An Interview with Barbara Abelson and Dave Wigodner, Co-Chairs of the Recycled Art Sale 2022

An Interview with Barbara Abelson and Dave Wigodner, Co-Chairs of the Recycled Art Sale 2022

As the co-chairs of the Recyled Art Sale, Barbara Abelson and Dave Wigodner are integral to making the sale a success. We spoke to them about why the Recycled Art Sale matters so much to The Art Center and the North Shore community at large. Their answers shed light on how Recycled brings people together, sparks interest in the arts, and helps raise funds for programs, classes, and exhibitions.

Ready to join us for this year’s sale? Tickets are now available for the VIP Preview/Opening Night on October 13 and general admission during the opening weekend!

Interested in volunteering for the Recycled Art Sale? Please email for more information.

Recycled Art Sale Co-Chairs Barbara Abelson and Dave Wigodner
Barbara Abelson and Dave Wigodner pose together at last year’s Recycled Art Sale (photo by Robin Subar).

The Recycled Art Sale is a community favorite. What do you think draws people from all over Highland Park and the wider North Shore area together to volunteer for, donate to, and shop at the event? What do you think keeps people coming back year after year?

Barbara: “It is very exciting to see how our community responds to the Recycled event with so much enthusiasm. Donors appreciate this great opportunity to pass on pieces they have outgrown in one way or another or perhaps come from family estates that are being broken up while getting a tax letter acknowledging their generosity. Those who volunteer for the event enjoy the camaraderie within the group, as we all work to research the value of the goods we receive, and get the vast array of artwork and decorative items ready for sale. And, of course, those who come to shop look forward to the hunt. Will they find a treasure that has been overlooked by everyone else and will be just perfect for them? There is an undeniable thrill in finding a piece—or several pieces—that truly speak to you, at prices that are within reach, all while helping to raise money that supports The Art Center’s mission.”

Dave: “For volunteers and shoppers – I think it’s the thrill of the search: for a treasure, a bargain, an opportunity to brighten a spot in their home or find an unusual gift. To find the gem that will bring in buyers and make more money. For donors – it’s not always easy to part with something you once loved, no longer need or that has connections to family and home; donating to Recycled puts those things you’re done with into new hands where they’re reborn. It’s a more tangible donation than just dollars. Your stuff isn’t really lost. And it supports The Art Center.”

Our VIP Preview event takes place on October 13, what are the perks of attending the opening night of the sale?

Barbara: “Simply put, it’s the chance to get a first crack at the beautiful and inspiring works that we have collected all year long. Of course, the Opening Night party is always a good time—food, drinks, music, friends, and the chance to be surrounded by beautiful things. Opening Night is a great way to kick off the 10 days of this well-loved event.”

Dave: “First look, more stuff, fun time. The action of flipping through artwork, talking with friends and strangers, with a drink in your hand, good food, and a pulsing beat. It’s pretty electric.”

Recycled is a lot of fun, but it’s also one of The Art Center’s biggest fundraisers with sales from the event going towards our programming, education, and outreach. What do you think makes the arts such an important aspect of our community, one that is worth funding?

Barbara: “Art education and awareness enrich a community by encouraging the imagination to expand, to see the world and its people in new ways, and to give voice where perhaps there are no words.  If creative expression is at the heart of what makes us human, as I believe it is,  we cannot afford to disengage from agencies like The Art Center, as it seeks to reach out with exciting classes, energizing exhibits, and other creativity awakening programming, all the while working to make art available to all through scholarships. We owe it to ourselves and our neighbors to support the arts.”

Dave: “Recycled touches such a wide range of people, art interests (or not so interested) and at such varying price points that it doesn’t exclude anyone: people buying $2 beaded bracelets, $2,000+ artwork, antique prints or objects. We get kids stopping to buy on their way home from middle school, people living in mansions and people in public housing, entrepreneurs looking for bargain art to resell online, designers chasing deals for clients, serious collectors. All shopping together, sifting through bins, looking for something to catch their eye. Or their heart. How many places does all that happen?”

What’s your favorite find from the Recycled Art Sale—either from this year or in the past?

