Folk art school in works

Marianne Gillespie

Two heads are better than one, the old saying goes.

In the case of the future Three Sisters Folk Art School, three heads are better than one.

Friends Jennie Hawkey and Lisé Mundwiller used to frequent the weaving store Skeins and Shuttles in Peoria Heights.

After owner Peggy Turner died a few years ago, the duo wanted another place to weave.

Both serve on the advisory board for Three Sisters Park. Hawkey is the education representative, as she is the curriculum director of Illinois Valley Central District 321.

Then entered Joan Quigg, another weaver, who joined the weaving friendship circle.

The trio became interested in developing something like the renowned John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina.

In search of ideas for a possible school, the women hit the road in September.

They traveled to four schools — Sawtooth in Winston-Salem, Penland in Asheville, John C. Campbell in Brasstown, all in North Carolina, and Arrowmont in Gatlinburg, Tenn. — to see what they offer.

Hawkey said the renowned Campbell school is more like what the women had in mind with long weekends or week-long instruction, as opposed to workshops for a day.

They returned to Central Illinois, and Hawkey took the map out again.

This time, she mapped out where folk art schools were located throughout the country.

Some are on the East and West coasts, North Carolina and Tennessee. While there is a school in both Wisconsin and Michigan, Hawkey said neither are quite the same concept the women wanted. They found that the Midwest was lacking a school of Campbell’s caliber.

They developed a plan and met with the executive board at Three Sisters Park to present their concept.

The women received the green light, including an area on the park’s land to build the school, dorms and more.

The area designated for the buildings is north/west of the grove of catalpa trees near the barn and 1918 farmhouse.

A press conference announcing the plans was Wednesday at the River Station in Peoria.

The buildings will belong to Three Sisters, Hawkey said, but the school will be its own entity with a budget and a board.

Additionally, the women want to build a multi-level restaurant, with room for the public on the main level and then food services for students on another.

The restaurant idea, she said, fits in with Three Sisters’ plan to have a restaurant on its grounds.

The school’s mission is “to enrich lives through art and craftsmanship by sharing the skills and knowledge of past generations as well as teaching with materials and techniques of today.”

Proposed classes include basketry, ceramics, drawing/painting/photography, glass and metals, home arts, music, nature studies, paper arts, textiles and woodworking.

Once the basics were established, a development team gathered, including Patty Bowling, Chris and Nancie Cassidy, Bonnie Cox, Chuck Flagg, Jim Miller, Jack Morgenstern, Gene Pratt, Missy and Scott Shepler, Gary Sutton and Margo Tennis.

The team, which has been meeting for months, is focused on two areas, finance/marketing and programming/building. In the near future, they will split again.

The amount of money needed for the project is not known yet, Hawkey said, as plans are continuing.

She may be thinking optimistically, she said, but she hopes to break ground within the next two years.

Some of the rooms in the school will be custom-designed for the type of art program offered. Others will be general classrooms.

Another part of the plan includes a gift shop to carry the work of artists, both locally and elsewhere.

Teachers for the school will vary from those locally to also some around the country.

Students of the school will not just be residents from Chillicothe or Peoria, but those around the Midwest.

With Chicago, Indianapolis and St. Louis within driving distance, the school potentially could draw many students in different states.

And, Hawkey said, interest ranges from baby boomers to those in their 20s. The school’s focus will be adults and young adults. Classes may occasionally be offered for children, but Hawkey said the women do not want to compete or interfere with the Sun Foundation’s work.

Students would most likely attend classes weeklong or possibly long weekends.

Hawkey said tuition fees average around $500 and another $500 for room and board.

The location also offers benefits for spouses of those attending the school, Hawkey said. The Campbell school is located in the middle of nowhere, which is not the case for the planned school in Chillicothe.

Day trips to Chicago, the new Abraham Lincoln Museum and more are possibilities.

Additionally, as Three Sisters Park and the city continue to develop plans for the Chillicothe riverfront, more opportunities could present themselves.

“If all this is being developed at once, everyone wins,” said Hawkey.

Opportunities also may exist for businesses to use the facilities to build teamwork.

Some companies use obstacle courses at retreat centers, but at the folk art school, co-workers could make a project together, like ceramic tiles joined together to decorate the office.

For more information, visit the school’s Web site