How a Sycamore Couple Transformed a Corn Crib Into an Art Studio
Valerie Weberpal of Sycamore has been creating art for as long as she can remember.
“I graduated from the University of Illinois/Urbana-Champaign with a degree in fine art, and I worked in graphic design until I became a mother,” Weberpal says. “Then I was lucky enough to stay at home and raise my kids. I learned to sew and started making clothing, home décor and toys for my kids. I often had art projects going on in many rooms of my house. I did local arts and crafts shows and began selling my work once my kids got older.”
Weberpal has lived on a farm with her husband, John, since 1991, and she realized early on that her artwork needed more space than their farmhouse allowed. But it wasn’t until 2015 that her dream of having an art studio became a reality, when the couple’s 240-acre corn and soybean farm provided a unique opportunity for that to happen.
“Having five outbuildings on our farm in Sycamore, I always thought one of them would make a good studio,” Weberpal says. “In the spring of 2015, my husband decided the corn crib was not going to be used to store corn anymore, and either we should demolish it or refurbish it.”
The corn crib contained debris you’d find on any farm, from old tools and implements to metal scraps, and it was open to the elements. It had also housed 25 chickens – not the ideal place to create works of art in most people’s minds, but the Weberpals decided it was perfect.
“My husband did most of the work by himself. He power washed it, put in new windows and doors, and closed it in with insulation and caulk,” Weberpal says. “Then we had it sided. My husband built up the floor on the interior, making it about 4 feet off the ground. We had radiant heat installed in the floor, so it’s pretty cozy all winter.”
They transformed the south end of the building into a sliding door so large furniture and pieces could be brought in and removed easily.
“We filled it full of antique furniture I had been collecting for this purpose in order to display my wares,” Weberpal says. “By December 2015, I was able to host my first event, a Christmas art show and sale. I named my art studio The Crib for obvious reasons.”
Weberpal creates a variety of “extremely colorful” contemporary folk art at The Crib, from paintings and handmade dolls to home accessories, gifts, ceramics, note cards, winter wearables and more.
“I am a one-stop, handmade shop,” she says. “I am best known for my dolls. In 2006, I got into a prominent folk art show with dolls I made using corncobs for bodies and clay for heads. I also sewed dolls that I sold as well. A couple years later, I sent photos of my work to a contemporary folk art dealer in New York, and she decided to carry my dolls. I did shows with that dealer around the country for years, in which I created a decent following of people who liked my dolls.”
Weberpal regularly hosts Open Studio days at The Crib where visitors can stop in and see what she is working on, which may be a painting, clay figures, paper structures or “other messy things.” The Crib also hosts three major events during the year – one in the spring, one for Halloween and one for Christmas.
“I install an interesting display at every event so that every time people visit, there will be something new to see,” she says. “I strive to make it a magical place.”
If guests cannot attend scheduled events, Weberpal happily opens The Crib by appointment – they just need to call ahead. It may seem strange to some that Weberpal chose an old corn crib for an art studio, but she says agriculture and art actually have a lot in common.
“Mostly, they both involve a lot of solitude, working with your hands and problem-solving,” she says.
Working in close proximity to the farm also allows Weberpal to help provide shuttle service and meals for John during busy times, such as planting and harvest. You might say that, for the Weberpals, art and agriculture are a match made in heaven.
“I encourage anyone who wants to visit to please come to one of my events,” Weberpal says. “Like and follow my Facebook page or email me for more information.”