Nestled in the rocky hills and dells of Wisconsin’s famed Driftless Area, Mineral Point may not be on most people’s list of queer-friendly places to go. The town of just under 2,500 people is full of surprises, though, with at least a dozen LGBTQ-owned businesses populating its charming and historic downtown.
How this former Cornish settlement and lead mining town became what it is today is a long and winding tale, some of which you can learn from two separate plays. “Ten Dollar House” and “The Pattern at Pendarvis,” center around Edgar Hellum and Robert Neal, a gay couple who moved to town in the 1930s and bought the then-crumbling Cornish settlement now called Pendarvis. The two men helped put Mineral Point on the map, running a nationally renowned restaurant while revitalizing the town’s commitment to historic preservation.
Since then, the town seems to have fully embraced its historic draw, and (more recently) its LGBTQ history. Now, art galleries, a letterpress print shop, potters, antique stores, and small cafes provide a home base for locals and visitors alike. At the Red Rooster Cafe, you can still order traditionally Cornish pasties. Across the street at the Gray Dog Deli, good food mixes with weekly live music offerings. The Mineral Point Opera House brings it top-notch national and regional touring acts to play in its gorgeously restored 1915 theater.
Several of the area’s bed and breakfast offerings are also LGBTQ-owned and operated, including the Chestnut Cottage (run by Dan and Alan), and the Maplewood Lodge (run by Coleman and John).
The increase in LGBTQ residents and shop owners finally lead to the town getting its own Pride celebration. Several community members came together with Richard Baumeister and Tim Apuzzo, the couple that owns local restaurant Tequila Point, to organize the event last year that featured live music and a drag show.
One of those involved, Ashley Klinginsmith, went on to create Pride53565, which now serves as the central organizing behind the town’s Pride celebration. The event returned for a second run in June of 2018, which also saw nearly the entire length of High Street (the main drag) festooned with rainbow flags.
“My friend (and head volunteer) Angie Hendrick and I, as well as a few other people, all walked downtown asking businesses to fly the flags (this year Doolin, my seven-year-old, did 95% of the flag distribution),” Klinginsmith explained. “There were more businesses and individuals that wanted to participate this year. We bought more flags and still ran out.”
“Mineral Point is (and has been for decades) a very welcoming and tolerant community,” Joy Gieseke of the Mineral Point Chamber of Commerce told Our Lives. “We are fortunate that we have so many people who are passionate about the arts and care so deeply about preserving the architecture and culture of our community. The LGBTQ+ community can feel at home here—not just tolerated, but welcomed and encouraged to be a part of all the really cool things that make this a unique and creative community.”
As part of the town’s legacy of being a center for artists, actors, musicians, and other creatives, the Shake Rag Alley School for Arts and Crafts offers everything from a children’s program to concerts and other cultural events, as well as adult art workshops. The facility occupies nine buildings on a 2.5 acre plot in the valley around Federal Spring where the first Cornish settlers originally clustered their own cabins.
It’s a beautiful part of the state to visit regardless of the season, though special note should be made of the annual Arts on Point gallery weekends, held several times a year. The doors of the various businesses downtown stay open late, demonstrations of traditional skills are held on the sidewalks, and friends and neighbors say hello as they walk the small circuit. This year, locally made Hook’s Cheese added samples of their wares to the trek as well, making for a delicious scavenger hunt.
The following is an (incomplete) list of LGBTQ-owned businesses in Mineral Point:
• Longbranch Gallery – longbranchgallery.com – Judy Sutcliffe and Sandy Scott
• Mayday Press – mayday-press.com – May Sorum & Maggie Tucker
• Tequila Point & Cafe 43 – tequilapoint.com – Richard Baumeister & Tim Apuzzo
• Brewery Creek Brew Pub & Inn – brewerycreek.com – Mike Zupke
• Chestnut Cottage -Dan & Alan
• Maplewood Lodge – maplewoodlodge.com – John Fetters & Coleman
• Boyoyoboy Gallery – boyoyoboy.com – Henk J Klijn & Michel Metford Platt
• Bruno & Bruce – art gallery – Bruce Tunis
• Stonewall Art Studio/Gallery – stonewallartstudio.com – Kirk Williams & Peter Bardon
The story of Kirk and Peter
We wanted to get a sense of what might bring a gay couple to such a small Wisconsin town, and Kirk Williams and Peter Bardon of Stonewall Art Studio/Gallery were kind enough to share their unique story with us.
I grew up on the south side of Chicago in a little part called Hegewisch. I learned at the age of 14 when my only sibling/sister was taken from me in a car accident that your life could be over tomorrow, so you should live each day to its fullest and never put things off.
I learned to try to be the best I can be every day. Don’t put off doing something for later if it’s something you really want to do or experience. Spend time with the people that make you feel good, that love you, and that you love. Pick up the phone and call (well, these days, text) that friend you haven’t talked to in a while, call your mom, etc.
At age 20, I decided that I needed to figure out who I was and to understand all these feelings that I thought were not normal. I decided to pick up my life and move across the country to Boston. I’d met a guy through this new strange thing called a chat room. We had so much in common and through our chatting we basically came out to each other. One thing led to another and a vacation turned into a move.
