Our Beginning

by Rev. Otto Schroedel, pastor of St. John's 1951 - 1963

My reason for coming to Madeline went back to seminary days when I had heard of our work on the Island and I began to think about it as just about the ideal place to live and raise a family.

We found the Island had some special needs due to its isolation in winter with work opportunity scarce. A small loom found in the manse was the suggestion for starting folks on weaving. Velma got books on the subject and taught herself how to warp a loom and how to weave and taught others.

Velma Schroedel at a loom in the parsonage.

Velma Schroedel at a loom in the parsonage.

Velma and Otto display items for the annual church bazaar.

Velma and Otto display items for the annual church bazaar.

Pretty beach rocks were another inspiration and the making of jewelry had a small beginning. Gradually summer folks became interested and a fine large loom was added. When folks began to realize a return for their efforts, we were in business. Our living room became a loom room and the garage again became a wood working shop (as it was in Rev. Menger's time).

Duluth News-Tribune Oct. 4, 1953 article about the nascent cooperative. 

Click each page to enlarge.

A big boost came to the work one fine summer day when the pastor, who had the only sailboat on the Island, took Tom Woods, Sr. out for a sail to Bayfield and back. During the leisurely sail on the Fiesta, we naturally talked about the Islanders and the craft project. Tom decided we needed a building to put our looms in and promised to provide a suitable one, trusting us Islanders to do most of the work gratis.

Otto and workmen begin construction.

Otto and workmen begin construction.

Otto helps at a children's craft class held at Woods Hall..

Otto helps at a children's craft class held at Woods Hall..

He was as good as his promise. He specified that the building be a gift to St. John's Church and was for the use of all folks who wanted to use it. Some years later, after Tom died, his widow Mrs. Sarah Woods donated enough money to build the north addition, again with the aid of many days of donated labor.

Velma and Otto in front of the craft cooperative they helped found.

Velma and Otto in front of the craft cooperative they helped found.

Since neither Velma nor I had ever seen a craft building, we decided to take a trip to Berea College in Kentucky to look at their craft buildings and to inspect their various industries. We also made a trip to our Wisconsin Indian Mission to learn how to make birch bark and black ash baskets from the Menominee Indians. We had our naturally gifted carvers try their art. We encouraged every possible handicraft. We bought a potters wheel and kiln and started pottery. The wherewithal to buy the various tools came from many folks and from other churches. Probably the heaviest contributor in both time and money for looms, etc. was Velma herself. We are immensely grateful to all.


Footnotes:

Velma encouraged both women and men to try their hands at the loom. Craftsmen Arndt Amundsen and Cal Humphrey built floor looms and table looms to keep the shuttles flying.

The 1955 Loom Room was designed by Malcom Lein. Lumber for the building was milled on the Island and many Islanders donated their time to help construct and complete the building with its fireplace, paneling and pegged oak floor. Islanders celebrated the completion of Woods Hall with a New Year's Eve housewarming.

In 1961, an addition created space for a woodworking shop, a mud room and a small darkroom, as well as a large room upstairs for meetings and recreation. That space was renovated in 2002, with the expansion of the pottery program, and the addition of more looms, including an 8 foot Cranbrook loom.