The molten blob requires constant attention, methodical twirling.
“Always keep it spinning,” says Dan Neff, owner of downtown Duluth’s Lake Superior Art Glass and the instructor for a pendant-making class. “Remember to breathe. Don’t burn yourself. And have fun.”
Wearing protective glasses, we tentatively hold metal rods with clear glass tips under a flame, until the heat turns the glass neon orange. Keeping my tip spinning, I touch a red glass rod to it and watch them swirl together, color disappearing into the molten glow. I tenuously extract the remaining length of red glass rod. It pulls away like radioactive taffy.
In the workshop of this five-year-old gallery, wine glasses with handmade stems and glass icicles on the workbench catch the light. Work from more than 60 mostly regional artists shows the potential of the glass.
Three hours north of the Twin Cities, Duluth (and the North Shore it anchors) has inspired artists for decades. Lush and moody photos, vibrant paintings, woodblock cuts of wildlife and whimsical illustrations depicting life in the north have long graced gallery walls downtown and in the Canal Park district.
That artistic energy is spilling into other places, such as the Armory Annex on London Road. Waves of heat and the clang of tools ripple through the air where the Forging Community works and teaches classes on blacksmithing. New tenant Anthony Michaud-Scorza fits in well with his glassblowing studio that creates curving, swirling handblown waves. He’s perfecting a glass lake trout and planning to offer classes in making paperweights.
These hands-on classes follow the surge in interactive tourism and appreciation for locally crafted products. The Lincoln Park neighborhood in particular — a corridor of W. Superior Street where Duluth Pack makes its gear and Frost River makes and sells its accessories — is on its way to becoming a designated craft district. It’s also where Bent Paddle brews its beers, Clyde Iron Works fires up pizzas in a repurposed foundry, the Duluth Children’s Museum has relocated, and the Duluth Grill packs its parking lot with gardens for its farm-to-table menu.
There is talk of more businesses opening by fall or winter, too, including a leather store, a coffeehouse, and an Oink Moo Cluck Smokehouse from the Duluth Grill folks.
“It’s blossoming,” says David Hoole, marketing coordinator at Frost River, of the neighborhood. “People are sensing the energy.”
Pick a tour: From bike treks to walking tours, the Duluth Experience helps visitors appreciate the city on a new level. That could mean acquiring a more intimate knowledge of local trails, paddling on Lake Superior, hearing quirky stories of Glensheen Mansion, or gaining a full appreciation for local craft breweries, with a designated driver (1-218-464-6337; theduluthexperience.com).
Brew it yourself: If a craft-beer tour whets your appetite, Duluth Homebrew Supply at Fitger’s offers home-brewing classes, plus ingredients for making beer, wine or gourmet soft drinks (1-218-464-0060; duluthhomebrew.com).
Get stoked: Visitors can watch blacksmiths and glassblowers at work at the Armory Annex. Weekends are the best time to catch the action, browse the gallery and check on classes (forgingcommunity.org).
Go behind the scenes: Fans of Duluth Pack can tour the factory at 10:30 a.m. or 1 p.m. Tuesdays or Thursdays and see how canvas is cut, stitched, trimmed with leather, riveted and finished for the wide line of canoe packs, totes and accessories (1-800-777-4439; duluthpack.com). Frost River, with a similar line of sturdy but trendy outdoor products, manufactures on the upper levels of its store. Customers can ask for impromptu tours (1-218-727-1472; frostriver.com).
Sharpen kitchen skills: A favorite destination for cooks, Canal Park’s Blue Heron Trading Co. offers classes fall through spring in everything from maintaining and using sourdough starter to sauces and preparing fresh fish (1-218-722-8799; theblueherontradingcompany.com).
New and coming soon
Pier B Resort: The four-story, 140-room resort jutting into the harbor will open June 16. The resort includes an indoor pool, rooftop patio, outdoor hot tub, fire pits and other patios for watching ships enter and exit the harbor. A marina will accommodate 20 boats, and a sliding bridge will connect to Bayfront Festival Park and the Lakewalk (1-218-547-8551; pierbresort.com).
Northern Waters Restaurant: If the line at Northern Waters Smokehaus in Canal Park is daunting, try its new casual sit-down restaurant near the University of Minnesota Duluth campus. The restaurant serves new variations of its signature smoked salmon salad, an amped-up club sandwich, and hot foods such as smoked pork tacos, smoked ribs, plate-sized breaded pork tenderloins and creamy fish chowder (1-218-249-1957; northernwaterssmokehaus.com).
Vikre Distillery: Another way to enjoy Northern Waters’ smoked fish and dry-cured salami is to order the appetizer spread with beet pickles, spiced nuts, lavash and gourmet cheeses at this rustically elegant cocktail bar. Located near the Aerial Lift Bridge, Vikre serves handcrafted spirits and a fragrant gin flight, including a side of soda and homemade tonic (1-218-481-7401; vikredistillery.com).
Tall Ships: This immensely popular event brings vintage sailing ships across the Great Lakes to Duluth Aug. 18-21. Tour the boats, sign up for rides, watch re-enactments and see the World’s Largest Rubber Duck come into harbor (tallshipsduluth.com).
If you love watching the massive modern ships in Duluth, several apps make it easy to know when they arrive, and get a lowdown on their size, cargo and where they’ve been. The Marine Traffic app ($4.99 for iPhone) tracks ships worldwide. The Ship Finder app has a free version. Daily updates also are posted at duluthshipping.com.
Where to sleep
Hotel: With rooms hushed by the thick brick walls of a former brewery, Fitger’s also has some rooms and suites with lake views and balconies, and new brighter decor in all its guest rooms (fitgers.com).
B&Bs: It’s tough to get a room at TripAdvisor’s No. 1 B&B in the country, AG Thomson House, but many others have their own brand of charm. Solglimt Bed & Breakfast sits along the water at Park Point, while the Firelight Inn on Oregon Creek, Cotton Mansion, Olcott House and the Ellery House are tucked into historic neighborhoods (duluthbandb.com).
Homes: There are dozens of vacation homes for rent, especially along Park Point beyond the Lift Bridge, with sandy beaches facing the lake or harbor (vrbo.com).
Visit Duluth: 21 W. Superior St., Suite 100, 1-218-722-4011, visitduluth.com.
Lisa Meyers McClintick (lisamcclintick.com) wrote “Day Trips From the Twin Cities” and the latest edition of “The Dakotas Off the Beaten Path.”