After a while and some details that I will leave to your imagination, I met other guys and found a great job that then brought me to Madison, where I decided to stay because I met the man who is now my husband. After a year, we moved in together and then sold his condo and purchased our first house that would turn into our first house flip. Peter was in school, about to finish his degree in interior design. He landed a job with a small residential remodeling company as an estimator and designer. Peter went on to learn a lot and win many awards for his innovative designs.
Meanwhile, I decided to buy a video store in Cross Plains. When I knew streaming was peaking, I decided it was time to sell and move on. I eventually started working for the same company as Peter, running the day-to-day operations of the office. When not at work we both spent the next 15 years remodeling a house that was design by a Frank Lloyd Wright apprentice, and started a Dachshund rescue. We, of course, also started a family of six Dachshund (Eddie, Perron, Frankie, Rascal, Dolly & Doolittle), one Chow Chow (Mia Xiang), and 30+ koi.
Done with the remodel and looking for the next thing, we couldn’t find a house that called to us to remodel it, so we built a new house and made it everything we wanted. Well, almost, as it turned out to just be a stepping stone while our next adventure awaited us.
Kirk & Peter: Nothing ventured, nothing gained
We had both gotten to a point in our lives that we needed something more, something different. We decided to put our newly built house up for sale, pack everything up that was of value to us, place it in storage, and hit the road to find our next big adventure. We traveled the Southwest looking for that calling of “this is home.” We looked at places like Flagstaff, Santa Fe, and Taos. Nothing really fell into place. After four weeks on the road and 6,000 miles, it was time to head home and rethink.
Back in Madison, with no jobs and a sense of “What the hell are we going to do now?” we thought we would come back from trip with a solid plan—but there was nothing. Reinventing yourself in your 40s is not something either of us ever wanted to do. We have always loved buying, fixing, and selling houses, so we started looking at that avenue but nothing seemed to feel right.
One night around two a.m. Kirk was on the internet looking at houses and properties in southern Wisconsin when Mineral Point popped up. There were a few cute buildings on High Street for sale. We have always loved the little artist town and its charm and had been going there on and off for more than 10 years. The next morning, he showed Peter and we started brainstorming what we might do.
A little background: Peter has set up a pottery studio in every house we have owned, but every time something changed and we moved on. Now, though, Kirk asked if he wanted to make pottery! Kirk has run businesses and is an amateur photographer, and we know someone who does metal sculptures that we love.
Could we do this? Did we want to do this? Kirk called an agent and set up the showings. A few days later we set off to Mineral Point to explore, eventually stumbling onto a very cute, charming building on High Street. There was something about this place. We both left feeling that could really be home. We spent the next few days deciding if we could really start a gallery and pursue things that we had great passion for but had always looked at as hobbies.
Our house sold and we had seven weeks until closing. We ended up living in the basement of a good friend, which was especially interesting with our dogs. It gave us time to come up with our business plan, though, even as we struggled with naming it! One night Kirk was scrolling through the pictures of our new building and house. There was photo of the beautifully uncovered and restored stone wall that dominated one entire side of the gallery and one entire side of the apartment upstairs—and so Stonewall Art Studio/Gallery was born.
We knew as 40-something gay men that the Stonewall Riots in New York have great meaning for us, too, so it felt especially good.
A delicate balance
Kirk runs the business side of things and makes an all-natural soap line called Kleanz. He also sells his photography. Peter is the potter and the inspiring artist. One of the things he has focused on is making pottery that everyone can afford and have in their home for daily use. He wants people to enjoy, love, and mainly use handmade things from people that put their hearts, souls, and passion into the work.
It’s certainly not easy starting and running a retail-type business these days. Our current political climate has people being conservative with their money. People are not spending so freely anymore. We think twice about making those extra purchases. That does make it harder to keep a small artist-run business going.
We keep an eye on how to price our products so we can make profit but still allow for anyone to take something home. We are always keeping an open mind to new ideas and things to try or pursue. We are currently thinking a lot about how we do what we enjoy while still being able to make a living especially during the winter months, when Mineral Point can become a bit of a ghost town.
We have made lots of new friends in Mineral Point, though. The people are so awesome and friendly. For a small rural town it’s one of the most open. When we tell people we are married no one has even skipped a beat or blinked an eye. They care more about getting to know you and welcoming you to their town.
We both can be found working a few days a week at Gray Dog Deli. On one hand it’s necessary to make a living as a business owner to either have other income or a part time job, and on the other hand there are businesses in town that need help that is reliable. Kirk works the counter and Peter helps in the kitchen. We love meeting all the people that come to town there (feeding people seems to open them up to chatting more than when folks visit the gallery).
We knew MP was open and friendly to LGBTQ people but we never realized how many businesses were owned by LGBTQ folks, or how many lived here! As it seems to often go, however, it can be hard to open up right away. We all have a sort of GayGuard up, as I say, so though we are friendly and chat about the common stuff, it’s taking time to really get to know our LGBTQ neighbors. It’s also difficult just given the time it takes to run a business!
Mineral Point is a creative experience for your mind, body, and soul. We found a saying that we have made as a tagline for our gallery: “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” It is something that we feel when we see a piece of art, a plate of food, a warm inviting bed in a B&B, a woven item, a bar of soap, a photo, a painting—they all just make us stop in our tracks and admire the work, and the heart and soul the creator has put into it. It lifts our mood and warms our hearts to know someone made this for someone like us to use and admire every day. We hope to see Mineral Point turn back into the thriving town it was when we discovered it 17 years ago.