The diverse state of Michigan provides plenty of opportunities for weekend getaways, and though most destinations, such as Mackinac Island , are admittedly more fun to visit in the summertime, some are just as pleasant during the fall months. Saugatuck and Douglas , a pair of coastal resort towns in the southwestern part of the Lower Peninsula, are two such destinations. Together, these picturesque villages – along with nearby Holland, Fennville, and South Haven – feature more than 30 art galleries and studios, earning the region its nickname: the Art Coast of Michigan.
Although I'm currently in New Orleans, where art lovers routinely flock to the art galleries and antique shops of Royal Street in the French Quarter, I find myself reflecting on a recent visit to Michigan's Art Coast and hoping to return there soon. My husband, Daniel, and I ventured to the area with some friends, and though we enjoyed exploring places like the Keewatin Maritime Museum , we also spent some time strolling in and out of several notable galleries.
One of our first stops in Saugatuck was The Timmel Collection  (133 Main St., 269/857-7274, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily Mar.-Nov., by appt. Dec.-Feb.), a labyrinth of rooms, brimming with contemporary paintings, sculptures, photographs, fine prints, and pottery. Founded in 1988, the gallery also features the Saugatuck Garden Center for the Arts, an outdoor sculpture garden filled with flowers, foliage, practical items like benches and birdbaths, and whimsical oddities such as metallic animal sculptures and wooden, hand-carved gnomes. Needless to say, the garden was my favorite part of the Timmel experience.
Not far away, at the corner of Water and Main, the Discovery Art Center  (347 Water St., 269/857-8225, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. daily in spring and summer, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Fri.-Sun. Oct., 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat.-Sun. Nov.-Dec.) features the paintings, photographs, sculptures, dolls, jewelry, and other original creations of more than a dozen local artists. Here, you can even enroll in summertime art classes. A few doors to the south lies the Tuscan Pot Studio & Gallery  (321 Water St., 269/857-5550, hours vary Wed.-Mon.), the working studio and showcase gallery of artist Rachael Hirt, who specializes in hand-painted, Italian-style pottery, dinnerware, tiles, and mosaics. In the next block, at the corner of Water and Mason, Good Goods  (106 Mason St., 888/857-6501, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. daily in spring and summer, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri.-Sat. in fall and winter) offers an eclectic collection of fine art, ceramics, glasswork, jewelry, lamps, soap, and furniture, including cabinets that look as though they belong in a Dr. Seuss book. Two highlights of this quirky gallery include a room containing Sarah Grant's colorfully hand-painted tables, chairs, mirrors, and other accessories as well as the outdoor sculpture garden (pictured above) featuring one-of-a-kind seating, such as Cricket Forge's butterfly benches.
For something a little different, it's worth stopping by Amazwi Contemporary Art  (249 Culver St., 269/857-5551 or 224/766-5200, hours vary Apr.-Aug., by appt. in fall and winter), situated a couple blocks to the southeast of Good Goods. Here, instead of traditional African masks and wood carvings, you'll find the vibrant paintings and expressive sculptures of more than 200 contemporary African artists. Then, before heading south to Douglas, stroll one block east to the Saugatuck Center for the Arts  (400 Culver St., 269/857-2399, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri. and during evening performances), where, in addition to two theater spaces that present an assortment of concerts, films, and comedy shows, you'll encounter various artistic exhibitions throughout the year, including a showcase of student paintings (Oct. 6 to Nov. 1) and a collection of mechanical toys and pop-up books (Nov. 5 to Dec. 27).
If you haven't yet tired of this Michigan art walk, cross Kalamazoo Lake via the Blue Star Highway and turn east onto Center Street in downtown Douglas. Here, you'll find a handful of curious galleries, including the Water Street Gallery  (98 Center St., 269/857-8485, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Thurs.-Tues. in spring and summer, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Thurs.-Mon. in fall and winter), which features various art exhibitions throughout the year, such as the current abstract showcase (Oct. 9 to Nov. 3) and an upcoming annual glass show (Nov. 6 to Dec. 8). Just down the street, Fancy Nancy & Framer's Alley  (35 Center St., 269/857-7111, hours vary), a gallery boutique dedicated to longtime visitor Nancy Murray, presents original paintings, photographs, pottery, jewelry, and kinetic garden art. Farther south on the Blue Star Highway, you'll encounter the Button-Petter Gallery  (161 Blue Star Hwy., 269/857-2175, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. daily), a recent merging of the area's two oldest galleries, which now represents the paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, sculptures, ceramics, glasswork, and textile art of more than 80 regional and national artists.
Also in this region lie the seven art studios and galleries that compose the behind-the-scenes Blue Coast Artists  tour. Perhaps my favorite is the Khnemu Studio on Fernwood Farm  (6322 113th Ave., Fennville, 269/236-9260, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wed.-Sun. Apr.-Oct., by appt. year-round), a restored, 1890s-era barn that constitutes the working studio of ceramic artist Dawn Soltysiak. In addition, art lovers can peruse a fine art and craft gallery, attend special events, and participate in periodic classes and workshops.
All of the above-mentioned art galleries, which are free to visit, represent just a third of the offerings in this part of Michigan. For more information about these and other galleries along the state's Art Coast, contact the Saugatuck/Douglas Convention & Visitors Bureau  (2902 Blue Star Hwy., Saugatuck, 269/857-1701, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri.) or consult the latest edition of Moon Michigan . Happy art hunting!
As always, I’m open to ideas for future posts. If you have any suggestions, burning questions, or destinations that you’d like me to explore in greater detail, please comment below or contact me via laura [at] wanderingsoles [dot] com.
Disclosure: While I occasionally accept free or discounted travel assistance when it coincides with my editorial goals, my opinion is never for sale, which means that everything written in my American Nomad  blog and my Moon travel guides is my unbiased reflection of the things that I see, do, and experience while traveling across the United States.
Photo of Good Goods  / Text © 2010 Laura Martone