Geraldine L. Mailender: Member Highlight Interview

Geraldine L. Mailender: Member Highlight Interview

Image courtesy of Geraldine L. Mailender

Geraldine L. Mailender TAC Member Highlight Interview

After spending her formative years in Pittsburgh, PA, artist Geraldine L. Mailender attended The Ohio State University and earned an advanced degree in Occupational Therapy. Mailender then opened a successful occupational therapy health and wellness practice in Cincinnati, OH, where she raised her two children. After making her way to Florida, she was presented with the trip of a lifetime: a tour of the National Parks. From Grand Teton to Yellowstone to Mount Rushmore, Mailender absorbed the vibrant colors of America’s most pristine landscapes: lavender-grey mountains, deep blue waters, and the red-dotted fields of Indian paintbrush. “I saw such beauty, the colors are amazing,” says Mailender. “The wildflowers reminded me that I’ve been doing embroidery since I was seven years old.”

Her background in embroidery translates seamlessly into the work inspired by her travels. Combining Japanese embroidery techniques with watercolor paintings on silk, Mailender began to create her unique works of art. The silk Mailender embroiders upon is 34 momme—momme is the unit of measurement for silk’s density, the higher the count, the more threads—a dense, luxurious canvas for her watercolors. She buys the silk in large bolts sourced from France and Italy, then precisely cuts and finishes them into 18-by-18 squares: “I stretch the silk onto the Japanese wooden frame, there is no taping, no pasting, it’s all done with needles, no knotting. There is a step and a process to everything. So I do the painting, I do the embroidering, then I take it off and mount it over museum-grade poster board.” 

Geraldine L. Mailender, Mental (Healing, Learning)

Though the Japanese Embroidery Center is located in Atlanta, GA, Mailender was able to take part in weekend retreats given by an instructor from the Center living in Florida. After learning the basics of Japanese embroidery techniques, Mailender began experimenting in her own practice, inspired by her trip through the National Parks: “I began experimenting with the light, which was so important. On those trips, you get your money’s worth, they have you up at the crack of dawn. So I really got to see when the sun first comes up over Grand Teton it really is red, then turns to gold, so I thought, ‘Oh my God, I’ll get a chance to use gold floss.’” 

Mailender’s careful attention to light is reflected in the three pieces featured in The Art Center’s gift shop. Delicate threads of gold cast over pink and blue mountain silhouettes recall morning light brimming over the horizon in Mental (Healing, Learning). While bronze light dominates the frame in The Great Eclipse, a piece celebrating the beauty of the August 21st, 2017 total solar eclipse. These pieces and more can be found in The Art Center’s gift shop from now until July 1, 2023, as a part of our Member Highlight Program.

Want to learn more about Geraldine L. Mailender? Click here to visit her website.


Are you a current TAC member interested in being featured as a future member highlight? To apply, please fill out the Member Highlight Application, found here, and email it to or bring it to The Art Center office.

Not yet a member, but want to participate? Sign up for a TAC Membership here!

TAC 6 Month Update

We made it a policy to send you a 6-month progress report on how The Art Center Highland Park is fulfilling your expectations and using your generous support dollars. Our fiscal year starts in September, so March is our half-year mark. That means it is appropriate for you to ask: are we doing our best?

What’s New?

  • We are serving a whole new audience. Recently we began a collaborative program with Arts of Life, a not-for-profit for creative adults with developmental disabilities. The program has expanded from one class to three, with AOL staff working in our studios. All students are on scholarship and we don’t turn anyone away.
  • Post July 4, we continue to offer monthly programs for those affected by the tragedy. We plan to continue this partnership with The Art Impact Project.
  • EXCHANGE Events are now happening every month – thanks to a generous grant from Jessica and Steve Sarowitz and Wayfarer Theater we have underwriting for the next 12 months of EXCHANGE programming.
  • One more full-time employee. We now have a full-time marketing and design associate and our social media results are impressive. That could be why attendance at our events is so high!
  • The BEST place to be—as part of our initiative to be the favorite studio/gallery/meeting space on the north shore we have begun projects to make TAC a more welcoming space:
    • The jewelry studio has an additional studio space for the hydraulic press and a 5S-organized tool wall.
    • The mosaic studio had a MAJOR facelift with a new wall color, better-organized shelving and storage, new work tables, high back stools, and a 50” TV for demonstrations.
    • The hallways on the lower level are getting a warmer paint color and, thanks to a local Girl Scout Troop, are decorated with a beautiful new mural.
    • The lower lobby has a new paint job, too, with café tables, a coffee maker, a microwave, a mini-fridge, and a community chalkboard. We’re adding bench seats and a library next to make this a between-class hangout for faculty and students.
    • The Atrium space/student entry has new comfortable gallery-style seating and a couple of magazine racks that we keep stocked with the latest magazines from the world of arts and culture.

