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art scENE By mELissa riPP


T e Santa Lady


Pipka Ulvilden


or those who celebrate it, Christmas conjures a warm, fuzzy feeling inside, and it makes sense to appreciate a woman


who’s known as “T e Santa Lady,” someone who takes those tradi- tions and turns them into art.


Even if she didn’t have her roots deep in the Christmas spirit, the warmth Pip- ka Ulvilden radiates is undeniable. It’s in everything from her nickname – chris- tened Evelyn, her family began calling her Pipka, “little bird”


in Slo- vakian – to


her physical presence. Dressed in beau- tifully colored and textured clothes, she’s always excited to see the friends and longtime customers that walk through her door.


Her energy translates to her tiny


storefront on Sister Bay’s Mill Road. In what she calls “an enchanted cottage,” all of Pipka’s passions – her art as well as her love of travel, fl ea markets, and decorating – can be found.


“My goal with the shop has always been to make people feel as if they’re be- ing invited into my home,” she says. T e smell of fresh-brewed coff ee is in the air and, chances are, at least three loaves of her Scandinavian Almond Cake have been baked (by Pipka, from scratch) for customers to enjoy. In the midst of all of the gift items, jewelry, and Santas, there is a mood – a mixture of childhood, nostalgia, and un- bridled creativity.


Rooted in Heritage Pipka was born in Slovakia and raised in


Germany. After World War II, fi ve-year-old Pipka and her family immigrated to America in 1949 and ended up in the tiny town of Michigan, North Dako- ta. Life in small town America was very diff erent than that of war- torn Europe.


“It was the kind of place where the sky was blue and children could play outside until the moon came out,” Pipka says.


Pipka’s father was a physician, but he studied at the prestigious Vienna School of Art. He brought his love for drawing and painting to North Dakota.


“He didn’t spend as much time on his art as he could, but he loved to draw for me,” says Pipka. “I remember being so transfi xed that one could use something


18 Door County Living Winter 2011/2012


as simple as a piece of paper and pen- cil and have something come alive on a page.”


Annual trips home to Germany kept


Old World traditions alive and inspired Pipka’s artistic journey. She explored a number of artistic endeavors through- out her childhood and early adulthood, including the Bavarian painting style known as Bauernmalerei or “peasant painting” (pronounced bow-urn-mall- er-eye, bow rhymes with cow). It wasn’t until the early 1970s, however, that she saw her art as something that might be able to make her a living.


“T ey say necessity is the mother of


invention,” Pipka says as she laughs. “I was a newly-single mom, and I needed to provide for my family, and I knew that I could do something with art.”


She was living in Minneapolis then,


so she took a few adult classes at the Minneapolis School of Art and found that she kept returning to the “peasant painting” of her heritage.


“T e style of painting is the simplest


form of art,” Pipka says. “It’s so primitive, and yet it really represents the culture. Diff erent families have diff erent styles of Bauernmalerei painting – it’s like having your own artistic handwriting. Families will paint scenes on walls or furniture like they’re recording a history.”


She soon opened up her fi rst work-


shop in the city, teaching Bauernmalerei classes and painting furniture for clients.


In 1981, Pipka married and moved to


the sleepy village of Sister Bay, and her art fl ourished in her new environment. In fact, it was on a day when all of Sister Bay was snowed in that she painted her very fi rst Old World Santa as a gift for her mother.


“It was on an 18-inch wood cut-out,”


Pipka says, “and it really got me think- ing about the role of Father Christmas in other cultures – the costumes, the tra-


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