The mission of Blue Dolphin House and BDH Studio is to make Fine Arts and Crafts a part of the living environment and a reflection of the uniqueness of the individual personality. Through our selection and display of functional and non-functional merchandise we hope to educate the consumer be able to enhance their living space or adorn the person with uniquely original and handmade selections as well as good design and quality manufacturing.
The slogan "Finer Side of Wow!" reflects Blue Dolphin's attitude of presenting quality and functional design with flare and afford ability.
In 1968, John Lowry decided the time had come to get out of the restaurant business he had started in 1959 after graduating from high school. He had finished college and was teaching Social Studies full time in Kohler, Wisconsin. He and his mother Amy went into the gift shop and art gallery business. Amy was active in the art community of the area and a well-known local artist.
John was active in amateur theater in his hometown of Manitowoc, where he met Peg Nissen, an Art teacher from Iowa. They were married in 1971 and Peg joined the business and she and John taught high school during the year and ran the business during summers. Their interest in the business grew and John's mother retired and they took over the complete operation in 1973.
Because John and Peg were living in Manitowoc and teaching at Kohler and operating Blue Dolphin in Ephraim, their lives were hectic. In 1975, Peg resigned her teaching position and she and John opened Blue Dolphin II in Manitowoc. John continued teaching until 1979 and then resigned and joined the business full time. It was a roller coaster with two shops two hours apart. The Volkswagen bus was loaded weekly during the summer season and product was transported to Door County and displayed overnight to meet the summer tourist demands. John's duties were the bookkeeping and maintenance and Peg was the display person, and both were buyers of product for the two locations, which were similar but yet uniquely, had its own style and customer base.
The original Blue Dolphin was located at the bottom of the hill on the south entrance to Ephraim and was a warren of little nooks and crannies in a building with no central heating and a water supply to the living quarters being a garden hose under the main building, which was supported on beach rock. It became apparent to John and Peg that renting was no longer becoming an option as the business in Ephraim was growing and they needed a more permanent situation.
In 1982, after much searching, the present location was purchased and renovation was under way with the addition of proceeds from John and Peg's teachers retirement fund. The property was on 4.5 acres of towering pine trees and a rambling farmhouse. It was what John and Peg felt Door County was all about. The three bedrooms upstairs were turned into a cozy apartment and the downstairs shop space. It was decidedly a good move and the grounds and buildings in the new location allowed for expansion and personal comfort.
The name Blue Dolphin became Blue Dolphin House, designating the main building, and the log garage was converted into the Gallery in the Garden, an Art Gallery. John took on the project of the gardens and gazebo where the driveway had been and the out buildings on the four-acre parcel became warehousing. It was learned that the property's history was documented to the first buildings being built in 1860 and they were the log structures still on the property. During its history it was the main house and buildings for an orchard that covered 80-acres and raised apples, cherries and raspberries. The property was divided and sold during the 50's and 60's.
The economy in Manitowoc forced the issue of what was to follow, and in 1984 Blue Dolphin II closed and Ephraim became John and Peg's permanent home. Door County was on the move and the growth was decidedly in that location. They were both active in civic affairs and loved being in one location, even though their living quarters were cramped. Dogs and cats had always been constant companions and when they discovered the traveling had ended each week they settled in and refused to budge. The main building was added on to provide more display space and expand the living quarters.
In August of 1990 a lightning storm struck and burned the roof on the Gallery in the Garden and another remodeling project was underway with a six-week deadline to get reopened for the fall season. Fortunately none of the artwork was damaged but the office in the loft of the building was destroyed and the computer system rendered fried. This was only the first of the natural disasters to occur as lightning became a menace again and the warehouse was the next victim two years later.
With steady growth and the urge to have more space the Gallery in the Garden was moved to a larger location across the highway in 1992 and the log building became the Garden Gourmet with the steady increase in interest in gourmet food and kitchen gadgets. When the trend began to change in 1998, the building became the BDH Studio and began revolving back to its beginnings as an art gallery, as it is today. Change had always been part of the mystic of Blue Dolphin and customers were never disappointed when they inquired as to what had been changed that year. There is always a project. Probably the most personal for John and Peg was the building of a new home in 1997, north of Sister Bay and moving out of the tiny apartment. With the two wheaten terriers and two Siamese cats, Peg and John found they could take days off from the business and enjoy their new home.
Currently, John and Peg are in involved actively in the business on the original property and operating Blue Dolphin House and BDH Studio. The Gallery in the Garden was combined with the BDH Studio and the name retired after 20 years as an active gallery. As the business enters its 49nd year of operation the vitality and creativity are still fresh as is the product mix. One is never disappointed when entering the Blue Dolphin House and BDH Studio. It is a Door County "jewel" in the pine trees surrounding it and John and Peg are always eager to chat with customers and surround themselves with sales associates who are knowledgeable and courteous to one and all. After being named by Niche Magazine as a Top 100 Retailer of American Craft in the USA in 2003 and 2005, we were named as one of 25 Top Retailers for 2006 in the United States by Niche.