In an opulent mansion that’s once again the center of Barrington’s cultural scene, local artists get their once-a-month moment in the limelight.
Ever since John and Julia Robertson Jr. built the grand white house in downtown Barrington, it has been a center for community activity. Now known as Barrington’s White House, the 1898 home today is a public venue with an array of community events.
One of its recurring series is the Third Thursday Artist Reception. It’s held during the months of March, April, May, September, October and November. These evening events showcase the work of a local visual artist (or artists) and provide a gathering space for the collective appreciation of visual art.
“We would love to see Barrington become an arts hub for the entire northwest suburbs,” says Janette Tepas, member of the White House’s Visual Arts Cultural Commission and the Barrington Area Artists Association (BAAA). “Third Thursdays are a great opportunity for artists and community members alike, because it is free for the artist to show and free for the public to attend, and the artist may sell their work if they’d like.”
Running from 6 to 8 p.m. on the third Thursday of the month, these receptions bring live music, hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar. Artists may request a certain area of the mansion to display their work, and they have many choices. There’s the spacious, well-lit third-floor ballroom where audiences regularly gather for live performances and lectures. There are also three smaller rooms on the first floor. It’s not unusual during a reception to find people mingling and viewing the artwork while also appreciating the overall grandeur of the restored mansion, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Dr. Rollin Potter, cultural director for Barrington’s White House, oversees the events with help from a group of staff members and volunteers.
“The staff does an amazing job of hosting the events,” says Anna Toberman, a portrait and figurative artist who was featured in May 2023 and at last year’s BAAA reception. “I’ve been able to introduce my work to the community, make new connections, and reconnect with friends, colleagues and collectors.”
Artists who display at a Third Thursdays reception typically come from the greater Barrington area, though some used to live in the area and have moved on. Prospective artists can complete an application online at barringtonswhitehouse.com. The applications are carefully considered by a committee of the White House Visual Arts Cultural Commission. Selected artists typically choose about 30 pieces to display in their designated area of the mansion.
“We try to have a mix of all kinds of art, and we’re open to any number of things,” says Tepas.
Past events have drawn artists who work in many forms of media. Those have included painters like Anita Maher, who works with oils and compositions of live models, and jewelry artist Lynn Rushing, who matches vintage, antique and tribal items with her own handmade ceramic beads. Painters with impressionist styles and abstract styles are right at home with their more contemporary counterparts. This past October, the reception centered around Michael Latala, a Chicago-based painter who captures vivid portraits and landscapes with oils, pastels and charcoal.
Colored pencil artist Gail Collier was the featured artist in April 2023. She believes art is as much about personal growth as it is about setting up shows and selling pieces.
“You have to allow yourself to be a bad artist before you can be a good artist,” she says. “I’ll go through slumps when I haven’t been able to create for weeks, and then I get back in my studio and realize, ‘Yep, that’s what I was missing.’”
November’s event pairs up Barrington’s White House with the Barrington Area Artists Association to present a special edition of Third Thursdays. The “Inspiration is Everywhere” display is a two-day gathering that features more than 20 local artists, including Tepas, and works produced in oil, watercolor, photography, sculpture and more.
The public is invited to purchase artwork during the Thursday-evening gathering and then return on Friday, from 2-4 p.m., to enjoy a presentation by Nancy Merkling, a professional photographer who’s also director of 4th Fridays Art Event at The Dole, in Crystal Lake. An additional art sale and demonstration runs from 4-8 p.m. that night.
Beyond Third Thursdays, Barrington’s White House is brewing up a wide range of other events in the months to come. Look for poetry readings in coordination with Barrington’s Cultural Commission, Lunch & Learn afternoon gatherings and live music. In between, the space is rented out for weddings and other community gatherings.
On Dec. 2, Santa arrives for photo opportunities with the family. On Tuesday, Dec. 5, local resident Steve Raseman shares his story of walking 2,100 miles over the Appalachian Trail. Then, on Dec. 8, the White House welcomes a night of vocal jazz with Cheryl Wilson before hosting a community Holiday Tea on Sunday, Dec. 10.
The winter schedule, which has yet to be released, will include more thought-provoking events, musical performances and the annual Town Warming Event, which draws in a high-profile guest for a day of insightful conversations.
Finding such a diversity of high-quality entertainment in one place isn’t always easy, but with Barrington’s White House the arts are more than accessible for the northwest suburbs.
“I’m trying to have this be a great, vibrant town,” says Tepas. “I think that’s what most of us are aiming for.”