FREEPORT – From its beginning in 1975 as the Highland Area Arts Council, the Freeport Art Museum has been an important resource for the northwest Illinois community. The museum is a great place to visit – but it’s also a wonderful place to learn.
Although museum director Jessica Caddell describes the FAM collection as offering something for everyone she – along with the museum’s board of directors, staff and membership – is equally proud to point out the wide variety of classes, events and contemporary exhibits available there.
“We have between eight and 10 exhibitions each year, as well as permanent exhibits,” Caddell said. “We have museum events, such as exhibition openings and fundraisers, and classes. We also try to provide a venue for the community, whether it’s for an event to raise money for the Salvation Army like the recent Empty Bowls event, an open mic night to highlight local talent, or a beautiful place for private events.”
The Freeport Art Museum got its start – the first piece of its collection – from one of the city’s founding fathers.
“We received the Rawleigh collection in 1976, when we were housed at the Hennessey School Building [now the site of the King Community Campus on the east side of Freeport],” Caddell said.
Other art collectors in the area heard of the museum and donated pieces as well, including Phillip Dedrick, a Rockford College arts and humanities professor with ties to Freeport. Dedrick began giving pieces from his collection in the 1980s. When he died in 2001, the rest of his vast collection was donated to FAM.
“I like to call our collection ‘encyclopedic,’ because it spans from as far back as the Mesopotamian Era and Ancient Egypt to art of the Near East and Far East, Native American art and pieces from Europe and America from the 15th century through contemporary pieces,” Caddell said.
The museum’s collection includes around 4,000 items, about 14 percent of which are on display at any given time. The organization’s permanent exhibits include:
The African and Oceanic Gallery, featuring the traditional cultures of West Africa, Madagascar, Australia and Papua New Guinea
The Contemporary Gallery, with drawings, mixed media, paintings, prints, photographs and sculpture from the 20th and 21st centuries
The Rawleigh European Gallery, featuring works dating from the 15th to the early 20th centuries from European countries including Italy, Germany and England
The Dedrick Native American Gallery, with art created by native peoples from North, Central and South America
The Near and Far East Gallery, featuring art and material culture from Ancient Egypt, India, China, Japan and Indonesia
The Cathy Hiveley Student Gallery, showcasing work from the next generation of artists
Two large gallery spaces in the building are dedicated to rotating exhibits, featuring the work of a wide variety of professional local, regional and national artists.
“About half of our shows feature local and regional artists,” Caddell said. “Other exhibitions can include nationally or internationally recognized artists – whatever is new and interesting in the world of art.”
One of the museum’s most popular shows is an annual regional juried exhibition open to artists from Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin.
“It has really gained momentum in the past 10 years,” Caddell said. “It’s always interesting, and it allows us to keep our finger on the pulse of Midwestern art.”
The museum also stays current by encouraging patrons to learn more about art. FAM offers classes for aspiring artists of all ages and talents, from mini art camps for kids to artist-led workshops in different media.
“Our director of education, Barry Treu, puts together classes that help people learn about and experience art as they create it,” Caddell said.
Some of the classes are tailored to current exhibitions, he explained, while others are organized as a result of people expressing an interest in a certain technique or artist.
The museum’s mini art camps are an easy way for local students to have some creative fun over school breaks. “Toolkit” courses for adults, covering basic subjects from drawing to painting and how to work with a variety of media, are popular as well.
“These classes teach technical skills aspiring artists would want to have in their ‘toolkit,’” Caddell said. Ages in these classes vary from high school students seeking to round out their portfolios before college to adults looking to hone their skills or try a different medium.
FAM also offers special artist-led workshops that give students a chance to learn new techniques. “Sometimes we’ve heard people are interested in a certain technique or media, and we try to bring an artist in to meet that interest,” Caddell said.
The museum also seeks to get kids interested in art with a FAMily Funday on the second Saturday of each month. For $5, an adult and child (additional kids are $2 each) can explore the museum and make a special craft to take home.
“We are a free institution,” Caddell sad, “and we offer a lot of programs that are very inexpensive and fun for people of any age.”
The museum is even a good place to find a unique gift: The FAM gift shop, just inside the entryway, offers work from some of the organization’s featured artists and local artists, as well as jewelry, books and a children’s collection.