Jillian van Volkenburgh brings creativity to South Shore Arts programs

Jillian van Volkenburgh brings creativity to South Shore Arts programs

Fifteen years ago when artist Jillian Van Volkenburgh was commissioned by John Cain, executive director at South Shore Arts, to do a painting for his kitchen, the two had no idea that she would one day work as one of his directors.

"I feel like this position is the culmination of my career," says Van Volkenburgh, who began as director of education at South Shore Arts in November.

In 2013 it was the first time in 10 years there were two director positions open at South Shore Arts.

"We had known Jillian as an artist for many years - she has exhibited with us off and on so she was definitely a consideration," says Cain. "Being that Jillian is from our region, I think it helps her understand the needs, limitations, hopes and aspirations people from northwest Indiana have. Overall, she is a good fit."

Van Volkenburgh, who has a degree in Art Education from Calumet College of St. Joseph, has an extensive background which includes art teacher, fine art and antique appraiser and nonprofit program coordinator. The skills acquired from previous jobs are applied daily to Van Volkenburgh's position as she has numerous responsibilities. For example she coordinates educational programs for both South Shore Arts and the Northwest Indiana Symphony. She also oversees close to 50 people.

"Jillian's biggest responsibility is to create programs for our everykid Program. It serves 28,000 kids per year in Lake and Porter counties," says Cain. "If we have a school that wants a special program to include X,Y,Z they would come to us and work with Jillian to develop that program."

The everykid Program allows Van Volkenburgh to expose art in underserved communities.

"It's a life skills program that's infused into an art program. We can provide a class with creative ways to deal with social developments such as anger management or anti-drug," says Van Volkenburgh.

Elaine Kisisel, long-time friend and mentor, says it's this part of Van Volkenburgh's job where her strengths are accentuated. "She is very organized and creative. She has good ideas and isn't somebody that just drops a project, she follows through and helps it evolve," says Kisisel. "Jillian is very caring. She always had an interest helping kids in East Chicago and Gary. She sees their potential and is willing to expand their opportunities."

As education director, there may be meetings and lesson plans but as an artist Van Volkenburgh has no definitive boundaries. Her compassion for people and love of traveling, history and architecture has always led her to create in some form, with all kinds of mediums.

"As an artist I started exhibiting my paintings first, then my photography, but I have always done them both simultaneously. It just depends on where my inspiration takes me. I have been exhibiting my photography pretty regularly over the past five years," says Van Volkenburgh.

Van Volkenburgh says she likes to bring informative art to the viewer about where she has visited. She doesn't have to travel to Thailand or Cambodia to find beauty - she finds that locally too.

"We live in such a diverse area: cornfields, rural, urban, the lake. The region is incredibly diverse in culture and there is so much history," says Van Volkenburgh. "I like to shoot people right now. The human figure has always been done historically in art: nudes, portraits, etc. so I kind of stayed away from that because it was so traditional. But it's so relatable and I think we can keep reinventing it - it's not going to be the same thing."

Van Volkenburgh took a series of pictures documenting change in a transgenered man. In 2012 Van Volkenburgh submitted one of the pictures to the Kinsey Institute Juried Exhibition at Grunwald Gallery of Art in Bloomington, Ind. The picture was one of 100 pictures selected nationwide and Van Volkenburgh was also one of 10 artists chosen to speak on a panel discussion regarding the photograph. A juried exhibition is when an art piece which is chosen for exhibition by a person or a group of judges.

"I enjoy and will continue to enter juried shows. Juried exhibitions keep me working, challenging myself, and keep me from being complacent. Selling has never been a driving factor for creating," says Van Volkenburgh.

Van Volkenburgh will be traveling to New York in May for the New York Center for Photographic Arts Juried Exhibit called Primary Colors.

April 08, 2014 3:44 pm Photos


Environmentalists inspire a photographer's passion for wildlife

Environmentalists inspire a photographer's passion for wildlife

“Just a guy, a camera and a lot of clicking,” Michael Lewandowski says on his Lew Shots Facebook page.

