After more than 60 years of working as an artist, Charles Fach is secure in his passion for pottery.
For some, pottery is a hobby that clears the mind and helps steer focus on the task at hand. For others, such as Charles Fach, it’s a lifestyle that’s fueled by the kiln and a long-lasting passion. For more than 60 years now, he’s cemented that passion as a working artist.
He traces his love for pottery to his childhood in Galesburg, Ill., where he loved artistic pursuits and digging in the clay soil. In 1960, Fach enrolled in his first pottery class at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA).
“I had a lot of interest in drawing and painting growing up,” Fach says. “I knew I wanted to do something along those lines, but I wasn’t quite sure exactly what. Luckily, I had a great education at UCLA that helped further me along my journey.”
At the university, Fach fell in love with his pottery and realized he could make a career out of his art. He shifted from his earlier focus on industrial arts to eventually earn his bachelor’s degree in painting and drawing.
“I loved everything about my time spent there (at UCLA),” Fach says. “I learned so much about what it takes to become a great artist that I always used throughout my career.”
After graduation, Fach spent a couple of extra years in California working on his pottery skills and perfecting his craft.
“I decided I wasn’t quite ready to leave California at the time,” Fach says. “I wanted to spend some more time practicing my work that I had learned and wanted to try out some different things. I spent a lot of time fire kilning and creating several types of pottery.”
In time, he was ready to return to his native Midwest so he enrolled at the University of Iowa to earn a master’s in ceramics.
“Iowa was a great spot for me because it was a lot closer to home and I also got to show off my new skills while still getting better at everything,” Fach says.
His time in Iowa led him still closer to home when he set up a pottery shop 2 hours north of his hometown in 1971. He’s now called Galena, Ill., home for nearly five decades.
Stone House Pottery & Gallery, 418 Spring St. (U.S. Route 20), is a historical brewery in Galena that Fach converted into a studio and gallery for his pottery. He’s spent years creating his artwork in a personal studio he calls the Artists’ Annex.
Fach’s gallery features collections of work he’s produced over the years, as he’s experimented with bronze sculptures, clay tiles, functional pottery and decorative pottery among many other forms.
In 1983, Fach incorporated a bed-and-breakfast establishment into his property so that guests could have a unique way to experience the home and Galena. Fach says it all started as a means of earning some extra revenue and helping locals who struggled to find housing during the early 1980s.
“There was a period in Galena where there was a shortage in housing,” Fach says. “We wanted to help those people in our community who were in need while expanding our property.”
What started as two units has now grown to five units and become one of the longest-running bed-and-breakfasts in the Galena area.
Abe’s Spring Street Guest House, as the bed-and-breakfast is known, sits right next door to Fach’s studio at 414 Spring St. The individual suites come with a bed and other amenities, such as luxurious private baths, a sauna room and kitchenettes. To make reservations, visit galenabedbreakfast.com or call (773) 573-3453.
Fach has filled each room with his own artistic touches. In addition to his works on the walls, Fach’s artistic touches can be found in the bedframes, including the wrought-iron structure and statuettes adorning the room known as Rudolph’s Retreat.
Each room in some way reflects the guest home and studio’s history as a pre-Prohibition ice house and brewery.
“There is never a dull moment with it all, but we’ve been able to meet a lot of people through different ways over the years – which has brought nothing but smiles to our faces,” says Fach.
Until recently, the Stone House Pottery & Gallery also hosted tours and special events that included free pottery demonstrations and a stop at the gallery, which features works by Fach and other local artists.
After so many years in this spot, Fach is preparing for retirement, so he put the properties up for sale earlier this year.
“It was the perfect place for me to do what I loved,” Fach says. “I have a lot of great memories that came from this place, ones that I will cherish forever.”
While he’s stepping back from the day-to-day work, Fach still plans to keep his hands busy in clay.
“I don’t have the time to make as much art as I used to, but I’ll never be able to stop doing what I love,” Fach says. “Sculpting and pottery have always had a special place in my heart, so I’ll always find a way to make time for it.”
He’s produced countless pieces over the years in all sorts of settings, but the artist still doesn’t judge any of his work apart. When asked what his favorite thing was to make, Fach responds, “All of them.”
“I don’t think I could specifically give you one piece of art that I like more than the other,” Fach says. “They’re all my favorite pieces of art, and they all mean something different to me.”
Aside from his work in pottery, Fach has also given back to the community, particularly through his work on Galena’s city council.
During his tenure, he helped to oversee revitalization of Galena’s historic Turner Hall, which was built as a community center in 1874 and reconstructed in 1927 after a fire destroyed most of the building.
During the early 2000s, the City found it difficult to maintain the building, so in 2013 Fach and others helped initiate a plan to restore the local landmark. Restoration included exterior stonework that replicated the building’s original appearance. Those efforts helped Turner Hall to earn Landmarks Illinois’ 2019 Award for Rehabilitation.
“We had a lot of fun working on that project,” Fach says. “It was just great to see everyone in the community come together to help bring back a special place that means so much to many people in the area.”
It’s easy to wonder if Fach has hit a few bumps along his six decades of art, but if you ask him yourself, he’ll say his artistic journey was smooth sailing from the start.
“You would think along the way that I would have made a mistake or would look back at some of my art and decide that I shouldn’t have done it that way,” Fach says. “But I can honestly say I haven’t regretted anything I’ve done in my life when it comes to my art.”
He believes what he’s done in his studio and the community at large has been nothing but a blessing.
“I’m proud of all the work I’ve done in my life so far, whether that was making some form of art or helping out the Galena community,” Fach says. “I wouldn’t change a thing I’ve done.”