Through the Years

Welcome to Tofte Lake

Tofte Lake Center was founded in 2007 by Liz Engelman and Michael Bigelow Dixon. TLC is lovingly referred to as Norm's Fish Camp, in honor of the resort’s previous owner, Norm Saari, who built and operated a fishing resort there for more than four decades.

2007 TLC's first year was devoted to adapting the facilities of Norm’s Fish Camp for creative activities. We offered informal pilot programs for individual artists-in-residence and to groups collaborating on artistic projects.

Our 2008 season marked TLC's first full summer of artistic programming. Residents included playwrights, scientists, poets, painters, anthropologists, choreographers, directors, blacksmiths, dancers, journalists, sculptors, and a museum curator. It featured an invitation-only reading and post-play s’mores discussion of Newsman’s Dream Comes True: Film at 11 by Graydon Royce, playwright and critic at The Star Tribune. We kicked off our first public event with a moveable feast/site-specific work by Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater, a national Minneapolis-based dance company. The piece, Rooms of Disquiet, guided the 20 audience members around the 12-acre site of Norm's Fish Camp.

2009 included new play workshops, site-specific theatre-making, new dance, music, and opera composition, and landscape art projects. Featured highlights were a performance concert of the Ancia Saxophone Quartet playing work composed by TLC composer-in-residence Jeff Herriott, and the return of the Stuart Pimsler Dance and Theater Company, which shared a sneak preview of Tales From the Book of Longing, which subsequently premiered at the Guthrie Theater in October, 2009.

In 2010, we launched our Emerging Artists Program, sponsored by the Jerome Foundation. Thanks to their generous support, we dedicated 3 weeks of programming to offer artistic residencies to 21 emerging artists from both Minnesota and the 5 boroughs of New York. The Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater Company returned to offer community workshops in caregiving and ballet, and launched their state-wide touring season with a performance of selected work from their repertoire in Ely’s Washington Auditorium. We initiated our Master Classes and Workshops with renowned Minneapolis mosaicist Lisa Arnold’s Mosaic Retreat and visual artist and chef Anna Dvorak’s Creative Space Retreat for women who shared the intention of developing thier art- be in visual, literary or performance. 


2011 featured the second year of our Emerging Artists Program, and two week-long Master Classes and Workshops, bringing back Lisa Arnold’s Mosaic Retreat and Anna Dvorak’s Creative Space Retreat, and inaugurating Deep, Rich and Bold for Women Leaders and Entrepreneurs, led by certified life coach Thea Sheldon. The Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater Company returned to create and perform a community-developed piece called Cast from the Water’s Edge: The Boundary Waters Project, which was performed by a combination of members from the Ely community and the SPDT company at Vermilion Community College.


2012 celebrated our third year of our Emerging Artists Program and Master Classes, with the return of Anna Dvorak’s Creative Space Retreat and Thea Sheldon’s Deep Rich, and Bold, both back by popular demand. We also hosted retreats for organizations and companies including Sandbox Theatre, The Playwrights' Center, The McKnight Dancer and Choreographer Fellows, as well as offering week-long residencies to artists of all disciplines. Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater Company returned to Ely's Vermilion Community College to kick off their 2012 tour.


2013 inaugurated two new Master Classes, our Visualizing Nature Workshop, taught by Holly Swift and Linda Gammell, and the Art and Nature Workshop, a week of multidisciplinary classes for local art and nature lovers. Six Minnesota artists and teachers from the visual and performing arts taught classes that focused on new technical skills in painting, craft and mosaics, as well as an exporation of mindfulness through creativity. This was made possible by support from the Minnesota State Arts Board and the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council. 

We also built The Aerie, our new dance-friendly rehearsal and performance space. The space was inaugurated with a performance by Ely's own Accidental Ensemble and hosted the Minneapolis quartet Jelloslave and a return of Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater.


2014 continued our Emerging Artists Program and extended our dance repertoire to two additional Minneapolis dance companies, Shapiro & Smith Dance, and Ananya Dance Theatre. We hosted a night of Kirtan Chanting with the group Sitara & Kalyani with Pavan Kumar, and Stuart Pimsler Dance &Theater Company performed pieces from their tour as well as their newest work-in-progress, Bohemian Grove.


2015 inaugurated our Gaia Memorial Fellowship, in honor of TLC’s longtime artist, supporter, and dear friend, Gaia Fenna, and continued our dance residencies with returns of TLC veterans Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater and Shapiro & Smith Dance, and highlighted the visual art experience with artist Holly Swift and photographer Linda Gammell returning to lead Minnesota artists in their master class, Visualizing Nature, funded by the Minnesota State Arts Board. Multidisciplinary artist and longtime TLC collaborator Krista Walsh and past Emerging Artist Recipient Mary Bergs co-led the master class, Inside Outside, Exploring Internal and External Space. We were delighted to welcome back Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater with a full performance of Bohemian Grove. They also led an Intergenerational Movement workshop for the community in the Aerie. Shapiro & Smith Dance Company, returned to perform Hands, a newly commissioned work-in-progress.


2016 featured dance theatre and music performances in our Aerie Studio, with the return of TLC's veteran companies (Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater's Matinee went on to be performed in the Twin Cities), as well as introducing April Sellers Dance Collective to our local community. We were excited to have members of the Minneapolis quartet Jelloslave back with us for another amazing concert. The season featured Guided Workshop Retreats (formally named Master Classes and Workshops) in visual art and creativity, featuring the return of visual artists Krista Kelley Walsh for her Guided Aesthetic Residency and Susan Armington’s Refresh and Reflect in the Northwoods, continued our Gaia Fellowship residency, organizational retreats with The Playwrights' Center, the McKnight Dancers and Choreographers, and two weeks of Emerging Artists Programming. Sadly, the July storm resulted in a cancellation of the much-anticipated Shapiro & Smith Dance performance, and a week of Emerging Artist Programming. We also inaugurated weekly Yoga classes in the Aerie, open to both the Ely community and TLC's resident artists, led by Ely's Kris Hallberg and Sarah Hansen.