What Continues to be Successful?

  • Our Recycled Art Sale was a record-breaker! Generous donations from the community made this community favorite a big success. Next year we are moving it back inside the galleries after three years of COVID-safety awareness. That’s good news for our volunteers who will not have to huddle over space heaters or hold down the tent flaps in the fall winds.
  • Education is bouncing back. The 2023 Winter Session saw pre-COVID registration numbers as we continue to invite new teachers to our faculty and add new programs for all ages and skill levels. We have even added introductory prices for new classes and teachers to bring in a whole new group of students who we hope will stay with us for a long time.
  • EXCHANGE Events are growing. As mentioned above, along with underwriting, our recent speakers have been very popular and high-profile. Sculptors Donald Lipski and Omri Amrany, puppeteer Sam Lewis, artists Norman Teague, Rene Arceo, and Indira Johnson, and documentary filmmakers Bob Hercules and Brett A. Schwartz have educated and entertained full audiences of delighted patrons.
  • Senior Center Classes will continue. Since the Highland Park Senior Center moved to its new space, we have been their new home for all the art classes they offer.
  • Our gallery has hosted one amazing exhibit after another, with a ‘best of’ rating from New City Magazine, features in Sheridan Road Magazine, Highland Park Neighbors, reviews in the Chicago Reader, and a shout-out in the New York Times.


What’s Coming?

Late Night at the Galleries returns. We are booking musicians for our summer series of picnics and concerts on the lawn, giving evening access to our gallery exhibits. Want to be part of an energetic drum circle event?

Partnerships and collaborations. We are hosting or planning projects with as many of our partner not-for-profits and arts and culture providers as possible: The Balance Project, East on Central, Short Story Theatre, The Art Impact Project, Sister Cities, The Park District Highland Park, Highland Park Library, Highwood Library, the Wayfarer Theater at Renaissance Place, Facets Multimedia – and the list keeps getting bigger.

The Passion Project and Ignite Passion. Every spring we choose one hyper-dynamic exhibit as the setting for our annual spring benefit. This year we are celebrating our passion. As we say in our Vision Statement, “The Art Center Highland Park’s vision is to be a cultural destination that inspires and ignites a passion for the arts; providing a forum for self-expression, dialogue, and community engagement. On Friday, May 5, TAC will undoubtedly be the best place to be, with cocktails, a DJ, a silent auction, a raffle, live painting, art demonstrations, and a special performance by the world-famous Hubbard Street Dance.

So, back to our original question: are we doing our best? We hope you feel we are and that you remain confident in our ability to continue to offer creative and challenging gallery exhibits, a wide-ranging series of arts-related classes and instruction, and community-building programs that are unrivaled on the North Shore.

Thank you for your support!

The TAC Team

School and Group Gallery Tours

The Art Center is now offering School and Group Gallery Tours!

The program includes a docent-led tour of our current exhibit and a hands-on art activity that is connected to the theme or topic of the current exhibition.

The Art Center Highland Park has a richly deserved reputation as a regional arts destination with exhibits rotating at an average rate of every 6 weeks. For many North Shore school groups, it is much more convenient to make the trip to TAC than to visit The Art Institute or the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Scheduling: In most cases, groups can be scheduled with as little as a week’s notice, though two weeks’ advance notice is preferred.

Participants: Programs can be adapted for any age, including adults, and we can easily accommodate groups of up to 30 participants.

Pricing*: $20 per student for a half-hour docent-led tour of the exhibit(s) and a 30-35 minute hands-on art activity with all materials provided.

Timing: Our galleries are open from 10-4 PM, Monday through Saturday

Parking: There is plenty of public and street parking available.

Up Next: To preview upcoming exhibits at The Art Center visit or call 847-432-1888.


*We will never turn a group away because of budgetary concerns. Contact us if you have questions.

Looking for a program that is made to order? All of our programs are fully customizable. Call and arrange a consultation with our Director of Events, Jackie Chilow, at 847-432-1888 or email Jackie at


TAC Member Highlight Interview: William Marvin

“Instructions for living a life,” writes the poet Mary Oliver, “Pay attention. / Be astonished. / Tell about it.” If we measure success by these instructions, William Marvin, The Art Center’s current Member Highlight, has triumphed.

Artist William Marvin in his studio.
Photo courtesy of William Marvin.

