Encouraging others' creativity part of ACE award winner's art

Encouraging others' creativity part of ACE award winner's art

CHAMPAIGN — Squeezed between the Furniture Lounge and NewLife Tattoos downtown is an unassuming glass door that opens to reveal a dark, carpeted staircase, which leads you down a hallway to a door marked "C."

As you enter Kelly Hieronymus' small studio, you're greeted with a flood of light from above and walls covered in sketches, knickknacks and other muses.

There's only one chair in the room — for Hieronymus — and a large drafting table where she paints abstract aerials: scenes from 10,000 feet above wherever her imagination happens to be. This is her happy place.

"I'm an introvert-extrovert, perfectly. Both of them," she said as she put finishing touches on her latest piece. "I love being by myself and having my time be mine. But at the same time, I can't function without other people."

Though she has been recognized in the past for her individual work in the arts, it's her extroverted side that won her this year's 40 North ACE Advocate award, for "her inspiration and encouragement of youth, local artists and art supporters." Hieronymus is among seven honorees who will be saluted next Thursday.

Her role in the Champaign-Urbana art community is made clear by who she knows: everyone. She said that it's most noticeable now, as she works on a backdrop for Stratton Elementary fourth-graders' "The Aristocats" production, because two of her best friends are just upstairs working on a mural.

Looking back at what got her where she is today, Hieronymus considers herself fortunate to always have had a space where she could practice her art. In fourth grade, she claimed a small spot in her parents' basement as her studio, and was always part of art programs growing up. She also had the support of her designer father.

But she knows many kids don't have what she did growing up.

"Unless you're in high school, or you're homeschooled, or your parents can afford art classes, it's hard for kids to do art," Hieronymus said. "If someone says they like soccer, they go to soccer camps, they join the soccer team, their parents spend the weekend running them back and forth and all these things.

"But I don't think that the idea that a kid can be into art the way another kid is into soccer is as widely accepted."

That's what led her to start a monthly open critique for any local artist willing to show their work at the Art Coop in Urbana. The only rule: "Don't be a (jerk)."

And it's what made her focus on volunteering and teaching kids art from an early age. She has her hands in as many pots as she can find — most recently, she owned a flight school with her husband — so she can find a way to turn it into a creative-learning experience.

She always wants to have a new perspective, to change and to have a thousand goals, she said.

"And you can teach children to look at things differently," Hieronymus said. "I always remind them there's no rules. The only rule is that you work hard. I don't care if you're drawing circles over and over again; as long as you're working on something, that's fine. I'm not there to grade and judge them."

Her message to young art enthusiasts: Pick up a paintbrush and do it — you might just like it.

"It's not practical. You won't get a job," she said. "Just do it if it's something that makes you happy. I don't see why people should restrict themselves from something they want to do, especially if it's something that leads to joy. They don't have to ever share their art; they don't have to come to the art coop or an art club; they don't have to volunteer at Stratton.

"There's nothing wrong with emptying out a shelf in a closet and filling it with art supplies. Even if you do it just once a year? Just do it."

Honor roll

40 North will honor seven people or businesses at its annual ACE (Arts, Culture, Education) awards celebration next week in Champaign. The honorees, whose stories we'll tell between now and then:

Advocate Award: Kelly Hieronymus
Artist Award: Peggy Shaw
Volunteer Award: Jim O'Brien
Business Award: Exile on Main Street
Teacher Award: Brandon T. Washington
Student Award: Natalie Wakefield
Lifetime Award: Dorothy Martirano

Sections (2):News, Local
Topics (2):Art, People