There was a time when I would think of the big city, and certain words would automatically come to mind: fast-paced, progressive, industrial, crowds, anonymity, grit, grime. But now, having visited Sister Arts Studio in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, other words come to mind as well: community, families, connections, creativity. This is because I found a place in the big city where all those things take place, and from what I can tell, the big city loves it.
Sister Arts Studio is the brainchild of Donna Palicka and her fifteen year old daughter, Ona Gleichman. A true “labor of love” in every sense of the phrase, Sister Arts, or SASI as it is also known, is more than just a craft shop. It has become the place where families congregate to meet other families, step out of anonymity, and develop bonds as they explore their creativity.
It was while she was busy successfully climbing the corporate ladder that Donna had an epiphany, and decided to make a change in her life. “I worked as and interior designer for a prestigious Chicago architectural firm for 21 years,” Donna told me. “The profession was tough, not very family-friendly. I was working 60-hour weeks, traveling. When really what I wanted was to raise my own child. I wanted it all. A career and to be an active parent.”
As it turned out, her daughter, along with critical world events, are what caused Donna to come to the decision to leave her corporate career behind and start anew. “I’m a designer, my husband’s an architect, and I saw that my daughter from a very young age showed a great amount of creativity. She was drawing pictures at 18 months. So I always tried to expose her to creative pursuits.
“But then 9/11 happened, and I realized that my child was going to grow up in a world filled with war, when I didn’t. I came full circle. You climb the ladder, and get to the top and . . .” She pauses, “something’s lacking. It’s not worth it.”
The shop is in its fifth year of business and going strong. Donna and her “sisters” offer classes in knitting, crochet, wet felting, needle felting, shibori, needle-point, weaving, jewelry-making, beading, hairpin lace, and machine sewing. The sisters include an impressive list of craft experts, all of whom Donna met through the shop, who proved to have the knowledge and personality to work with children and adults using Donna’s philosophy of teaching love. “I grew up with four brothers and no sisters, so these talented women are like sisters to me.”
“Teaching love is my calling. I was a busy parent. The city is full of busy parents. And I saw that what was lacking in the community was a place where a parent and child, or a group of kids could come to do something to help create a bond. I’m now working in the school systems, doing after school programs for the public, private and parochial schools.”
The shop offers a wide variety of classes for adults and children. Donna even does birthday parties. “I’m set up to entertain! I do parties for children as young as two and on up. We do a craft project, and I do all the clean up. It’s everything a parent could want. I make craft kits, so parents can come in with their kids and buy a kit and use the studio space. I provide all the additional tools or materials you might need.”
SASI also hosts creative camps, the most popular of which include machine sewing and the “ugly dolls” workshops which have as many boy fans as girls. Donna tries to offer projects that kids might not necessarily get in a school art class. Ugly doll making, mask-making, and painting on canvas are just to name a few.
“We also expanded our adult class list. We’ve had a Thursday night knitting circle since the beginning, and it has really become an event where life-long friendships are being formed. We offer many knitting classes for adults from novice to advanced. Jewelry-making classes, weaving, felting. And we are also a crochet-friendly yarn shop.”
“I love seeing moms come in with their kids, and meet other moms, and form those relationships that we as women really need. I love working with adults and doing knit-a-longs too. It’s kind of hard to find a knit-a-long pattern that will appeal to a wide variety of people, but we’ve definitely had some success in those. But my focus remains on kids and families, to teach parents how to create a bond with their child through creativity. I teach love.”
The other sisters of Sisters Arts Studio are:
Sister Arts Studio, 721 W. Wrightwood, Chicago, Illinois, USA
On the web: http://sisterartsstudio.com