As an artist, Marvin’s business is paying attention to the natural world. During our conversation, he gestures to a tree

that’s visible through the window behind me, “I’m looking out the window right here and I see this collection of branches and the negative spaces in between. There’s always something interesting in nature. You could make a painting out of that. That’s my world.”

This ability to spot potential paintings all around him stems from Marvin’s childhood. As he and his siblings walked to school, Marvin would stop to frame pictures in his head, fascinated by the clouds overhead: “I knew from the time I was very small, seven or eight years old, that I was going to be an artist. I came from a large family. There were six boys, a year apart. Then the rest came along, and there were ten of us altogether. I would walk to school with them, and I was always looking at the clouds. For whatever reason, I was framing pictures as I walked along. I would ask my brothers, ‘Did you see you see that tree or this?’ and they thought I was crazy. So I was the oddball in the family. But it’s something that I’ve always been aware of, that I was sensitive to the outdoors. And I still am, it hasn’t changed.”

Growing up in a small Wisconsin town with a population of 1,500, his family relocated to Escondido, California, where the student body population of his high school was 1,500 alone. The scope of the city’s diversity shifted Marvin’s perspective: “All of a sudden my world just opened up. That was the best thing that could have happened to me.” One of Marvin’s high school teachers encouraged him to pursue a degree at ArtCenter College of Design, one of the world’s finest design institutions. Unable to afford the cost of tuition, Marvin joined the Air Force instead.

After serving for four years, Marvin reconnected with a friend, Jack Durk, who worked in the art department at China Lake, a Naval Air Weapons Station north of Los Angeles. When he was young, Marvin’s father would tell him what surely sounds like a familiar refrain to most artistically inclined children: “You can’t make a living as an artist. Get a job, get something that’s solid so you can make money.” Yet here was Durk, a working artist, offering to help Marvin build a portfolio of illustrations. Taking Durk up on his offer, Marvin spent two months learning to draw “jets shooting off missiles, that kind of stuff.” After he was able to get into civil service as a GS-7, Marvin began to work at China Lake as well.

Marvin loved the natural setting surrounding China Lake: “It was up in the high desert, close to the Sierras and Mount Whitney. We would go camping and hiking all the time.” But after six years, Marvin’s boss, China Lake’s art director, told him, “Bill, if you don’t get out of here, this is all you’re ever gonna do. So you’ve got to stop and go to school.” Marvin took this advice to heart, deciding to cash out his savings and enroll at ArtCenter.

His college experience was everything he had hoped for: “It’s like going from a small town to a bigger town and getting exposed to what graphic design is, then going from technical manuals and things like that to design in art school. Learning how to draw and how to paint, and learning about color. That just opened up my world again.” When he graduated from ArtCenter, Marvin attempted to find work in Los Angeles but found that the only available careers were in the tourism and film industries. So on the advice of his former boss at China Lake, Marvin headed east for Chicago.

With only two phone numbers at his disposal, Marvin interviewed for jobs at studios around the city. Though one of the interviewers couldn’t hire him, he directed him to other studios, encouraging him to keep looking. After two weeks of interviews, Marvin found a permanent position. There, Marvin was given the opportunity to design high school textbooks for Science Research Associates: “They gave me this project and I found that I really liked doing it. I could do the illustrations plus I could arrange everything on the page. I could put the type where I wanted to. And I found that my strength was in design. It wasn’t illustration, it was design. So from then on, I became a designer. I went from one studio to another and stayed in Chicago for years. I designed annual reports and brochures and corporate identity, all that kind of stuff.”

When computers became the main tool of graphic designers, Marvin found himself losing interest in the business: “I’m used to thinking and designing with a pencil. I didn’t like doing it with a computer. I could do it, but I didn’t like it.” In order to ensure that he could continue designing in the way he like, Marvin started his own business. But after working on his own for a number of years, Marvin decided it was time for another career pivot. This time, Marvin moved from graphic design to landscape design.

While that may seem like a tremendous change to some, Marvin makes a sound case for the jobs’ similarities: “It was a natural thing for me to do because design is shapes and sizes and textures.” Working for a season at Lurvey is Des Plaines, Marvin charmed customers with his sketchpad: “I would take a sketchpad with me and customers would come in and talk to me about their front yard or their porch or their patio area in the back. I would give them a sketch to show them what they could do with it. Then I sold the plants to fit the sketch and gave them the sketch, so they were really happy.”

Top: “Summer Splash,” Bottom: “Morning Sounds.”

