It was a sandstone outcropping, the point where lead was discovered and this town’s early, raucous history began. First came the miners chasing lead on the surface, then miners from Cornwall who knew how to drill tunnels underground. The Cornish also knew how to build with stone, and they left a remarkably well preserved legacy of architectural treasures in both commercial and residential areas. Lead mining morphed into zinc and when that source died, agriculture and art took over. Artists, including Frank Lloyd Wright, were attracted to this Driftless Area with its woodland hills and underlying ochre limestone, missed by the glaciers that smoothed out the rest of the four states whose Driftless areas border the Mississippi—Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois.
Artists arrived in Mineral Point and stayed from the 1930s on. The works of Eva and Ed Furneke are still showing up frequently on eBay collectibles. Two men, Bob and Edgar, in the 1940s saw that the old miners’ stone cabins were being torn down, and they jumped in and rescued several stone and log homes, preserved them, turned one into a little five-star restaurant, and left their buildings intact. They’re now a State Historic Site called Pendarvis, with tours daily in the summer season.
A UW Platteville art professor incubated a number of promising young artists in one of the old buildings in Mineral Point. Most of them are still creating art in their own studios in town. An old stone brewery building, huge, for many years was used as a spinning and weaving studio and showroom for looms. Several of those young weavers are still in town years later, some still weaving, others shifted into leather or wood creativity. And a new generation of artists has been buying and renovating buildings ever since.
New artists are also being created almost every weekend at Shake Rag Alley’s school for arts and crafts, a folk school founded in 2004. Weekend workshops in every kind of creative art are available from March through November, taught by local, regional, and national experts at a remarkable variety of arts. Students come from all over the Midwest and further.
For a long time, certainly back in the mining era, there were a great many more miners and saloons than artists. But the arts have been proliferating over the decades, and now there are more art galleries in Mineral Point than pubs. And in Wisconsin, that’s saying a lot. The pubs, though fewer, thrive with good energy, good food, frequent live music, and enthusiastic local patrons, including all the artists who need liquid sustenance after a hard day of creativity.
Local restaurants often are pleased to take creative advantage of area farmers who produce organic produce and meats. The Saturday morning Farmers Market is as lively as they come, full of flowers and other delights brought in from the countryside.
The town is definitely an inclusive community that welcomes everyone. You’ll see plenty of rainbow flags up and down the streets, and many business owners are part of or support the LBGT community.
Mineral Point artists are lucky because those old Cornish miners built two-story buildings with apartments over the retail shops. Most of those apartments through the years have been very nicely renovated and modernized. Consequently a great many local artists live over their shops, creating quite a neighborly coffee klatsching camaraderie of friendships.
And several building owners offer their attractive upstairs apartments for guest rentals. There is a goodly list of B&Bs and overnight rentals in local historical homes and apartments. So it’s very easy to go online and find a pleasant B&B or local hotel right in or near the downtown area. And there’s both a charming vintage as well as a modern motel available as well.
When you’re in a gallery or shop, ask the proprietor how he or she happened to buy a building or home in Mineral Point, and you’ll hear some fun stories. You may find yourself thinking about being part of this delightful oasis of art and artists, too. Never touched by glaciers, the Driftless Wisconsin Area is characterized by sculpted topography. Forested hillsides reach down to valleys cut into limestone bedrock by cold-water trout streams. Forests, prairie remnants, wetlands, and grasslands provide habitat for wildflowers and wildlife. Land is farmed by the descendants of those who first settled here, by the Amish who adopted the area, and by a new breed of organic farmer. Artists, who need look no further than their own backyard for inspiration, create works of infinite variety.