A Thriving Country Art Community

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Painting by Jayne RoseLorado TaftSculpture in OregonThe Next Picture Show, Dixon Painting by Jayne RoseLorado TaftSculpture in OregonThe Next Picture Show, Dixon
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In some places, art doesn’t just happen, it’s a happening

... and in the Blackhawk Waterways region you just might be surprised with the vigor and significance of of our art scene. Since the late 1800's artists have coming out to our neck of woods to escape the city and to become inspired!

Lorado Taft & the Eagle’s Next Art Colony

The thriving art culture in the Blackhawk Waterways region got started over a century ago when a group of like-minded artists, led by the renowned sculptor Lorado Taft and friends wanted to get away from the summer heat of Chicago.

They founded the Eagle’s Nest Art Colony on the bluffs overlooking the east bank of the Rock River near Oregon, Illinois. The colony’s population was comprised of artists who were members of the Chicago Art Institute or the University of Chicago art department. The initial group of eleven were artists, architects, and art lovers who were affiliated with Taft in Chicago. The group erected tents and criticized and encouraged one another’s artistic endeavors, leading to something of a local renaissance that impacted art all over the globe. Later, charter and regular members were allowed to build summer homes.

The group had attempted to form a colony before the site at Rock River was chosen, but their first colony at Bass Lake, Indiana was subdued by an outbreak of malaria. During their search of a new location, a local attorney and patron of the arts named Wallace Heckman purchased the land that would become the Eagle’s Nest Colony in 1898. The resulting lease provided 15 acres of land for only one dollar a year with the stipulation that each colony member gives a free lecture or demonstration in the area.

Taft and the other members of the colony would go on to significantly influence and contribute to the regional art culture. Taft’s most notable contribution is his sculpture titled the Eternal Indian, often referred to as the Blackhawk Statue. The 50-foot statue still stands on a promontory overlooking the Rock River. Two other Charter members, Allen and Irving Pond, were architects who designed the Oregon Public Library, located at 300 Jefferson Street in Oregon.

Colony members were instrumental in the inclusion of a second story art gallery. By 1918, colony members were dedicated to donating works of art for a permanent collection. When the last founding member of the Eagle’s Nest Colony died in 1942, the library had accepted 31 paintings and 25 sculptures.

The Fields Project: Bringing Art and Agriculture Together

Modern day Ogle County continues it’s tradition as a rural refuge for city based artists with it’s nationally recognized Fields Project. This early summer event, held the 4th week of June, aims is to combine art and agriculture in the artist’s own unique medium. The artists are invited to live with farm families for nine days, experiencing a different side of life that puts them in touch with our agricultural roots. After nine days of inspiration the artists then display their work on the farm, along with regional sculptors and artists. Visitors can take a self guided tour of the Sculpture Trail, eat lunch at one of the many local restaurants, and buy one of the many experiences captured on canvas, board, and paper.

Sculpture: Community Art Legacy

“The hometown is the dearest place on earth; why not make it more beautiful?”
Lorado Taft

The Fields Project Sculpture Contest adds even more to the local art scene and to public art. Each year the winning sculpture is cast in bronze at no cost to the artist and is donated and placed as a public display in the city of Oregon. The commitment of The Fields Project and InBronze Foundry , to place ten outdoor bronze sculptures in the Oregon area began with the first life-size sculpture installed in 2005. Best of all, to view these beautiful works of art, all you have to do is wander the streets of Oregon.

Just west of Oregon, Illinois on highway 64 is a small, charming town called Mt. Morris. This is the home of InBronze Foundry, mentioned above. Located at 309 N. Wesley Ave., the foundry enthusiastically gives both individual and group tours of the foundry, studio, and fine art gallery – which features the amazing sculptures of owner, Jeff Adams.

Grand Detour Arts Festival: The Tradition Continues

As summer heads into autumn, another festival in early September is always a highly anticipated event. On the second Sunday (subject to change on occasion) in September, the Grand Detour Arts Festival kicks into high gear on the John Deere Historic Site. In 1836, John Deere left his home state to settle in Grand Detour, Illinois. Here is where Deere built his homestead and developed the first “self-polishing” steel plow. Now the area annually hosts upwards of 40 artists from the Midwest who work in several mediums, including oils, photography, watercolors, sculpture, jewelry, pottery and more.

From the humble beginnings of the Eagle’s Nest, the art culture in Ogle County has expanded exponentially in modern times with many prominent galleries, art clubs and guilds, art festivals and public art projects.