While now mostly retired—he still designs landscapes but doesn’t do installations—Marvin is now able to fully dedicate himself to painting. Working in the tradition of the Barbizon School of early French Impressionists, Marvin paints landscapes en plein air, a practice he began in 1996: “It was just a natural environment for me. To actually sit there on the side of a river and the birds are singing and you’re just concentrating on trying to capture the feeling. I was in heaven. So this is what I do full-time now.”

As part of our Member Highlight program, Marvin’s series Feathered Friends is now featured in The Art Center’s gift shop. As the series title suggests, these paintings are renderings of birds of all kinds—peaceful mourning doves and playful goldfinches alike. On his inspiration for this series, Marvin writes: “I’ve always been aware of birds and really appreciate their design, plumage, and interactions with their fellow birds. They are fascinating to watch because their behavior in many ways mimics human beings.  Survival, pecking order, feathers as camouflage, or as a mating attraction are all interesting factors.  As an artist, I am attracted to their plumage and love portraying birds in their natural environment.  The variety in shapes and sizes promises a lifetime of exploring and study.”

In addition to paintings and prints of his work, The Art Center is also selling copies of Marvin’s book Grace Notes: Reflections on Everyday Wonders. This collection of paintings and personal stories chronicles Marvin’s adventures in painting accompanied by his English Black Lab, Rocky.


Marvin’s work will be for sale in The Art Center gift shop for the next two months. If you are interested in viewing or purchasing a print or painting from the Feathered Friends series, please visit us between 10 AM and 4 PM, Monday through Saturday. Visit Marvin’s website to learn more about his work.

Are you a current TAC member interested in being featured as a future member highlight? To apply, please fill out the Member Highlight Application, found here, and email it to or bring it to The Art Center office.

Not yet a member, but want to participate? Sign up for a TAC Membership here!

Moraine Park Dog Beach Bunker Design Contest

Calling All Artists and Designers: Deadline Extended Through March 6!

After at least four years of being closed for some much-needed repairs, the Moraine Park Dog Beach is scheduled to re-open in Spring 2023. As great as the new area will be there is still one thing that needs to be done and you’re invited to participate.

The Park District of Highland Park and The Art Center Highland Park are seeking submissions to decorate the two concrete bunkers located on the beach. These structures are now just bare concrete and we’re looking for ideas to make them an added feature attraction.

To enter: Artists are welcome to submit their concepts/designs for the two installations (see picture inset) from February 3 through March 6, 2023. Designs must be family-friendly but otherwise can be proposed in any style or concept you can imagine. A select panel of judges from the Park District of Highland Park and The Art Center will select the finalists and share them via social media. The final five favorites will be posted on both organizations’ websites and the public will have an opportunity to submit their feedback for the winning design. Winning designs will be selected by The Park District of Highland Park board.

Guidelines: Artists/designers can submit as many ideas and concepts as they want. Submissions should be made as PDF attachments and emailed to Winning submissions will be notified via email by April. The Park District of Highland Park will reimburse for paint and provide access to the location. The artist is responsible for realizing the design of the structures, weather permitting, on a date to be arranged with the Park District Highland Park and the selected artist.

The Park District Highland Park will award a stipend of $250, and The Art Center Highland Park will award a $250 tuition credit for the winner(s).


The Art Center Highland Park, a not-for-profit organization, is the North Shore’s home for artistic discovery and creative exploration. Through innovative programs, exhibitions, and classes designed for all levels and ages, The Art Center provides a welcoming space for our diverse communities to experience and participate in the arts.

The Park District of Highland Park’s Mission is to enrich community life through healthy leisure pursuits and an appreciation of the natural world.

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.

CHAIRS FOR CHAIR-ITY, Benefiting Designs for Dignity: Highwood Design Week

Highwood’s Design Week’s Finale event will feature Specialty Wines, fare from Highwood restaurants, live music, and an auction of Adirondack Chairs that benefit Designs for Dignity. Designs for Dignity transforms nonprofit environments through pro bono design services and in-kind donations – empowering lives through design. They are a fantastic partner for Highwood’s Design District’s annual event.

Highwood Businesses and Designers have brought their Adirondack chairs to life while highlighting their businesses.  And new this year, a group of artists from Highland Park’s Laughlin Gallery have brought their artistic skill sets to the chairs, creating functional pieces of art.  All of these chairs will be displayed in Highwood in September.  If you’ve been salivating over Laughlin Gallery’s offerings, here is your chance to take home a treasure and support a wonderful chair-ity!