Lewandowski’s photography has recently garnered local attention at exhibits at Hammond’s Paul Henry Gallery, Pier 74 in Cedar Lake and the Blue Room Café in Hammond.

Lewandowski, 50, has worked as a boilermaker for twenty five years and out of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers Local Lodge 1 in Chicago since 2000. His responsibilities include field construction work at power houses, refineries and steel mills.

About three years ago, Lewandowski, who always enjoyed photography, bought a “decent camera.”

“I like shooting wildlife, old cemeteries and cars,” Lewandowski says. “I’m not a people photographer. My wife showed me an article about Lora Mercado and her photography and I loved her cemetery shots.”

Mercado became Lewandowski’s mentor.

“She got me started, showing my photography in a local show at Pier 74 in Cedar Lake,” Lewandowski says. “I joined a local art group which is now called South Lake Arts Co-Op. They had an anniversary show at Paul Henry's Art Gallery in Hammond and one of my pieces was a shot from the inside of St. Joseph’s church in down town Hammond. That led to me having a solo show put on by David Mueller of Paul Henry Gallery at the Blue Room Café featuring my St. Joseph’s photos.”

An interesting connection which would lead to Lewandowski’s photographing some of what are becoming his best known and most satisfying shots of a group of bald eagles. Lewandowski introduced himself to Mike Echterling of WJOB radio at The Friends of the Little Calumet River clean up in March 2013.

Echterling took Lewandowski under his wing, so to speak, showing him the bald eagles’ nest.

“I was working nights and would go out before work and shoot the nest,” Lewandowski says. “I was there one day when I heard both adults screeching and looking skyward. Then one adult took off to scare away a hawk. Photographing the eagles was one of the greatest things I have done. It took four months.”

Lewandowski says he would like to have his eagle photographs used for education locally.

“I have been working on that,” Lewandowski says. “I made a DVD montage of my shots that I am very proud of.”

The Indiana Welcome Center is giving Lewandowski a few places to try.

“I dropped off my video montage of my eagle shots and it is supposed to be played on a monitor there,” Lewandowski says.

The biggest challenge in photographing the eagles, Lewandowski says, was trying to get the takeoff shot.

“I had kept them in focus for over an hour waiting for them to fly off a branch,” Lewandowski says. “Sometimes I had to switch hands because of cramping and shaking. I really like that shot and have had some good luck with it.”

In his video montage, Lewandowski has photographs of one adult eagle which was in a tree about one hundred yards from the nest. It broke off a branch and flew it to the nest. The other eagle then took the branch and placed it in the nest.

“These are two of my better take off shots,” Lewandowski says. “The first is called ‘9-11’ because I shot it on September 11 and it is also my first take off shot ever. The second is ‘Double Take Off’ which has a blackbird tagging along.

What Lewandowsk finds most satisfying about photography is “knowing when you are out shooting that you have shot something really special; something that is a keeper.”

“That's the great thing about digital; you can shoot a bunch of shots and might only keep a few money shots,” Lewandowski says. “You can also correct things as you go.”

For the future, Lewandowski plans to continue taking photos and getting into art shows.

He currently has framed photos for sale on display at Paul Henry's Art Gallery in Hammond and at both The Comfy Couch and Hoosier Highlander stores in downtown Highland.

“It is a great honor that someone thinks enough of my work to buy it and hang it in their homes,” Lewandowski says.

More of Lewandowski’s photography can be seen on his Facebook page Lew Shots Photography.

March 18, 2014 7:30 am Photos


Leslie Green: Miller Beach's Native Artist Returns

Leslie Green: Miller Beach's Native Artist Returns

Before Leslie Green started living the dream, she was in the rat race with the rest of us.

“Driving to Stickney at 5 a.m. every weekend morning on the road hugging the lakeshore, I’d think 'I don’t want to be here,'” she recalls. “'I want to be in Miller painting.'”

But Green was earning good money with great benefits as a union trade painter and leaving that to pursue fine arts in Miller Beach, where she had lived as a child, required not only commitment to her craft, but courage.

