Now there’s one more reason to visit Galena: a weekend tour that takes you behind the scenes of some of our area’s vibrant artistic talent.
After more than 40 years on Galena’s historic Main Street, Carl Johnson will close the doors of his gallery at the end of this year. But there’s still one more chance, this year, to tour his gallery during a Galena Studio Tour. The third and final tour in a series of three this year takes place Dec. 13 & 14.
The December self-guided studio tour coincides with another Galena tradition, Night of the Luminaria, when more than 5,000 of them will line downtown sidewalks from 6 to 9 p.m. on Dec. 13. Many stores will extend their hours during the special weekend.
The Galena Studio Tour, which this year features five stops, began in 2011, after potter Joe Pinder reached out to regional artists and asked if they would be interested in collaborating on a walking tour. Pinder says the event has grown each year because visitors love the opportunity to glimpse the artists’ creative processes and meet the studio owners in person.
Those visiting in December can check the tour’s website, galenastudiotour.com, or pick up a card at any of the tour locations to learn more about each of the stops.
The tour is informal, Pinder says, but the artists love to welcome visitors.
“We encourage each of the locations to make cookies or have a drink – usually apple cider or hot chocolate – of course we have a lot of wonderful coffee shops along the way too,” Pinder says.
“It’s a very romantic time to visit,” says artist Jan Ketza.
A City of Artistic Possibilities
Galena has long attracted both artists and art lovers.
“The city has historic significance, and people travel here for that,” explains Pinder. “Where it was built along the riverfront, and with the huge limestone wall, it has a dramatic look. It’s almost a postcard look.”
Artists were quick to embrace that, and several have incorporated what makes Galena special into their pieces.
Many of Johnson’s watercolors feature popular Galena spots and landmarks such as “the stairs,” Grant Park and Main Street.
“Galena has pretty spectacular architecture,” says Johnson, who opened his Main Street shop 43 years ago after he and his wife, a history major, visited the city on vacation and immediately fell in love with it.
Pinder says local potters also embrace the architecture and natural beauty that surround them. Pinder, for instance, does a rendering on some of his pots resembling historic buildings.
In fact, for the artists involved in the tour, Galena is very much a place of inspiration.
“The city looks very picturesque this time of year, and we want visitors to come enjoy it,” Pinder says.
Many of the tour stops will offer unique and Galena-themed holiday gifts such as jewelry, pottery, cards, prints and more.
But for those who can’t attend in December, Pinder says not to worry. The tour will start up again in 2015, during Memorial Day weekend.
Joe Pinder: A Once-Reluctant Potter
Joe Pinder laughs about “the shoe.”
“Up until my second year of college, I had no interest in functional pottery,” says Pinder, who operates Pinder Pottery and Gallery, 236 N. Main St.
Instead, he was interested in sculpture, painting and drawing.
So, on his first day of pottery class at North Central College in Naperville, he made the only thing he could think of – a tennis shoe, which is on display in the shop he opened in 2013.
“Now, I have a gallery full of thrown pieces,” he laughs. “Even though in the beginning I was kind of like a kid stomping around saying, ‘I’m not going to do that.’”
Pinder credits fellow potter Paul Eshelman, of Elizabeth, with whom he studied in college, with helping him to find his calling in stoneware.
Pinder spent 25 years working in manufacturing before committing to art full-time. He says that experience helped him to better understand the business side of selling his work.
“Many of the people I know who have been doing art for many years still find it pretty humbling that they’re making something and actually selling it,” he says. “Potters realize they have to be creative enough to create work that sells rapidly, so that they can also create those one-of-a-kind pieces.”
Some of Pinder’s favorite pieces are cross-handled jars.
“They’re significant in the history of pottery,” he says. “In pretty much every pottery book, you’ll see the shape – they were originally meant for curing wines and oils.”
What he enjoys most is that they have a broad surface for carving, so he’s able to create exclusive pieces, including ones that feature a Galena-style landscape.
