There were skeptics when Mainstreet Art Center opened in downtown Lake Zurich 28 years ago.
“I still remember this man walking by the back door and saying, ‘What’s going in here?'” recalled owner Frankie Johnson. After being told it would be an art school, the man asked, “Do you think people will come?”
Indeed they have. Three hundred students of different skill levels now are enrolled in a variety of weekly classes. Some have been coming for decades.
“This ended up being a good spot,” Johnson said. “We liked being on a little Main Street.”
So much so that the next chapter is unfolding next door with the opening of Mainstreet Gallery, offering pieces of fine art from more than 40 artists.
The grand opening is 4 to 8 p.m. Friday, April 29 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony the next day. The new venture comes with a serendipitous twist, as the gallery is located at 18 E. Main St., where the art center originally opened and operated for 20 years.
Eight years ago, the business moved next door to a larger space at 20 E. Main St., to add a third classroom. The same landlord owns both buildings. When the lease wasn’t going to be renewed at its original home, the landlord reached out to Johnson and her husband, Jay, a retired structural engineer.
“It wasn’t on my radar because I was so stretched,” Johnson said. At that point, her daughter-in-law Kari Johnson had been hired as the business manager.
“This space became available and we thought if we’re ever going to have a gallery, it couldn’t be more convenient,” she said.
Johnson has painted since she was a girl but didn’t attend college and doesn’t have a degree in art. She refined and expanded her skills while working at private art schools in Wauconda and Long Grove before striking out on her own.
“There is where I was educated,” Johnson said. “I learned from the best people … out there in the art world.”
Mainstreet Art Center offers classes in the fundamentals of drawing and painting, providing a classical foundation in art principles to build on, according to Kari Johnson.
Oil is Frankie Johnson’s medium of choice, but she also works in watercolor and pastels. Johnson is a member of the Oil Painters of America, the American Impressionist Society and the Portrait Society of America.
She now teaches seven classes a week, chooses artists for workshops and will be the gallery curator. Mainstreet Art Center has a faculty of seven professional artists who compete nationally in shows and events.
A gallery seemed like a natural extension of the school, according to Jay Johnson.
“She has a lot of connections,” he said of Frankie. “It wasn’t hard to find artists.”
The gallery will exhibit and sell traditional and contemporary fine art, including paintings, works in clay, glass, wood, fiber, jewelry and mixed media. Several nationally recognized artists will be showcased with local artists and faculty members.
The two buildings occupied by the art school and gallery were built in the 1890s. Village officials for years have been working to revitalize the downtown. A number of new offerings have opened or are pending.
“We’re optimistic,” Jay Johnson said. “It’s been a long time coming.”