by Nicole Harbour
The Illinois Artisans Program, created in 1985 by former Gov. James R. Thompson to help raise public exposure for state crafts and artisans, will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2010.
“The Illinois Artisans Program has nearly 1,700 juried artists that do everything from painting, sculpting, metal working and basket weaving to sculpting, ceramics, wood carving and lace making,” says director Carolyn Patterson. “Some of these crafts are traditional Illinois crafts, but it is not required that an artist’s work have an Illinois focus.”
Illinois artisans are selected for the program, which is funded through the Illinois State Museum, by a rotating three-member jury during two annual sessions, usually in March and September. The jurors, who normally do not serve more than once, are educators and other artists throughout the state.
Artists applying to the program remain anonymous while their works are under consideration. With no limit on the number of artisans a jury can select each session, many Illinois artisans receive the opportunity for public exposure each year. The quality of the artwork is what is most important to the jurors, Patterson says.
After artists are selected, their works are then displayed and sold in artisan and museum shops throughout the state. Illinois has four shops: the Illinois Artisans Shop at the James R. Thompson Center in downtown Chicago, the Museum Store at the Illinois State Museum in Springfield, the Dickson Mounds Museum Store in Lewistown and the Southern Illinois Artisans Shop at Rend Lake.
“The artists get a lot of exposure by displaying and selling their work at the artisan shops and museum stores,” Patterson says. “The program also provides artists with opportunities to educate the public about what they do through educational programs.”
Two artists involved are Chad Nelson and Felicia Breen, owners of Mississippi Mud Pottery in Alton.
“Being part of the Illinois Artisans Program has definitely helped our business,” says Nelson. “Our work is currently being displayed at the Rend Lake shop, and the exposure has been priceless.”
Both Nelson and Breen received a bachelor's degree in ceramics from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and have been working with clay for nearly 10 years.
A favorite of customers is their ceramic fish. Modeled after actual fish the couple has caught, most of Nelson and Breen’s ceramic fish feature marking and coloring of native Illinois species. The artists create the ceramic fish by making a mold from the actual fish, and filling it with clay. They then clean the piece and then fire it and glaze it to create a likeness of the real fish.
Members of the IAP since 2008, Nelson and Breen were encouraged to submit their work to the program after they displayed some of it at the Southern Illinois Annual Wine and Art Festival in 2007.
Illinois Issues, December 2009