SO REAL---Julie Katz, owner of the Hesteds building in downtown Fairbury, was impressed with the historic look of the wall, cracks and all, completed by artist Thom Hunt and students in his vertical carving class. (Journal-News photo by Vicki Check)
BRICK WALL---Local artist, Thom Hunt, recently held a class on extreme vertical carving. The old Hesteds building in historic downtown Fairbury was the location where Hunt and several artists transformed a wall into a brick masterpiece with a limestone fireplace. Several curious onlookers stopped by to peer in the open doors to see what was going on. Regular visitors to the carving class were Thom’s wife Iryne and his youngest son Sebastian.
If you saw R.A.T. written on the back windows of some dusty vehicles around town last week...were you a little bit curious what that meant?
Was Fairbury having a rodent infestation? No, not at all, local artist, Thom Hunt was holding another decorative concrete class. R.A.T. stands for Rock Carvers, Artists and Theme Builders. Several talented artists from across the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico gathered in Fairbury Aug. 17-20 to learn some new techniques in the art of decorative concrete.
Hunt, artist and owner of Big Bamboo Studios, has been working as a sculptor and painter of artificial rocks, trees and animals for over 30 years. The props he creates have been used in zoos, aquariums, museums and theme parks around the world.
"In this class, Extreme Vertical Carving, students were introduced to new formulas, materials and techniques that will show how decorative concrete can be used to create architectural features and showcase its versatility," Hunt said. "Like many small communities, downtown Fairbury has a lot of historic architecture, however, due to remodeling over the years, some of these buildings have been stripped of their original features. Decorative concrete can be used to restore the façade of a building and take it back to its original beauty. Once inside, decorative concrete can be used to create brick walls, columns, pillars, cornices, the list is endless. We added a brick wall and a stone fireplace to the interior space for this project, which will give it character and warmth."
The artists' class project this time around took place at the former Hesteds Dime Store building, more recently known as Stagecoach Mall.
Not only will the brick wall add warmth, it may very well raise a lot of questions. Hunt was able to make one area look like a window that had been bricked in.
"When the old timers are in here drinking coffee I can imagine they will say, 'I can remember that window..where did that go?'"
Hunt also completed a make over of a cabin this summer near Endicott. The next class after this one will be held in northern Oregon.
"We're going to train four times a year in a facility there (Oregon), four times a year in Arkansas and four times a year here."
While Hunt gave instructions to the artists taking the class, video was being shot of his instructions.
"They are going to make a realty show based on what I do," Hunt said. "Right now three different channels are bidding on rights to it, Discover, History and NBC Digital."
So Hunt will be busy in the future, but the obvious question is...so what will the building with the new look be used for and was the owner pleased with the finished project?
Only owner Julie Katz can answer that.
"What makes this project unique to some of the other projects that Thom has done is the fact that we really did try to focus on the historic preservation aspect, and showcase the versatility of decorative concrete," Katz said. "A lot of people think of decorative concrete as a horizontal application, such as counter tops, stamped concrete around pools, floors, things like that. This particular project was a study in how concrete can be applied vertically, specifically how it can be carved and colorized to take on historic aspects. Thom can make it look like it has always been there."
When Thom assembled the class on the very first day he took them down some alleys to look at what a century old brick wall looks like for real. That was the inspiration for what they did in the Hested building.
So what will the building with the "new" old wall and fireplace be used for?
"A lot of people are asking me what my future plans are here," Katz claimed. "Well over the years and through a series of defaults, the Stagecoach Mall keeps coming back to me. I think I finally realized now that the Stagecoach Mall is a part of me and an extension of my personality and it's probably going to be a part of my life for a very long time into the future. I need to reopen the Stagecoach Mall, but this time I want it to be something unique and different. It will have a different look and feel to it. The funky teal carpet and the color of the walls and all those things that made it really, really, cool back when they remodeled it in 1959...well it's time to do away with those "improvements" and taking it back to a more interesting color pallet and a warmer feel. A place that people really want to come back to."
So what is she going to do right this very minute?
"I do not have a specific time line and I don't' have a specific scope of work right now, because I really want to allow the creativity of this project dictate where this is going."
Katz said it will be a coffee shop again, but it will be different.
"It will be a coffee shop and a gathering place for people. The lay out will be a little different with the fireplace in there. I am hoping that we will be able to expand and do other things and really promote it as a destination and a venue for things like live music, wine tasting, more cultural things. I want to bring more art into Fairbury and promote artists and musicians. The Stagecoach Mall will one day again be a destination that will bring people to town."
Katz will be posting the progress of her new project on line at fairbury.com and also through traditional outlets, the newspaper and radio station.
Those making the class possible and the list of students include:
Instructor Thom Hunt; Assistant Matt Holes; Chef Iryne Hunt; Thom's son Jamie Hunt from Bahrain was also on hand to help prep for the class.
Students: Mark Whitten, Mason City, Iowa; Abdias Rosa, Bayamon, Puerto Rico; Fernando Magal, Dallas, TX (Brazil); Josh Huntoon, Tehama, CA.; Kara Polyner, Ely, MN; Rob Duncan, Saskatchewan, Canada; Lee Duncan, Saskatchewan, Canada; Brian Bobik, Naples, FL.; and Andy Meyer of Lincoln.
"The renovation class in Fairbury with Thom was amazing, it reached a point where no words could describe how happy and lucky I was to be there learning from the best," Fernando Magal, Dallas, Texas said. "I did learn with Thom Hunt that we got to be focused on professionalism and quality; people will respect and recognize us as Artisans."
Industry Reps present were Bill Foster (Spider Lath) of Vancouver, WA. and Jeff Kirt (Kirt Bag Mix) of O'Fallon, MO. Also on hand were two reps from Sherwin Williams (H & C) Cleveland, Ohio.
Filming were Ace Salvador, New York City, director/producer; Grant Schlichtman, Fairbury; Marketing and promotions were by Main Street Consulting Group, Lena Stewart and Julie Katz.