story by KATHY STEEBS photos by HEIDI HODGES
As far as wedding ideas go, it was pure romance. Cy Turnbladh and Karon Ohm planned an intimate ceremony during summer solstice in 2010, on their boat in the harbor of Horseshoe Island just off the Door peninsula mainland. As they were about to take their vows, the harbor master’s voice crackled over the radio, with a warning about a fast moving squall headed their way and an order to return to the mainland post haste.
But the couple, intent on finishing their vows, continued on with the ceremony. “As soon as we finished our vows—WHAP—a huge storm broke out,” laughs Turnbladh.
“It was as if someone cued the thunder and lightning right then for dramatic effect,” adds Ohm.
They laugh about it now, but on the return trip to the marina, they navigated through thunder, lightning and a downpour so heavy that they couldn’t see through the boat’s windshield.
“I can still see the friend who married us, in his business suit, soaking wet, climbing out on the bow of the boat with a towel to clear off the windshield so we could see!” laughs Ohm.
The couple, who own and operate Hands On Art Studio, just south of Fish Creek—share a fun-loving spirit and a chemistry that has them finishing each other’s sentences.
“We are just two big kids who like to play,” laughs Ohm.
“Marry your best friend,” adds Turnbladh, “I highly recommend it!”
Turnbladh grew up on a gentleman’s farm near Stillwater in eastern Minnesota with a father who was commissioner of corrections for the state of Minnesota and a mother who had a vast love of art.
“My mother, along with some artist friends, started the nationwide prison art program—and my sister became an art teacher, so art has always a big part of our family,” says Turnbladh. He started out as a potter, and by the age of 22, he, along with his parents, purchased a building and established an art gallery in Stillwater, where he sold his pottery as well as works from other artists.
After 15 years, Door County beckoned.
“I had been to Door County often for art fairs and loved the community,” says Turnbladh. “It is a great location for artists who know how to make a living making art.”
By the mid-1990s, Turnbladh opened Spirited Hands Gallery in Door County, on Highway 42 in Juddville, selling both his pottery as well as art—including paintings, jewelry, and clothing—of fellow artists. But it was a trip to St. Paul that sparked an idea to expand his business.
“My pottery was in a gallery in St. Paul, and while I was there I saw a ‘paint your plate’ place and immediately thought the idea would translate to Door County,” says Turnbladh.
He returned to Door County and set up space in his small apartment for gallery customers who wanted to try their hand at painting pottery—and Hands On Art Studio was born. Being a potter, Turnbladh first offered mostly mugs, bowls and platters for customers to paint, but when a small pottery casting business closed down, the owners asked Turnbladh if he had any use for their remaining stock of figurines. He bought the figurines and was surprised at how quickly they became very popular with his Hands On clientele.
As his business expanded, Turnbladh started looking for a new space with room to grow.
“For years I was fascinated with this old farm,” says Turnbladh. “I would often stop and peek in the windows. The farm had been abandoned for 15 years and it was a mess, but there was something about the place that was very compelling to me.”
He made an offer on the farm, and in 1998, Hands On Art Studio moved to its present location on Peninsula Players Road. Turnbladh grew the business organically—expanding to include glass fusing during his second year. When business slowed down during the winter months, Turnbladh drove to Arizona to sell his pottery to help fund his expansion plans at Hands On.
“I would buy some clay, throw some pots, and go somewhere in the winter where I could sell my art. I got very familiar with the 31-hour drive to Phoenix!” laughs Turnbladh.
Just like her husband, Ohm also grew up on a gentleman’s farm. Her family lived 30 miles north of Milwaukee—near Hubertus in the shadow of Holy Hill Basilica—and her parents also owned and operated Brady Marketing, an ad agency in Milwaukee. According to Ohm, this gave her the best of both worlds.
“I had this great childhood in the country surrounded by farmland, but also had all of the advantages of city life—like getting dressed up to go to the theater in Milwaukee,” says Ohm.
Growing up, Ohm was submerged in the creative life—surrounded by artists and writers at her family’s business and in her own family, both her grandfather and great-grandfather made their livings as stone sculptors.
She first discovered Hands On in 2003 when she was vacationing in Door County with her kids and a rainy day sent her in search of indoor activities they could do as a family. She found a Hands On brochure at her motel and soon found herself painting with her kids—with Turnbladh as one of the artist helpers.
“I grew up in a small business and love talking business and marketing whenever I get the chance,” says Ohm. So naturally, the conversation centered on small business, marketing and making artwork.
Their friendship evolved slowly. Whenever a vacation took her to Door County, Hands On became a favorite destination for Ohm and her kids and she would chat business and art with Turnbladh.
In 2007, when her nephew was graduating from college with an art degree, Ohm thought he would benefit from meeting with Turnbladh and picking his brain about how to turn art into a viable business.
“So I started pestering Cy,” laughs Ohm, who began bombarding him with emails about mentoring her nephew. Eventually, Turnbladh was invited to the family homestead near Holy Hill so he could meet with her nephew.
At that time, Ohm was in transition—in addition to selling the ad agency she had inherited from her parents, she was going through a divorce. Before long, Ohm and Turnbladh’s friendship blossomed into something more.
“My whole life, I was surrounded by people who were left and right brain connected—people who excelled in both art and business,” says Ohm, “To survive and thrive in the art business, you have to be both left and right brain connected. It was awesome to find that connection with Cy.”
“It’s a misnomer that all artists are flaky and ethereal, and that they know nothing about business,” adds Turnbladh.
Over the years, under Turnbladh and Ohm’s guidance, Hands On Art Studio has evolved to include five different creative spaces—the art barn with mosaics and spin art on the lower level, and ceramics on the upper level, a painting café, a metal studio and a glass fusion studio.
“We get excited about things, but the key is not to fear failure. It is OK to try things that don’t work. When I first moved my business off Highway 42, my friends told me I was crazy and would lose my business. You have to take the gamble,” says Turnbladh.
Turnbladh and Ohm are constantly refining their business, to make it a better experience for the customer. During the slower seasons, they take a look at everything, trying to identify any problem areas and find a solution before the next busy season begins.
In their spare time, the couple works on fused glass sculptures, including custom pieces.
“It’s what we do for fun and how we keep our sanity,” laughs Ohm.
The two like to play and Hands On encourages just that—for people of all ages regardless of whether or not they think they are creative.
“Hands On allows people who have convinced themselves that they are not creative, to show them that they can be,” says Turnbladh.