SULLIVAN — The A B Seals factory is cranked up for a Saturday night, with dozens of artists, two live bands, drinks and food, pumpkin carving, tattoos, Harley-Davidsons and just a lot of people milling about.
There's a real factory on the lower level: A B Seals, a custom job shop for all types of porous castings in aluminum, cast iron, zinc and brass.
Some of the same materials are made for artistic purposes above at the Factory Art Studios.
They used to make shoes in this factory. There are still traces of industrial life — including a large, old-fashioned work sink — but the place clearly has a surreal touch.
Some of the artists and visitors on a recent Saturday are dressed up for Halloween. The theme is "Black Mass/Angels and Demons."
You can see Rosie the Riveter over here and a Wicked Witch over there. Plus "lots of pretty women," as the '70s song goes, and some glamorous men.
It sounds a little like Andy Warhol's Factory — although if there are any celebrities or porn stars about, they are well-disguised.
The place is kid-friendly, too: While some folks are drinking, it's a low-key night.
Karl Jendry of Monticello, who paints or draws at high speed with his fingers — and sometimes with the image upside down — says there is a sense of artistic community at the Sullivan site.
"The (Illinois) Arts Council there has been very supportive of the Factory Art Studios," Jendry says. "The community is always very supportive of our events."
The Factory Art Studios are something of a phenomenon, considering that Manhattan is a little bigger than this Moultrie County town.
A head count is taken to give away prizes to the 100th, 140th, 200th, and so on, visitor. Organizers come up with a total attendance figure of about 400.
Artists and spectators come from all over the state.
"There's a really friendly feeling in this house," says Chicago's David Freeman, who is scarfing down a barbecue sandwich while listening to Slant 6, which is followed by Swamp Donkey.
Founded a couple of years ago, the Factory Art Studios is a growing community of artists, artisans and crafters in the old building at 321 S. Hamilton St., just off the main drag.
The next Saturday party is planned for Nov. 3.
John McDevitt, who owns the Yellow Dog Studio, a permanent place in the oft-changing facility, is an artist and woodworker.
He said the building was originally the Brown Shoe Factory circa 1920, then became the United Medalizing Co., which morphed into A B Seals.
Building owner John Cook has an apartment six months out of the year, McDevitt said. Cook couldn't be reached for this article.
McDevitt said he has always built furniture. He was doing finish carpentry before his artwork "sort of evolved."
"Most of what I do uses reclaimed materials," he says of his multitextured work. "I've been here long enough that if someone says they have something interesting — a garage torn down, a barn full of lumber — I'm there."
Jendry says that, like many people at the Factory Art Studios, he had an artistic impulse at an early age, even if he didn't think he could make a living at it.
"I can remember when I was young drawing a cartoon turtle from one of the art school ads that are in magazines," he says. "My sister didn't believe that I had drawn it, so she made me do it again. The Monticello school district has a very good art program, which gave me a base for my later studies in college."
He was a graphic designer for 11 years at a screen printing shop.
"I was let go from that job and decided to focus on trying to get a fine art career started," Jendry says.
First Christian Church in Monticello asked him to paint in front of the congregation during Sunday services, with 10 to 15 minutes to complete the painting.
"After finding performance artists like Denny Dent, Dan Dunn and David Garibaldi, I figured out what they were doing, and from there, I honed my technique of painting with my fingers," he says.
Laura Snyder-Seils of Mattoon needed a creative outlet after her beloved sister died.
"I tried many things: school, various charity clubs, learning sign language ... nothing, nada," she says. "Then one day, I got a call from a woman I went to school with. She asked if I wanted to become a part of a co-op in a new venture in Sullivan. I went to check it out. As I walked up the stairs, I felt something I haven't felt since losing my little sister. I felt ALIVE."
She says artists work with each other rather than compete against each other:
"They are all kind," Snyder- Seils says. "Everyone has something to offer, not just their art, but their energy. It's contagious. How can it not draw artists from all over? The waiting list (for the co-op) gets longer and longer."
Nick Beery, who makes vintage coffins and rock memorabilia, says the factory has an edifying effect on its artists.
"The Factory Art Studios is a great incubator for local central Illinois artists to come together, be creative and have a venue to display and sell their work," he says. "We strive to push a greater appreciation for the arts and create awareness in our community through the catalyst that is the arts collective and our monthly events. Every artist on the floor brings something different from the next."