Barbara: “About 70% of the art in my home is from a Recycled event, so it would be hard to pinpoint my favorite piece from so many. I love the Richard Haas print of the Dakota, valued at four figures and for which I paid $100, but I also love the small, unsigned ceramic bowl, delicately painted with flowers that I found last year for $5. And then there is the carved ivory ring from several years ago that I gave one of my daughters for her birthday and the stunning abstract oil that hangs in another daughter’s dining room. See? It’s hard to pick just one piece!”

Dave: “Well – I totally dug unearthing the Lee Godie piece, finding more information on her, talking with gallerists that knew her, discovering the unseen sketches that are part of the artwork.”

“A couple of years ago I bought two colorful desert prints in lurid pink frames that oddly went great with the 1950s pink bathroom wall tile in my daughter’s Tucson apartment, and a couple of small bronzes by Jack & Alice MacLean whose work I’ve admired for years that are now hanging in my home. I have a stack of projects to do with frames and old prints from Recycled. But my favorite now – last year I realized that this big, garish frame held a record album jacket and I bought it. The album is autographed by the performer – Steve Earle – I’ve been a fan for years; we went and saw Steve perform recently. The cover artwork is by Chicago artist Tony Fitzpatrick and this copy is actually signed by Tony. There was a great retrospective of his work last year in Glen Ellen and through a bunch of odd coincidences, I met Tony by his studio and had a conversation that included how Steve Earle’s dog Beau made it into the album cover artwork. The album is “Washington Square Serenade” and one song on it is “City of Immigrants”; I’m planning to reframe it in a beat-up old wood frame that belonged to my grandparents – immigrants that made it across Europe and the Atlantic to the lower east of NYC more than a century ago. And worked in garment factories around the corner from Washington Square. Talk about recycled. It’s not worth a lot of money. It’s not an original. But it’s a story I’ll hold on to.”

Talking With Jeff Libman

In the latest installment of our Talking With series, singer/songwriter Jeff Libman discusses songwriting and his upcoming fundraising concert at The Art Center Highland Park with our executive director, James Lynch.

Join us for LATE NIGHT AT THE GALLERIES with Jeff Libman and the Jujus on September 14th at 7 pm. The event will be indoors and held in the Main Gallery of The Art Center, where the exhibition Voices & Visions; Standing on the Bridge Between Health and Disease will be open late for all the guests to enjoy before the show ends. This is a pay-what-you-can event with all donations benefiting art education.

Highland Park’s own native son Jeff Libman and his band the JuJus bring their infectious acoustic soul sound to the Art Center Highland Park. Told he was born to the wrong musical generation, he credits his songwriting to the classic singer-songwriters of the 1970s and the soul/pop of the same era. If you have been to Highland Park, you’ve undoubtedly seen Jeff perform at various venues throughout the years.

Jeff Libman and The Jujus will play their repertoire of pop, folk, soul, and Americana music and songs in the Main Gallery to benefit the Education Fund at The Art Center Highland Park, a 501 non-profit organization dedicated to inspiring and igniting a passion for the arts through self-expression, dialog, community engagement and inclusiveness. Donations will be used for various educational programs, including community outreach and scholarships.

Click here to register for this event!

Bobbie Rafferty: Member Highlight Interview

Our new Gift Shop Member Highlight features the work of jewelry-maker Bobbie Rafferty of Beadsong Jewelry! Bobbie Rafferty’s work will be featured in our gift shop from September 1 through October 31. Read our interview with Rafferty below to learn more about her creative process and artistic inspirations.

An image of Bobbie Rafferty, the Bead Song Jewelry logo, and the TAC logo with the text: The Art Center Member Highlight InterviewHow did you get your start in jewelry? Did you take classes in jewelry making or are you self-taught?

 I really kind of fell into it. I took one class about 25 or 30 years ago that turned out to be more like projects that you could do with a scout troop, but there were just enough things in there to pique my interest and point me in a direction to explore on my own. So, while I’ve taken a technique class here and there, I really am primarily self-taught. Which means a lot of trial and error along the way! But that way you really explore and get it in your fingers.

When I started it was really basic kind of stuff—very basic stringing and you know kind of using what I could find in the market before I learned how to shop and source and build inventory. I would say the first class that I took in bead weaving—a very basic introduction to the Peyote style stitch—was kind of the door that opened, that led me to explore some of these other kinds of techniques and figure out how to combine them and build on the very basic stuff and go on to the more intricate things.

