As I stated earlier, there is much to be said about how this all began. I will attempt to articulate my thoughts in a way that will hopefully make sense for you, the reader. Although the house is a big part of this journey, I believe it’s probably wise to first begin with the events that eventually led us to Frederick, Illinois.
Over the last several years I have had a desire to involve myself more in this place I call home. As much as I desire and need to make art work, there was this even stronger desire to involve myself in things that I believed were absent in my community. I began to ask myself questions like “what would keep me here in this small, rural community?” when I have been more focused on trying to figure out ways to leave. What opportunities would I like to see become available to my family and the hundreds of other families that have planted roots here? In a nutshell, I desired to fill a void. I desired to see things happen and take place that I truly felt our community could benefit from. Often times, it seems as if we look for others to do those things. You know the thought, “I sure wish someone would…”. Well, it turns out that I was one of the “someones”. With a strong connection to just about anything art related, I began to explore ideas with the fine arts at their core.
During this time of exploration I became very interested in the ways that small communities all over the country were connecting the arts and rural development. It was also around this time that I became acquainted with artist communities and artist residency programs. My initial curiosity prompted me to dig deeper and I found myself winding down the rabbit hole that usually materializes when you are jumping headfirst into new ideas. I began to read about individuals and organizations that were using the arts to build, and in many cases, rebuild their communities. All the while I was continuing to make artwork.
Fast forward to early November 2014. After an exhibit in Peoria I was given the opportunity to store my artwork in a new location. That new location happened to be in a very large, two story home in Frederick. This new space was appealing since it was on ground level and did not require maneuvering my work through windows and up stairwells. So at the conclusion of exhibit, we loaded up the work that didn’t sell (okay, all of it) into a UHaul and headed to rural Schuyler county. With the help of my wife we were able to get everything unloaded and had a bit of time to simply wander around the property. It was during this time that I asked myself the question, could I live here? Then I asked Christy the same question. Could you live here? Could we live here? In Frederick? Us? Here? Although it seemed like a ridiculous question, in that moment I was completely serious. This one question led to a myriad of others and as often times happens, we had our “aha” moment.
*Insert back story: some friends of ours, friends that happened to own a large, uninhabited two story home in rural Schuyler county, had said on various occasions that if we had an idea for how the home and property could be used that they were more than interested in hearing about it. And yes, this is the same house I have my work stored in.
At what is known as “family dinner” we were all talking and enjoying the evening with our closest friends when the topic of the mansion in Frederick came up. I can’t remember if it were I or my wife that just said it…we just threw it out there. The idea: have a family live in the upper level of the house and create an artist residency space on the first floor. Well…that was it. It was now out there. Kind of like when you hit send after typing out an email. No going back now. But that wasn’t the “moment”. I can recall Brian and Lori kind of chuckling and politely laughing it off. Moving on. Let’s get some dessert.
One month later we found ourselves in the same conversation at family dinner. Again, the same comment surfaced from Lori, “If you have any ideas for what we could use the mansion for just let us know”. My response: “we already told you our idea.” “Huh, you did?” Again, I gave her the same response as one month previous. Her eyes grew wide and she said with excitement and bewilderment, “You were serious!?” Absolutely. After that things moved to a more serious tone as Christy and I shared our hearts and dreams for what we envisioned for the house on the hill. They were excited. We were excited as well, but also anxious about what this meant.
Within a few days we met privately with Brian and Lori to discuss the idea in depth. After a few minutes of exchanging pleasantries Lori cut to the chase and proceeded to tell us that she and Brian have talked it over, they are very excited and supportive of our idea, and we can move in whenever we want. Whoa. What? You would have thought I would have been jumping up and down with excitement, but actually I was a bit shell shocked. They said yes. They said go for it. Inwardly I was trying to jump out of my body.
And that is where we are today. Two very generous friends offering what they have to support the vision of that started out as simply a question. Thus begins the journey.