A Thriving Country Art Community

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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!

Sculpture: Oregon Sculpture Trail

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

The residents of Oregon, Ill., took that advice to heart in a big way. The Oregon Sculpture Trail is a collection of 14 different sculptures on public display in and around Oregon. The collection includes four pieces from Lorado Taft, including his iconic 1911 statue, “Black Hawk,” in nearby Lowden State Park. Visitors can also see more contemporary offerings, such as “Solar Reef,” an abstract depiction of the sun created by Andrew Langoussis in 2009.

Many of the pieces along the Oregon Sculpture Trail are the result of Community Art Legacy (CAL), a group formed in 2004 with the purpose of installing 10 sculptures in 10 years. Beginning the following year, CAL held an annual competition, inviting sculptors to submit maquettes (models) that bring art and agriculture together. Each year the winning piece was cast as a full-size sculpture and placed on public display in Oregon.

CAL was formed under the initiative of Jeff Adams, sculptor and foundry operator of inBronze Foundry in Mt. Morris, just west of Oregon. Located at 309 N. Wesley Ave., the foundry gives individual and group tours of the foundry, the studio and the fine art gallery – which features sculptures by 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

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For 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.”

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