The Flying Pig Enchants on Lake Michigan's Majestic Shoreline

The Flying Pig Enchants on Lake Michigan's Majestic Shoreline
by Carrie Ferg

Courtesy of Handmade Business

Susan Conner and Robyn Mulhaney Co-Owner of The Flying Pig Gallery and Greenspace The Flying Pig Gallery and Greenspace, located in Algoma, Wisconsin, is not an ordinary art gallery--as its name might suggest. Located in Northeast Wisconsin by the popular tourist destination lakeshore of Lake Michigan in Door County, the gallery and greenspace beautifully converges the outdoor environment and changing seasons with art. "We decided to not feel encumbered by Wisconsin's seasonal changes, but rather challenged," says Susan Conner, co-owner of The Flying Pig. "We built a space [leveraging] a natural wetland area, lake Michigan views, and open spaces, ready for extensive public gardens that would also serve as retail space. The architecture of our building was greatly inspired by the vernacular of our rural Wisconsin location."

Open April through December and now in its 11th season, the gallery and greenspace was designed with sustainable attributes in mind, like passive solar and geothermal heating and cooling.

Conner, whose background is in accounting and library science, partnered with Robyn Mulhaney, a master gardener and artist, to create the compelling environment that keeps visitors coming back season after season. "The act of discovery and surprise is commonly used throughout the gallery and gardens," Conner says.

Playing outside the parameters of what's "normal" is something the gallery's owners pride themselves on. "The Flying Pig was intended to bend the rules," Conner says. "Its origins lie in folk and outsider art, a unique choice in comparison to the fine-art filled Door County Peninsula." Examples of the chosen blend of art displayed include assemblage, concrete, wood and ceramics, to name a few. A large hanging winch installation graces the space, for instance, and the Back Gallery shows works of emerging artists--while the second floor showcases larger two- and three-dimensional works. The first floor is dedicated to a collection of potters, jewelers, and craftspeople who call The Flying Pig their home gallery. The first floor space is also more whimsical and active, with a coffee shop and doors that open to gardens.

"We strive for a fun, educational, and inspiring experience, with an intentional effort to remove the intimidation from our gallery space," Conner says.
First Floor of The Flying Pig Gallery Featuring Works of Emerging Artists

While there are certainly mundane checklists to accomplish every day as an order of operating The Flying Pig, it's "the possibilities" that keeps Conner inspired to come to work every day. She explains, "It may be the guest that takes the time to thank you for your unique representation of the arts world, the parent walking the gardens hand-in-hand with their child, explaining how things are created, the artists who tell you they stop for inspiration, or the family who visits each year, giving us an opportunity to watch their family members grow and become artists themselves."

The robust online artist marketplaces have created a challenge for the brick-and-mortar gallery spaces that once represented and marketed artists. Conner and Mulhaney had to determine where exactly The Flying Pig fit in the crowded space. "New gallery owners need to take that into consideration when designing their spaces, developing their business models, and selecting their artists. They should not compete with them, but align themselves with them, focusing on the missed art 'experience' and education that the online galleries lack," Conner says.

So Conner and Mulhaney opted for a "Web-lite" approach, with just an informational website and social media pages. Beyond that, they rely on more traditional marketing methods--the bustling tourist traffic of Door County, print advertising, appearances for Wisconsin Public Television's Wisconsin Gardner show, as well as garden forum presentations held around the state. "Our greatest challenge in the digital marketplace was in the decision to enter it or not," says Conners. "We looked closely at online sales five years ago, eventually deciding to remain brick-and-mortar only. We found there to be too much potential for conflict and competition with the artists we represent, especially with the proliferation of online artist marketplaces, such as Etsy."

The arts and crafts world is not impervious to trends, and Conners and Mulhaney have take notice of a growing environmental art movement. "Being visual, artists have always been in the forefront of using their talents to make public statements about current issues and events," says Conners. "We have embraced this trend by exhibiting, creating, and stepping to the forefront as a business affected by local environmental issues."

But regardless of the larger arts and crafts scene, Conners and Mulhaney are intent on doing their own "thing," true to The Flying Pig style--or lack thereof. "Rather than cultivate a style, we give Robyn the freedom to create using our retail environment and gardens as her palette--artists' creations and plants, her medium," Conners says.

And despite making a comment years ago that they would own their own business "when pigs fly" (hence the gallery's name), Mulhaney and Conner have created and continue to create an iconic gallery and greenspace that draws new visitors and repeating visitors back year after year because they're compelled to discover and re-discover the bit of peninsula magic that resides on Lake Michigan's majestic shoreline. The unique gallery and green space is a must-stop for any Midwestern travel experience and one that can only be had in real life.