Outdoor Art Series: Bridge Of Art Spans Northern Illinois

Jul 12, 2013

Credit Guy Stephens / WNIJ

Sitting around a table, in a storefront in downtown Fulton, Illinois, several women discuss the window displays they’ve created for the Bridge of Art’s “Amazing Art of Recycling.”

Nancy Kolk created a river scene for her shop, Riverhouse Antiques:

“We took pottery shards to make a walkway which leads to water, and then we added cotton balls represent the pelicans.”

Heather Bennett, executive director of the Fulton Chamber of Commerce, used a different set of materials for her window at the Fulton Journal.

“I used toilet paper rolls, CDS and Oprah magazines to make 300 paper rosettes, probably two dozen flowers, whiskey bottles.”

Credit Guy Stephens / WNIJ

It’s all part of a summer-long show which includes decorated windows in Fulton, Prophetstown, Sterling, Rock Falls, Dixon and Franklin Grove.

Bridge of Art is the brainchild of Penny Schopp and Catherine Rogers. Both had been involved in the arts scene in the Sterling - Rock Falls - Dixon area individually for some time. Then last year they teamed up fill area windows with thousands of paper chains, made by schoolchildren for Sterling’s annual Fiesta. The public response was so great, that they did the same thing for Christmas time, this time with snowflakes. Then, says Rogers, they asked themselves, what can we do next?

“As a designer, and a person who’s done interiors and make them look better, I’d like the idea of town just having something for people to look at, and be interested in and make them smile. And it’s just better than an empty window.”    

So they formed the group The Bridge of Art. The name was drawn from the bridge over the Rock River linking Sterling and Rock Falls. Schopp and Rogers say the name signified their aspiration to create a bridge that would be more than a physical connection between people and communities. In a bow to their previous efforts, schoolchildren in the communities were enlisted to decorate fish cutouts in all sorts of ways, and those hundreds of fish have been added to the windows in all the different towns. And because this year is the centennial of the Lincoln Highway, they decided to approach communities on or near the route, like Fulton, about participating in the project.

Some of the fish decorated by school children in the participating communities that can be found in many of the windows
Credit Guy Stephens / WNIJ
Some of the Fulton artists gather with the co-leaders of Bridge of Art. Pictured (l-r): Deb Wheat, Nancy Kolk, Penny Schopp, Pam Leavens-Blecha, Heather Bennett and Catherine Rogers
Credit Guy Stephens / WNIJ

Pam Fouts is the owner of Green Zebra Creations in Prophetstown. Her business specializes in turning old furniture into something new, so, Fouts says, using one of its windows made sense. She says she loves what Bridge of Art came up with.

“It’s taken old doors, they painted it, collected corkscrews and it looks like a beautiful mosaic. It’s just a perfect fit of taking old and making something new and not throwing things away into the garbage.”

And, Fouts says, while the intent is to bring in visitors, she‘s found the Bridge of Art is a two-way street.

“It’s connected me with other towns knowing there’s people doing the same thing or similar things, and it kind of gets the creative juices flowing as well. So for me personally it’s fabulous.”

For some businesses, the connection is not so obvious. There may be none, in fact. Ken Novak runs C & N Supply and farmchains.com in Dixon. He says he’s enjoyed hosting the art in his windows, and would do it again. He’s also enjoyed viewing from the other side of the glass. 

“I’ve looked into other towns too, like in Franklin Grove, I’ve looked at the ones in Fulton. It’s kind of neat.”   

Heather Bennett say the feedback she’s gotten show many others think the same.

“People are really enjoying the uniqueness of what they can find in each community and its been part of a fun treasure hunt for them to see all the different windows and what people come up with.”

Credit Guy Stephens / WNIJ

To play up that last point, Bridge of Art is also holding a scavenger hunt, where people can try to locate an item within each display. Rogers says they came up with the idea as a way to make the show more interactive, especially for kids, and raise funds.

One of the people whose work is on display in several towns is artist Ann Hermes (HER-miss). She describes her career as being in its infancy. So for someone like her, she says, this is a fabulous opportunity.

“To have a way to display your art in multiple places, is great.”

It’s also been an opportunity for others in the community. Madeline Schulze is the director of Girlspace. The program works with at-risk young women. She says the girls had worked on other projects, including the snowflakes. This time they made flowers that are part of many of the windows.

“It’s been a really good experience for them. They were able to see some of their work in the windows. (It) makes them feel more a part of the community, just to know that they had a hand in helping out.”

Ken Novak, owner C & N Supply of Dixon, of one of the businesses hosting the Bridge of Art show.
Credit Guy Stephens / WNIJ

For his part, Novak says he’s been astonished at what the artists have been able to do with old plastic bottles, paper and other used materials.

“It’s amazing how creative these people are. They take stuff that I just throw away and they make something really worthwhile. And that’s the fun of it all.”

Rogers says the response to the whole project has been wonderful. And she and Schopp have enjoyed the new friends they’ve made along the way.  

Because, as it turns out, the Bridge of Art isn’t one bridge, but many, creating links between artists, art lovers, patrons, businesses, kids, young at-risk women, and the public, not only within each community, but across a good stretch of northern Illinois.

Credit Guy Stephens / WNIJ