In 2002, Patty and I bought a house in Mount Carroll, a small town about 140 miles due west of Chicago. One of the reasons we bought it is because it has a small barn building at the back, which I intended to turn into a studio. It's a good size: about 25 feet by 25 feet on the ground floor, plus an attic area. It had been used as a garage by the previous owners. Then, when the old guy died, his widow lived on in the house for several decades, and gradually the little garage-barn started to come apart a little. The roof needed to be replaced, the interior wall spaces were filled with thousands of dried insect carcasses, and the dirt floor had been churned up by groundhogs.
The first thing I did was to move my large Dickerson Combination Printing Press out there:
Between 2004 and 2007, I would spend weeks at a time in Mount Carroll, either preparing for shows of my prints that came thick and fast in those years, or remodelling the barn. In that top photo, all the windows, the sliding door, and that entire side wall were put in and reconstructed by me. We paid professionals for the jobs that I couldn't do, such as putting on a new roof or running a new electricity supply across from the house. The thing I'm probably most proud of is the staircase that I built up to the half-loft:
Though I forgot that when you get to the top of a flight of stairs, you're supposed to build a landing, so unfortunately when you go up these stairs, you have to make a quick left turn up onto the loft floor to avoid bashing your face against the rafters.
My plan was to make a year-round studio with a simple but completely sealed and finished interior. I got about halfway, and then in 2007 several things brought the reconstruction to a halt, where it has remained since. First, I started working two days a week for a magazine in Chicago. I used some of that income to get a studio in Wicker Park, Chicago (which will be the subject of the next post in this series), and didn't need to drive 140 miles to take on big art projects any more. But the main reason, I realise now, is that we simply don't have the money to finish off such a large space, which really is like rebuilding a small house. Maybe some rich benefactor will turn up with the remaining dosh some time, but until then, it's going back to cobwebs and dead insect carcasses, though I hope the groundhogs will keep out for a while.
I have good memories of working in this studio, during those times when having a large purpose built studio in the countryside still seemed like a real possibility. Making prints and running the giant press for my exhibitions at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Illinois-Springfield, and Greenbelt, Maryland. Making prints with friends who came to stay for the weekend. Preparing prints, sculptures and paintings in different parts of the studio for the show I had at Finestra Art Space, Chicago, in 2006. The thrill of going down in the evening for the first time after the electricity supply had been connected, turning on one of the lights that I had installed, and working into the dark on an installation in 2007. Looking out through the screen door during a summer afternoon and seeing a hawk land on the grass, cock its head to one side, fix me for a few seconds with its aristocratically arrogant stare, then catapult off into the air. Feeling the close connection between artistic creation and the sense of well-being associated with place.
Maybe it will be finished. One day.
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