road 54 in Ottertail, is another treasure 'hidden in the woodwork' - in more ways than one.

Pine Mill Farm Furniture Company, owned by Roger and Shari Krause, features mostly custom-made wood furnishings, including beds, dressers, chairs, tables, chests and even artisan birdhouses. 

The couple works with all hardwoods, selling some basic pieces out of a studio next to their home and working with customers on specialty orders. 

"A lot of people come in and they need something of a certain size, or a certain color," explained Shari. 

The Krauses have had the furniture company for 23 years; before that, Roger was a homebuilder. He started dabbling in woodworking, and she discovered an interest in furniture design. Over the years, their skills and interest grew, and they decided to make a business out of it. 

The first thing they ever sold, Shari said, was a wooden rocking horse. Three years later, they had made and sold 8,000 rocking horses. While they had found success in working with some larger businesses, they decided it was more rewarding to keep things at a smaller scale, and they started working more closely with customers on custom pieces.

The quality of the work speaks for itself, as do the patrons, who keep coming back for more. Shari said they still have repeat customers from 20-some years ago.

Visitors to the Pine Mill will also see some of Shari's paintings and other artwork. Her latest creations, called "Diva Dolls," are custom-made dolls crafted from wooden spoons and the buyer's own jewelry. The idea is to make them a unique display of personal treasures that may otherwise sit in a drawer unseen. 

Shari's own doll, for example, holds some very meaningful items, including a 'Faith' charm that came to her during a difficult time last year, and a trinket that symbolizes her relationship with her sisters.

The Arthouse and Pine Mill are just two of the many stories waiting to be told along this year's Art of the Lakes gallery tour.

Sponsored by Art of the Lakes, a volunteer organization that runs a gallery in Battle Lake, the tour is more than just an opportunity for artists to display and sell their work. It's also a chance for the organization to develop and promote an interest in visual arts. A goal of Art of the Lakes it to stimulate art appreciation and encourage emerging artists. 

Tour participants will be treated along the way to art demonstrations, conversations with the artists, and hors d'oeuvres.

Studios will be open from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and from noon-5 p.m on Sunday (not all studios will be open on Sunday).

For more information, including a full map of tour stops, visit Maps are also included inside brochures available at the Art of the Lakes in Battle Lake, or at all the participating studios during the weekend of the tour.