Here are a few of the chairs included in the auction which will be available online beginning in September and in person at the Design Week finale at Pazzo di Vino on Saturday, September 24 beginning at 5:30.  Register online at

Four sets of colorful chairss

Norman Teague: Design, Community, and Compassion

Imagine it’s a Friday evening at the Highland Park Metra station. The platform to catch the train into Chicago is full of people, all of them headed into the city for a weekend of activities: museums, concerts, film screenings. Across the tracks, the platform on the opposite side is deserted until a North-bound train pulls in, and a crowd of Chicagoans steps off. This is the vision of the Art Center Highland Park’s Executive Director, James Lynch, an idea he calls “the reverse cultural commute.” Instead of art enthusiasts leaving Highland Park to take in the culture of the city, his goal is that people from the city come to us to see exhibitions, hear music, and experience one-of-a-kind events and programs.

Photo of Norman Teague
Norman Teague

An important first step in realizing the vision of the reverse cultural commute is bringing in artists who represent the best of Chicago-area talent to Highland Park. One such artist is designer and educator Norman Teague

“I only have my story to tell.”

An artist, designer, and educator from Chicago, Teague knew early in his life that he had “a passion for drawing, but didn’t know which way to direct it.”  Pursuing technical drawing, he enrolled at Harold Washington College, where he studied architecture. Though not the final destination on his career journey, Teague says that working in architecture for twelve years let him know that he could use his “drawing skills to do bigger things.” Continuing his education in interior architecture at Columbia College Chicago, he discovered the college’s woodshop: “I fell in love with this idea of sketching things out and then bringing those things to fruition through working with my hands.” 

It was during this time of inspiration that Teague opened his first studio. “It was rough, down and dirty, but I had this level of independence where I could go in the shop twenty-four hours a day and work on different ideas I might have.” Word spread about his studio and Teague began to get commissions for projects from businesses and individuals from around Chicago. Deciding he wanted to return to school again, he earned his MFA in Designed Objects from the School of the Art Institute Chicago. 

With SAIC as a platform to help his work gain exposure, Teague began to ponder what kind of impact his work could be making on the world: “I’m a born and raised Chicagoan who has seen design and the lack of in his own neighborhood, yet fortunate enough that I traveled a lot and I saw just what a fruitful neighborhood looked like, what design had to do with that and really what kind of impact I could be making. That really woke me up, gave me the opportunity to think more directly about what I wanted to say with this work. I wanted to voice inequities through my work, tell these stories through creating objects that really express a narrative that I felt was less heard. For years I was like, ‘Maybe the rest of the world just don’t give a fuck about us. Maybe that’s just the way it is and I’ve just gotta shut that up and be okay with it.’ But I never was okay with it and I’ve pushed since then to create work that talks about where I’m from, where I’ve been, and where I’m going. And really to not beat anyone upside the head, but to set an example of a person of color doing positive things, trying to tell stories that are lesser told. I’ve been doing whatever I can to curate shows and make work that I’m happy with. I can’t say that I’m looking to make work that makes anyone else happy, I only have my story to tell and my hope is that there are other people who find relevance in that and maybe some empowerment in that.” 

Norman Teague's sinmi stool, a rocking stool made of bent plywood
Sinmi Stool

For Teague, inspiration comes from both home and abroad, as evidenced in his celebrated Sinmi Stool. Constructed from bent plywood and birch laminations, the stool’s name is derived from the Yoruba word meaning “to relax.” Aptly titled, Teague’s work invites viewers to lean back and chill.  “I really take pride in stimulating interest through form,” Teague says, “particularly in my Sinmi Stool which has this motion and movability to it.” The stool speaks to an action-oriented aesthetic, one rooted in the inclination to rest against the hood of a car or a kitchen counter. The stool doesn’t just occupy space, it creates it through movement, generating a feeling of playful approachability in those seeing or perching upon it.

“Compassion, Empathy, and Affirmation.”

As an artist who always has his eye on community building, Teague frequently works with other artists and organizations. Teague says that “compassion, empathy, and affirmation” are the key elements of a successful collaboration: “I think that if you bring those things to the table and that there’s a great deal of listening happening, people are excited and fired up about all the possibilities. I feel like this is a sheer collaboration with Highland Park, how does an outside voice talk to Highland Park, which has a Black population of less than 2%? That’s why the programmatic arm [of The Art Center] is really important, it gives me and that community a little bit of face-to-face time. I think that is where conversations start to happen and barriers are broken.” 

If you’re interested in becoming part of this conversation, Norman Teague will display his work at The Art Center Highland Park from November 18-December 30, 2022, with an opening reception on November 18 from 6:00-8:00 pm.