Fostering the Arts in Dixon, IL

Fgallery1-78For a more refined gallery experience, visit The Next Picture Show, in historic downtown Dixon. The building, originally constructed in 1854, underwent complete restoration, retaining wood floors, tin ceilings and internal structures wherever feasible. The Next Picture Show is a non-profit organization dedicated to furthering artistic activities including art shows, receptions, music recitals and performances. The art study on the lower level is used for art workshops, classes, student art exhibitions and art community meetings. The gallery is supported by local artists, community members, and businesses through annual memberships. Bonnie Kime, the Next Picture Show’s executive director sums up the current art scene.

“The art scene has always been strong in the Sauk Valley Area, with many Artist Guilds, Phidian Artists, Plein Air Artists, Eagle’s Nest just to name a few. We will be hosting the Illinois Watercolor Society’s 25th Anniversary at the gallery in January of 2009. Like all of our juried shows, we have entries from all over the United States.”

Sterling, Illinois: A Place where Community & Culture Meet

Following beautiful Route 2 through Dixon and into Sterling, a Whiteside County town that boasts murals on many downtown buildings. This ambitious venture was undertaken by the Sterling Mural Society . One of the goals of this group is “to enhance the beauty and desirability of our central business district.” Go to their website to get an online tour of each of the murals.

In April, 2004, the Dillon Foundation purchased Woodlawn School from the Sterling School district with the vision of creating a place where people of the Sauk Valley could pursue the arts. The timing was important because area school districts were cutting costs by reducing arts programming and there was an interest in providing opportunities in the arts for preschool children and adults as well as school-age students.

By January 2005, the Dillon Foundation had partnered with the Sterling-Rock Falls Family YMCA and had established the Woodlawn Arts Academy advisory board with representatives from local government, park districts, area schools, foundations, CGH Medical Center, and the Sauk Valley Chamber of Commerce.

It’s Green Too!

The newly renovated Woodlawn Arts Academy, opened in the fall of 2006 with specially designed studios for music, visual arts, literary

arts, and performing arts. The facility includes a geothermal heating and cooling system that is flexible and energy efficient along with lighting systems and low maintenance wall and floor finishes that give the feeling of an art gallery or studio environment. It also includes the 150-seat J. Mark Beaty Performance Center that is used for plays, dinner theatre, art exhibits and other events.

Mary Ellen Wilkinson, who has been working to bring this to fruition since the inception of the Academy says, “Woodlawn Arts Academy was designed as a place where community and culture meet. Our students include the very young to the very young at heart from the Sauk Valley. At Woodlawn all ages can explore the arts, gaining skill and enjoyment that last a lifetime.”

Wander Carroll County for Visual Arts

To the north of Whiteside County, you'll find that the rolling hills of Carroll County are no strangers to their committment of bringing art into the lives of its residents and visitors.

The Carroll County Artisans group was formed to create a website directory of local Artisans in the areas of General Art, Glass, Mixed Media, Photography, Paintings and Drawings, Sculpture, Digital Art, Art Galleries, Graphic Arts and more! For more information go to www.carrollcountyartisans.com 

Market Street Commons in Mt Carroll has become the center piece of this historic community’s downtown revitalization. Beautifully restored after a fire gutted it several years ago, the building serves as a retail location for local artists to showcase & sell unique artwork, jewelry, baskets & other unusual gift items. It also houses a specialty coffee & sandwich shop, an ice cream shop and hosts the monthly open-mic night, “Five Minutes of Fame on Market & Main”. Mt Carroll’s downtown, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, also boasts other stops for the avid art lover. New Morning Glass, located at 113 W Market Street, is filled with original glass jewelry, hand blown glass and fused glass knobs along with the owner’s extensive stained glass creations. Classes in stained glass are also offered. Charlotte Arvelle Glass at 118 W Market Street is the home studio for this nationally known artist and features fused glass sculptures, pottery and more. The Plein Air Studio at 112 W Market Street is a working art studio that exhibits art work and jewelry and also hosts art classes and workshops. The Shops @ Glenview, located in the historic Glenview Hotel, offers a boutique filled with unusual gifts and handmade jewelry and is also home to The Driftless Area Stillroom, offering wines and unusual food stuffs such as organic meat, cheeses and more. It’s easy to see that the red brick streets of Mt Carroll offer a variety of unique stops for the casual shopper and art lover alike!

The Blackhawk Waterways: Steeped in History and the Arts

The commitment to public art has been going strong in the Blackhawk Waterways region for over a century, and continues to innovate and contribute to art culture throughout the world. From humble beginnings as an art commune, the area has become a renowned destination and haven for both artists and art enthusiasts.


Published in: Trip Ideas