Art isn’t just a pastime for this energetic group in St. Charles — it’s a regional attraction that draws together creative types of all skills and interests.
A middle school student once said, “Art is an adventure that never ends.” That sentiment rings true for students at Fine Line Creative Arts Center, 37W570 Bolcum Road, in St. Charles.
It hosts art classes for adults throughout the year, with many options: ceramics, textiles, 2-D and 3-D media. Workshops taught by international guest artists are offered by session. The center also houses two art galleries, a supply shop and classrooms. As a regional center of art, it draws artists and amateurs from a wide area.
“When you get off Randall Road and drive down here, you kind of get into the zone,” says Lynn Caldwell, executive director. “The energy and spirit here are amazing. No one feels like they have to take a painting class – they want to do it. All these people want to be here, doing what they enjoy doing. There’s no grading of work. It’s just a great vibe that’s nurturing and inspiring.”
Fine Line opened in 1979 as a small gallery in Geneva, started by Denise Kavanagh, a school principal who belonged to the School Sisters of St. Francis. A passionate weaver, Kavanagh brought a loom into the small gallery and soon began teaching visitors how to weave.
By its second year, Kavanagh’s gallery had 40 students and was adding knitting and painting classes.
Its rapid growth necessitated a move to a Geneva storefront. In 1986, Fine Line moved again, this time to its current home, a restored barn in St. Charles that sits on four acres, all donated by local businessman Lawrence Dempsey.
Fine Line continued growing in its new space, and adding classes such as spinning, papermaking, pottery and basket making. In 1999, a building was constructed next to the barn, to house the Kavanagh Gallery and five additional studios. The building was named in memory of Fine Line’s founder, who died in 2002 after a long battle with cancer.
“She was a force of nature and had so much charisma,” says Caldwell, who’s been executive director for nine years. “She would suggest that you take a class and you’d do it. That’s kind of how it worked with Denise. She had so much enthusiasm for creative art.”
Caldwell joined Fine Line as a volunteer for its biggest fundraiser and later joined the faculty as a teacher of kumihimo, a Japanese form of braid-making. Now the executive director, she works with three part-timers and hundreds of volunteers, who do everything from greet guests in the gallery to help plan fundraising events.
“No two days are alike,” says Caldwell, the only full-time employee. “The students are delightful and it’s fun to help them do what they want to do. I don’t get to do much of my artwork anymore, but that’s OK, because now what I’m creating is on a much larger scale.”
Fine Line draws more than 1,300 adult students every year from communities such as McHenry, Crystal Lake, Villa Park, Wheaton, Naperville, Aurora, DeKalb and Sycamore. The center sees a fair number of retired citizens and stay-at-home mothers. Some students have been taking classes for more than 20 years.
Ellen Ljung took her first class in 1996 when she was a high school teacher. Six years later she retired and now spends most of her free time at Fine Line. “I live there,” she teases. Among the many classes she’s joined are jewelry, felting, glass, sewing and marbling. “The list is too long,” she says. “I like trying new things.”
For Ljung, who also volunteers at Fine Line, being among like-minded people has proven to be therapeutic. “It’s a collaborative, creative community,” she says. “It’s a place where students feel free to experiment. I enjoy sharing the experience with other passionate people.”
The faculty includes 38 teachers, many of them professional artists who teach more than 300 classes a year. “We have a huge variety of classes including weaving, knitting, dyeing, spinning and felting,” says Caldwell. “We have a 2-D department with design and drawing, collage, paper making. Our metal program includes welding, blacksmithing, fine silver, and traditional jewelry techniques. The glass program offers classes in lamp work and stained glass. Pottery and sculpture also are popular. We even offer a weaving class for the visually impaired.”
Classes can last anywhere from three hours to a full day. Some meet once a week for eight to 12 weeks. Every January, Fine Line hosts an exploration day, where visitors pay a flat fee to sample some of the center’s many classes. Those sessions last less than an hour, and lunch is included. Fine Line also hosts companies and school districts looking for space to hold team-building exercises for employees or teachers. Memberships are available for $40 a year and $75 for two years, which includes discounts for supplies, publications and concerts in the gallery.
“Some people get intimidated by art,” says Caldwell. “They don’t feel like they’re good enough or know enough about the process. My philosophy is that you have to start somewhere. You don’t have to like everything. I tried to throw a pot once. It looks so easy. But I’m a weaver by trade and it wasn’t so easy. I just wanted to find out what it was like. If you can’t draw, try pottery, or weaving or glass. If you don’t try, how will you know?”
The nonprofit Fine Line relies on grants, sponsorships, fundraising events and donations. “Fortunately, Fine Line has been blessed with support from many people who believe in what we do,” says Caldwell.
The organization’s biggest fundraising event, Uncommon Threads, is a juried show that features the work of fiber artists from across the country. Held on the third Sunday in October at the Q Center in St. Charles, the event attracts 600 art enthusiasts.
Fine Line also hosts an arts festival in May that doubles as a fundraiser and open house. Christmastime at Fine Line is a weeklong event when the gallery is filled with jewelry, pottery, ornaments, paintings and a variety of gift-giving items.
Fine Line continues to make significant upgrades to its facilities. In 2012, the center built a new entrance and added signage to the property. “Fine Line is a cool place, but no one ever knew where we were,” says Caldwell. “We have been Fox Valley’s best-kept secret for so many years.”
Last year, a member donated prairie property adjacent to the center. That land is now used as a backdrop for students to paint or draw in nature. There’s a walking path on the property, and Fine Line hopes to add a connecting bridge in the near future.
“It’s part of our setting,” says Caldwell. “That vibe makes us different from other places.”
Fine Line is a place to learn, be creative and get away from the chaos that overtakes our lives. “When you’re focused on what you’re doing, the rest of the world melts away. It’s that Zen feeling,” says Caldwell. “People say if they’re having a bad day, they go away from Fine Line feeling happy. They love the instructors, what we have to offer and the atmosphere we offer it in. It’s a special kind of feeling.”