The History Behind the Saugatuck/Douglas Fall Gallery Stroll

This weekend, October 6 and 7, the 41st annual Saugatuck/Douglas Fall Gallery Stroll will take place with artist receptions, demonstrations, live music and refreshments adding to the fun and creative atmosphere surrounding the two-day art stroll.

While this event is one that the local and surrounding art communities look forward to each year, many might not know the history behind the stroll, which actually started much further back than 41 years ago with a man named Carl Hoerman.

Born in Babenhausen, Bavaria, Germany, Hoerman was a landscape painter who moved to the United States in 1904, where he studied and worked in architecture until the 1920s. After that, he devoted most of his time to painting, and ended up building a studio and art gallery in the 1930s in Saugatuck, Michigan. At that time, it was called River Guild Gallery Building. Known as the “dunes painter,” Hoerman’s paintings of West Michigan, as well as of west and southwest America have captured art lovers for decades.

A few decades later, in 1977, gallery owner Joyce Petter was traveling throughout the United States to bring the best art she could find to the small towns of Saugatuck and Douglas. That particular year, she had decided to Boston to bring some art back from the East Coast.

While in Boston, she attended a fall gallery stroll on Newbury Street, and she couldn’t help but notice the vibe and energy – galleries up and down the street were collaborating, bringing in artists for talks and demonstrations as well as live music for entertainment, others offered food and refreshments to gallery guests – the atmosphere was contagious. It was an event she thought would work well in Saugatuck/Douglas.

When she returned, she called Priscilla Cain of the Cain Galleries, and created her own small stroll including Joyce Petter Gallery, Cain Gallery, Amaru Leather, Gold Beaters and one other jewelry gallery. The strolls evolved and grew each year following until 1993.

It was during that year that the Carl Hoerman building, located at 161 Blue Star Hwy in Douglas, was bought by Joyce Petter. When renovating to create gallery spaces within the building, Petter discovered a secret treasure hidden in one of the walls – a carved wooden door, which was formerly the entrance to the River Guild Gallery that Hoerman built. In the center of the beautiful door was a figure of a craftsman with a chisel and hammer in hand, as if still guarding the gallery as a place of creativity. The craftsman figure now lives as the symbol of the J. Petter Galleries, paying homage to the original artist and facilitator of art that built the space so many years ago.

Carl Hoerman captured the Saugatuck/Douglas shores like no other and his spirit is said to still linger in the J Petter Gallery, which is still referred to by some as the Carl Hoerman building, or the River Guild Gallery Center. J. Petter Galleries has played a large role in facilitating and maintaining the Fall Gallery stroll, which is entering it’s 41st year this year, alongside area art galleries and partners.

To experience the magic and history behind this wonderful art event for yourself, come out to Saugatuck/Douglas this weekend! For more information on this event, visit https://saugatuck.com/event/42nd-annual-gallery-stroll-in-saugatuck-douglas/