“It was a crazy thing but I was just drawn to being back here,” she says. “When I was young the dunes were my sanctuary.”

At the time she was living in Northbrook with her partner Linda Levi, a psychotherapist with offices in Chicago and Park Ridge. So besides leaving her job Leslie would also have to convince Levi that a move to the east side of Gary—a city lacking the cache of Chicago’s North Shore suburbs—was a great idea.

It turned out Miller Beach had its own special appeal.

“I took Linda here and she fell in love with the area,” says Green. “She raised her sons in Northbrook and was looking for a change.”

Art was Green’s passion when she was young, but life, as it often does, took her down different paths. After high school, Green attended the Art Institute of Chicago on a full scholarship but left before earning her degree.

"I guess I didn’t have much of a basis for how do you make a living as an artist,” she says. Over the years, Green supported herself not only as an artist and painter but also by working in art supply stores and head shops, walking dogs and delivering messages by bicycle. “And that’s when my father got sick." But her artistic nature "never fully left me,” she explains.

And so at age 36, Green returned to school, attending the American Academy of Art which she describes as “this very old conservative French school of art.”

Then life intervened again and she left her marriage. That change necessitated a paying job, so Green was sidetracked again, though not completely. She found work doing decorative and industrial painting on such projects including restoration of The Auditorium Theatre, the grand 1920 former cinema in Chicago known for its opulent interior spaces inspired by the regal Rococo style of Versailles. Another project involved a Frank Lloyd Wright home in Wisconsin and Green also painted signage for Trader Joe’s grocery stores in Chicago.

Now she and Levi live a block off the beach in a wonderful box-like house with big windows and the perfect space for Green’s studio—a warm, cozy place crammed with antique and hand-painted furniture, shelves filled with art books, her paintings, boxes filled with tubes of paints and brushes, computers, printers and photos of family, friends, favorite places and the sign for her father’s Buy Low Fish Market in Gary.

In this stage of her career, Green’s skills continues to emerge and she finds herself retracing her Miller Beach roots by photographing decades-old signage and turning the pictures into art.

She photographed and painted the sign from her Uncle Mickey’s discount furniture store at 15th and Broadway in Gary. The building is empty but the neon and bulb ghost sign reading, “Michael's Norman Furniture” remains. So does the signage for Pumps on 12 in Beverly Shores, Pink Pussycat Lounge on Broadway in the Glen Park area and Dom & Pete’s Point View Bar still standing on US Hwy 12-20.

“I did a watercolor of the Point View Bar and sold it to Dom’s grandson,” says Green who then took the image and used it on different substrates—the primary underlying material on which her art is overlaid— such as puzzles, satchel bags, metal and ties.

Green says her search for heritage signage was initially inspired by the classic sign in front of Ono’s & Jo’s, a pizza and sandwich shop in business just steps away from the beach on Lake Street in Miller for almost 60 years.

“It’s a wonderful sign and a great place for pizza,” she says about the place where she ate decades ago when she first lived in Miller.

But her art work isn’t confined just to a few mediums. Green also creates posters, metal art, painted furniture and turns her work, through digital printing, into images for cups, coasters, t-shirts, license plates, phone covers, ball caps, car magnets and knitted caps.

She also designs what she calls "stained glass-effect mosaics". The creation of these stained glass lookalikes began when Green was still in the trades. She uses found objects—discarded pieces of Plexiglas, glass and old window frames coated with an acrylic glaze—to put together beautifully designed and colorful windows, also custom signs and furniture in different sizes. Green is also working on logos for the City of Gary, Miller Beach and the Dunes.

Some of her work is available in stores including the Lake Street Gallery and Indie Indie Bang! Bang!, a boutique home, fashion and gift shop, both on Lake Street in Miller Beach. Her work can also be seen on her website,, and by appointment at her gallery.

“When I was in the trades and knew I was going to be leaving, I hired an art professor to critique my work,” Green remembers. “She said I was going to have to pick just one medium. I obviously didn’t do that.”

February 23, 2014 10:59 am Photos


In This Issue