Pinder’s open bowl is a big seller, too. In his shop, he also sells the works of other local potters, including Eshelman.
All of Pinder’s pieces are fired at 2,167 degrees Fahrenheit, making them microwave- and dishwasher-safe, and ideal for everyday use, he says.
Pinder will display pottery and offer studio tours and demonstrations as part of the Galena Studio Tour Dec. 13 and 14. For more information, visit pinderpottery.com.
Carl Johnson: Galena’s Watercolorist
“It’s been a wonderful life,” says Carl Johnson, 83, who will close his gallery on Jan. 1, after more than 40 years.
Johnson first discovered Galena with his wife, Marilyn, and their children, during a weekend trip. They were drawn to the city because of its lovely architectural character and its sense of history.
“My wife said, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to rent a house for maybe four to six weeks?’ People looked at us like we were crazy,” he says with a laugh. “So, on a lark, we looked at this 11-room turkey up on the hill. We shot the owners a low-ball offer and they took it.”
At first they hung a sign on the home advertising his watercolors. Then, they purchased the shop located at 202 S. Main St.
Johnson quickly became well known as an on-location artist. He rarely paints from photographs.
“It’s my cardinal rule,” he explains. “When I first started in Galena, I bought a camera and took slides, but it was no fun. I knew being a painter wasn’t going to be easy, but I figured if it wasn’t going to be fun, I’d rather be a graphic artist.”
Instead, Johnson has made a living creating watercolors of locations around Galena, his native Chicago and Jo Daviess County.
He has painted barns and buildings that no longer exist, and in 1977 published a book, “The Building of Galena: An Architectural History,” which includes 15 full-color reproductions.
Copies of the book, as well as cards and prints, will be available during the tour, and until the end of December.
And although Johnson plans to travel, he’s also “going virtual,” he says, and will continue to offer his work through his website, cjart.net.
“I still intend to paint – that’s what I do,” he says. “I enjoy every single day that I can put a brush in my hand and paint.”
Jan Ketza: Embracing Color
Artist Jan Ketza didn’t begin her career designing jewelry, but she has always been involved with doing something creative.
“I’ve been an artist my entire life,” explains the owner of Galena Beads, 303 S. Main St. “I was a painter mostly.”
But in 2001, the market started to change, she says. Not knowing what would come next, she began bringing her abstract paintings, handmade clothing and just a few jewelry pieces to Galena.
In 2002, she opened a shop, and soon realized that her wire crochet jewelry was a huge draw.
“In between sales I would work on jewelry and people would see what I was doing,” she says. “They would see the beads I was using and want to buy them.”
Ketza decided to embrace what her customers wanted. She brought in her dining room table, which was filled with $500 worth of beads.
Things “snowballed” from there, and she and her shop, which had to be relocated to a larger location, have found success by adapting.
She now displays her paintings on the walls, and sells beads and her specialty and custom-made jewelry and clothing.
She embraces color in all of her work, and has found it’s helped to define her style as an artist.
“I’m a very colorful person,” she says. “When you walk into the shop, you’re immersed in color, shape and form.”
From gypsy jackets made with velvet and silk scarves, to the 4-foot by 6-foot painting “The Color of Pleasure” that greets customers upon arrival, the one thing all of her projects have in common is creative use of color.
But she is perhaps best known for her jewelry, which has been featured in numerous books and magazines.
“People will look at this crazy combination of beads that I’m putting together and wonder why it comes out beautiful,” says Ketza. “They are amazed at how intricate it looks.”
In fact, Ketza now offers workshops for budding designers in basic beading, wire crochet and aluminum pendant making.
Depending on what time people drop by, during the Galena Studio Tour, they may see Ketza beading, hammering a pendant or even painting, she says.
Whatever she’s doing, she’s always excited to welcome visitors into her world of color and design. For more information about Ketza’s work, visit galenabeads.com.