Arts & Entertainment

Country Inn Art School: Sharing Their Love For Art

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Even if you’re a beginner, you can still produce quality artwork with help from an instructor. Discover the relaxing, friendly and creative environment that exists within Country Inn Art School, in Geneva.

Pam Bernard (left), and Carol Bonick are the co-owners of Country Inn Art School in Geneva. They co-teach these fine arts classes, providing personal instruction to every student in a relaxing environment. (Samantha Behling photo)

When Chris Bartelli is focused on her artwork at Country Inn Art School in Geneva, nothing else matters.

“When you’re in class doing the work, everything else just fades away,” Bartelli says. “This is the time that you have to focus on yourself and your artwork.”

Since January, artists like Bartelli have been creating beautiful works under the tutelage of Carol Bonick and Pam Bernard, two experienced art educators who own and operate Country Inn Art School. With two teachers leading every small class, students receive personal instruction in a fun and relaxing environment.

“With our unique team-teaching approach, no student lacks attention,” Bonick says. “Typically, with only one instructor, you often wouldn’t get the attention that you need.”

Classes are held at the Oscar Swan Country Inn, a peaceful, wooded estate and early 1900s mansion in Geneva. Students meet each Wednesday and Thursday from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., in one of two weekly classes that meet for five-week sessions. A light brunch with coffee or tea is always included, along with soft music that adds to the total experience.

Country Inn Art School is less like a school and more like a continuing workshop. Whenever one class is finished, students can enroll again, picking up where they left off.

“We’re constantly coming up with new lesson plans that will continue to challenge our students and increase their skill and range of mediums,” Bonick says.

Students follow a carefully planned sequence of instruction starting with the principles of graphite drawing, then moving into colored pencil, pastels, watercolor and acrylic paints. Lesson plans also cover specific subjects including landscapes, portraits and animal images, among other things.

“We begin by teaching drawing methods that assure accuracy and depth, because, whether you’re a beginner or more experienced, these methods are basic to all of the other art projects you’ll be doing in the future,” Bonick says.

The casual, relaxing environment students enjoy is intentional – another thing that separates it from other adult art classes.

“Most classes are in a schoolroom type of setting, so having the charm of this beautiful historic home while enjoying quiche and coffee certainly adds something special to the art experience,” Bernard says. “It also encourages socializing and an opportunity to share ideas and new techniques while making new friends.”

During a recent art class, five women work on their colored pencil drawings while soft music plays in the background. As the ladies craft their masterpieces, Bonick and Bernard wander the room supplying individual guidance and encouragement to their students.

Bartelli, one of the art students and a former physical education teacher in Elgin Area School District U-46, wanted to continue taking art classes in her retirement.

“This class allows you to gain knowledge of art,” Bartelli says. “Each week, the projects are more challenging.”

In creating Country Inn Art School, Bonick and Bernard bring together a long history of educating emerging talent. They’ve also combined their talent and experience in graphite and colored pencil drawings, pastels, acrylic and watercolor painting into a unique new curriculum. Both artists have had their works jury-selected to appear in art shows throughout the Midwest and published in numerous magazines.

After earning her bachelor’s degree in art and education from Northern Illinois University, Bonick taught middle school art before leaving to raise her family. She later got involved with several business ventures, and when her son called on her artistic background to complete a project, her interest in producing art was renewed.

Bonick creates paintings with pencil, acrylic paint and pastel. Her work largely depicts the rural and wooded areas of Illinois and Wisconsin. She was recently commissioned to illustrate the cover of this year’s Door County [Wis.] Go Guide magazine.

“Previously, they only used photographs on their iconic covers,” Bonick says. “No other artist’s work has been chosen by Door County Publishing to be featured on their cover until this year. So, I was very fortunate and delighted to have this honor.”

Bonick’s teaching partner, Bernard, received her degree at the University of St. Francis, now Lewis College in Romeoville, and spent nine years teaching in an elementary school classroom. But her love for art took her in another direction.

“After I taught regular elementary classes, I went back to school to get my art education degree,” she says. “From there, I started teaching art classes.”

Bernard finds inspiration for her colored pencil artwork in family portraits, pet portraits and her travels. Some of her artwork has been juried into the Colored Pencil Society of America International Art show.

“I don’t want to just re-create a photo; I want to tell a story, and I’ll put a lot of detail in that story,” Bernard says. “Creating that story, making it up and using my imagination is what I like to do with my art.”

Bonick and Bernard crossed paths when they attended the same colored pencil art class in Geneva.

“We got to know each other and started doing several art shows together,” Bernard says. “We got along well and found out that we had very similar backgrounds as well as a shared desire to create a new type of art class that would offer more to students.”

Since they were both retired, they decided to share their wealth of knowledge with a new set of adult students.

They started by creating and teaching the first Botanical Art class at The Little Traveler, in Geneva. Those classes became so popular the pair decided to branch out.

“I thought the classes at The Little Traveler were fun, and I enjoyed them,” says Bartelli, who followed Bonick and Bernard to the Country Inn Art School. “They told me they were opening an art school, and I knew it would be perfect for me.”

Once someone is enrolled in the class, Bonick believes the experience can become addictive. Students say the class is a creative outlet and a real learning experience. It also becomes therapeutic, as they enjoy a relaxing and fun morning removed from their everyday stresses.

Bonick and Bernard are confident in their specially created curriculum, their comprehensive lesson plans, and the experience they provide. With this program, they believe many of their students excel beyond their own expectations.

“Even if you’re a real beginner, you can quickly start producing quality artwork,” Bonick says. “The way we put our lesson plans together, provide such individual attention by team-teaching and provide such a relaxing, friendly and creative environment, it all guarantees a very successful and enjoyable experience.”

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