To Henning Art Gallery and Sleigh Museum We Go!
If the season has you feeling a little nostalgic and yearning for simpler times, you would surely enjoy a visit to the Henning Art Gallery and Sleigh Museum, a place that brings the iconic Thanksgiving verse about a horse-drawn sleigh and grandmother’s house to life.
Located on a working dairy farm in Augusta on Eau Claire Energy Cooperative’s lines, the Henning Art Gallery and Sleigh Museum is filled with the personal collections of artist Rozan Henning. On display are nine historic sleighs adorned with merry antique sleigh bells, treasured items that have always held a certain magic for her.
“Can’t you just imagine how neat it would be to go on a sleigh ride in the winter?” she says.
Henning’s appreciation for the antique sleighs goes hand in hand with her lifelong love of horses, especially the solid draft horses that, she points out, played a big role in helping the country grow. These large workhorses appear in many of Henning’s paintings that fill the walls of her gallery. Her artwork captures moments of rural life from a long-past era: a horse whisking a couple in a snug cutter along a snow-covered country lane; a proud team of mighty horses pulling a load of hay through the woods; or a couple of bundled-up children building a snowman in a field, with a few curious cows watching from behind a wood post fence.
The paintings have a soothing quality about them. Often set in the soft lighting of late afternoon or twilight, many are scenes of winter, Henning’s favorite season to paint.
“It’s quiet,” she says of the snow that often appears in her artwork. “I love the winter artwork because it’s peaceful.”
Given the content of her artwork and museum, it’s a bit surprising to learn that Henning grew up in Milwaukee, far from the scenes she captures on canvas. She married into rural life, although she said it was a lifestyle she had always longed for.
It’s also a bit surprising to learn that she’s achieved all she has without any formal training. “I’m a self-taught artist, but I’ve always loved to paint,” she said.
Although her love of painting has been constant, the painting itself hasn’t always been. Henning said she’s been painting since high school, but she stopped for a while in the late 1970s and early 1980s when money was tight, life was busy on the farm, and frustration was creeping in from the difficulty she was having trying to sell her work.
She became inspired to try again when a couple of her draft-horse paintings sold in a then-new store in Augusta that featured Amish-crafted furniture. Finally, her artwork had been noticed, and her following grew from there. She had prints made of her original paintings and was soon selling enough to require more working space, separate from the house.
She traded one of her paintings for a mobile home and, with help from her family, converted the trailer into a comfortable gallery, outfitted with special lighting to properly illuminate the artwork on display. The renovated mobile home also provided enough space to display one of the antique sleighs she had been collecting.
By 1997 Henning had outgrown this gallery, so she and her family built an addition onto their home to accommodate not just her growing art portfolio, but also her entire collection of sleighs. The final addition was completed in 1999, and Henning has been operating out of this location ever since.
She credits her family for enabling her to live and work as an artist. Her husband, Rudy, takes care of framing duties, and her three daughters, all of them artists themselves, lend a hand with business needs.
“I’m so fortunate to have known what I wanted to do and have family support to carry it through,” Henning said. “A lot of people have talent but they don’t have the support to make it work.”
About Those Sleighs
Henning sells her artwork at the gallery, but the sleighs are just there to enjoy. She said she never set out to amass a huge collection. She simply came across sleighs that appealed to her, often right in the area. Some of them came with interesting local stories.
For example, a 1913 Portland cutter, with its distinctive curved dash and upward sweep of the runners, was once used to transport a young couple to their wedding in Maiden Rock, Henning said. This is the only sleigh in her collection that she’s actually ridden; it won first place in a cutter parade Henning and her husband participated in years ago. This was also the first sleigh of Henning’s collection—purchased 39 years ago—but it wouldn’t be her last.
“Sleighs are kind of like potato chips,” she said with a laugh. “You can’t have just one.”
Another Portland cutter in her collection was built in Eau Claire County and was owned for a time, Henning said, by a well-known doctor in Augusta. She obtained this cutter in a trade—one of her paintings for the sleigh.
Henning’s collection also includes a two-seater Victorian bobsled; a cozy covered “courting cutter” that still has its original deep-red interior fabric; and a sleek Albany cutter with the curved back and flared sides that made the model a luxury ride in the 1800s.
In addition to the nine historic sleighs, Henning has three antique carriages on display. These include a single-seat doctor’s buggy, circa 1915, and a two-seat driving carriage with lamps and a convertible top.
Some of Henning’s other antique collections, such as Gibson Girl dolls, antique picture frames, and Victorian home decor pieces, are displayed amongst the vehicles.
Henning welcomes visitors to her gallery to see the sleighs and artwork. She only keeps regular visitor hours during the annual Falling Leaves Art Tour held the first weekend of October, but she says the gallery and museum are always open “by chance or appointment.” On occasion, she has hosted group tours for various organizations.
Henning said visits typically pick up from now through early January, as the festive nature of the sleighs and the nostalgic artwork beckon people to come out and take in the old-fashioned holiday ambiance. Over the river and through wood they come, to Henning Art Gallery and Sleigh Museum.
Henning Gallery and Sleigh Museum is located at E21001 Henning Rd., Augusta 54722. Call ahead to visit at 715-286-2464. Visit www.henninggallery.com for more information.