Your jewelry is so intricate, what’s your preparation process like for creating a piece? Do you sketch out a plan before you start, or do the pieces come together organically as you make them?

Now and then I will sketch out a plan. Primarily if I’m doing an embroidered piece, I want to make sure I know where all the parts are going to go. A lot of times it does start with a focal or a particular gemstone or a tube of seed beads that you sit down with and think, “Well, where can we go from here?” So maybe one day it’s, “I’ve got this gemstone and I want to build something around it.” And the next day it’s, “What happens if I weave a piece that’s all in shades of white and beige?” Or, “Let’s play around with this particular stitch.”

So it’s a combination of things, and sometimes when I sketch it comes out completely different! Improv can be a really useful thing!

You use a wide variety of materials—beads, crystals, gems, etc. How do you go about selecting your materials? Do you select them with particular projects in mind or just go by what catches your eye?

I pretty much have my eye out for things anytime I’m out shopping. I’ll go to a gem show or I’ll go to a thrift store. If it catches my eye, I’ve learned to grab it then, even if I don’t know what I’m going to use it for at that particular moment. That way I’ve got enough of a collection, enough choices, that when it comes time to build something I can really play around and maybe come up with some really unexpected combinations. I’ve been doing this for a long time, so at this point, I’ve got a lot of bits and bobs stored up. But you know it’s never enough! You still can go out and find something wonderful that either is the perfect thing to finish what I had in mind or really inspires something new.

The challenge of looking at something that has previously been something else, and trying to both respect the original artist’s intent but also reimagines how it could be incorporated into something else. Especially if it’s a broken piece, that’s really wonderful because then you’ve got the history that’s there, whether you know the story or not, you know there’s something there and you’re adding to the story.

A beaded necklace on sheet musicFrom your Instagram, it looks like you attend a lot of art fairs, what’s your favorite thing about attending and selling your work at sales like One of a Kind?

Creating jewelry can be a very solitary thing. So it’s really wonderful to go out and talk to people about it, to see and hear their reactions, and to see what resonates with different people. I just really enjoy the conversations, I love people watching, and I love seeing what the other artists create. It doesn’t matter what medium they’re working in, it’s just always inspirational to see how other people use color or texture to approach a problem or express themselves.

Where do you look for inspiration? Are there other artists whose work you admire?

There are bead workers that I really admire. Sherry Serafini, who does spectacular bead embroidery, is just really creative in how she uses her eye to imagine things.

Valerie Hector, who is local, I have admired her work for a very long time.

Julie Powell is another person who really looks at colors and how to combine them, and how to combine seed beads with gemstones and things like that.

I’ll name those three, but there are so many others. I’ve been fortunate over the years to make contact with a lot of jewelry artists. It’s a very generous online beading community. You find folks who do it for fun, folks who do it for a living, and people who are on the continuum in between. You make these virtual friendships and get their inspiration and support. You never know what piece is going to pop up and make you think things like, “I never thought about that color combination!” So you try to stay open to work wherever you find it and see how it can inspire, shape, and motivate you to move forward.

Where does the name Beadsong Jewelry come from?

I come from a very musical family—professional musicians. My musical talent didn’t match the professionals I grew up around, so I knew that performance wasn’t the career path for me. But I am surrounded by music with so many members of my family performing and finding their creative expression that way. My mother was an opera singer, my father was a conductor, and my husband is a violinist. So when I fell into bead weaving and jewelry making, it became my way of artistic expression. So it’s an expression of my life immersed in music then expressing myself through the beads.

As a TAC Member, what kind of programming or events would you like to see from us in the future?

I appreciate how TAC focuses on and promotes local artists. I live in downtown Chicago, so it’s hard for me to get up there as often as possible, but I think anything that amplifies the voices of local artists and responds to either local concerns, or topics of the day, or takes a broad prompt and allows people to express their interpretation of that is always wonderful. If people come in and they know that the work is by their neighbors, that’s just such a treat. I think that makes art so much more accessible and approachable. It’s not art that was made by a wonderfully talented guy two hundred years ago. It just makes it more immediate and personal.

Interested in learning more about Bobbie Rafferty? Check out her website and Instagram.

Are you a current member of The Art Center interested in being featured in our Member Highlight program? Click here to apply.

Interested in becoming a member? Click here.